Asia’s Top Executives Are
Focused on the Future

If the summer of 2020 had Asia’s top executives fretting over a second surge in coronavirus cases, in 2021 their thoughts are turning to the post-pandemic world on the horizon. 

XiaoHai Hou — the top scoring CEO in the consumer and staples category of Institutional Investor’s 2021 All-Asia Executive Team — is wondering how to grasp the challenges and opportunities posed by an explosion in demand for craft beer in China. In the U.S., this so-called “premiumization” now means the transformation of beer beyond craft brands into a market where it is competing with hard seltzer and other flavored malt beverages. But China is earlier in that curve, experiencing huge growth in the craft beer sector, with wholesalers and online retailers shifting to more premium products in order to survive.  

In recent years, Hou’s company China Resources Beer (Holdings) Co. has led beer sales across the Chinese market, with a total volume share of 25 percent in 2019. But overall volumes of beer consumption are declining. Analysts expect a record 2 percent decline in volume by 2024, or a fall of 42.2 billion liters.

CR Beer is banking on the size of its market share and innovations in marketing to maintain its lead. When Heineken took a 40 percent stake in the company in 2018 for $3.1 billion, it opened the way for international beers Heineken, Amstel, Sol, and Tiger to enter the Chinese market. Hou said the combination of these big international names with four Chinese brands — superX, Marrs Green, Craftsmanship, and Opera Mask — gives CR Beer the edge over competitors that offer just local or just international options.  

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