Statistics Netherlands (CBS) has just published a report that the Netherlands was the largest beer exporter in the EU in 2020. Not only for your regular bottle of beer, but also in the area of non-alcoholic beers.
But besides competing on flavour and brand loyalty, what else are beer brewers doing to stay ahead of the competition? Is this an especially innovative sector, technologically speaking?
Taking the list of the top brewers in the Netherlands, we checked out the European patent register to see what kind of innovations were patented in the last few years1. We then broadened this out to look at all patents in the class of beer brewing (C12C).
The first striking finding is that from the list of top brewers, AB InBev and Heineken have filed a serious number of European patent applications. Others have no or only a handful of national patent applications1. Apparently, patenting provides the biggest value to the larger global brands. Or are the others just less aware of what benefits are available from the patent system?
So, what are the key areas where these beer giants are filing?
As the statistics show (and as we see from the increasing number of brands in this space), low alcohol beer is hot right now and companies are still trying any means to improve the flavour. This could be a distillation or filtration method to remove unwanted flavour, or the opposite, methods by which additional hop flavours are added.
Meanwhile, the trend for increased beer consumption at home continues. The market for home beer dispensers (“thuistap”) has been around for a while, but companies are still trying to improve these devices with improved cooling or flow detection, or by making them interactive with a screen. Not on the list of big brewers, but still showing up in the patent area of beer brewing therefore is LG. They have filed a number of patent applications for automatic home brewing equipment which is already on the market.
As for the brewing process itself, this has obviously been around for centuries, so probably there are probably fewer opportunities to invent or patent. Nonetheless, some process optimisation steps are seen, and apparently, there is still a quest for improved yeast strains.
Circularity is also at the centre of attention for brewers, which shows up in patent applications related to improved packaging. Or is this because of the trend of having more beer in cans? Smart packaging is there to help to secure product quality and safety, while another circular aspect is the recovery and stabilisation of the brewers’ spent grains. Are brewers looking for more value and not only feeding spent grains to pigs?
Looking to the future, the trend seems to be for beer that does not taste like beer, going for the “luxury” market and perhaps also those who would not usually drink beer – essentially trying to grow the sector itself. Patent applications describe not just the removal of malty or hoppy flavours but also the addition of flavours like coriander and citrus, noting that this beer has a “luxury taste”. Curious to see who will drink that in the future. Some patent applications also describe lowering the carbohydrates in beers, for instance using steviose, while others even claim the health benefits of hop extracts in promoting lipid metabolism. The beer that helps you lose weight – that’s quite something!
So, is the future a healthy, low carb fizzy beer drink that does not even taste like beer? It's probably not my “cup of beer” but, it looks like there is definitely a market for it. I’ll be watching this field with interest with a bottle in my hand!
If you would like to have a chat with Rike about the trends and developments in the Food & Drink sector, you can contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Using Espacent and taking priority date from 1 January 2015 until 31 December 2019. List of top brewers based on https://www.nederlandsebrouwers.nl/organisatie/leden/
 Search was carried out with the company names as listed. This does not exclude patent filings in the name of other entities.