Bitburger Braugruppe (Bitburger Brewing Group), one of the leading brewing groups in Germany, welcomes the rise of the craft beer movement and does not see it as a threat. Jan Niewodniczanski, managing director for environment and technology at Bitburger Braugruppe, told Nürnberg Messe in an interview: “The little brewers make curious, they generate conversation, the consumer speaks again about beer and informs himself about raw materials and manufacturing processes. That's good for the beer category as a whole.”
He admits that “craft beers have established themselves in the German market, but the trend is much slower in Germany than in other parts of the world, as confirmed by market research.” For this reason Bitburger has - like many other brewers - established an owned brand dubbed Craftwerk, which is used to test new and experimental beers and to offer partners in on- and off-trade a wider choice of beers.
“In fact, we have been brewing international specialty beers for over 25 years at the experimental brewery in Bitburg. In 2013, motivated by new aroma hop varieties and the emerging craft beer trend, the time had come to go with the beers on the market and not just to enjoy it internally,” says Niewodniczanski, who replaced his recently deceased relative Dr. Ing. Axel Simon in 2007 as managing director for environment and technology (inside.beer, 26.4.2018)
However, he sees the biggest difference between the German and the US beer market in the structure of the industry: “According to the size definition of the American Brewers Association, in which the craft beer brewers have joined together, breweries such as Bitburger are craft beer breweries. Incidentally, size is just one criterion. Furthermore, the fact that six generations of my family have brewed in Bitburg before me, and that we, as a more than 200-year-old family business, not only have a long tradition, but are still 100 percent independent, are by the way also criteria that the global craft brewers would be glad to state for themselves.”
Bitburger Holding was established in 1998 and is the parent company of the Bitburger Brewing Group, which comprises of the five German breweries Bitburger Brauerei Th. Simon, Bitburg; König-Brauerei, Duisburg; Köstritzer Schwarzbierbrauerei, Bad Köstritz; Licher Privatbrauerei Jhring-Melchior, Lich and Wernesgrüner Brauerei, Wernesgrün. Following the fall of the iron curtain in the 1990s Bitburger acquired the two Polish breweries Bosman Browar, Szczecin und Kasztelan Browar, Sierpc, which were sold to Danish Carlsberg Group in 2001. In 2017 the group had combined annual beer sales of about 6.8 million hectoliters (-2.9 %) and a turnover of €786,6 million (+-0%). Export of beer was last year about 0.5 million hectoliters (about 7-8% of sales) with the intention to increase this figure significantly within the next five years to more than 10% of sales, according to CEO Axel Dahm.
Next to the brewing business, the Bitburger Holding also owns Gerolsteiner Brunnen, one of the leading mineral water bottling companies in Germany with sales of about 7.5 million hectoliters, as well as several other smaller companies, which are not related to the beverage industry.