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Thailand’s outlaw brewers fight for their lives

BANGKOK – Thailand’s craft beer makers are a rebellious lot, and for good reason. The legal system is widely viewed as stacked against them in favor of the country’s duopolistic beer giants – Boonrawd Brewery and ThaiBev.

Boonrawd (Singha, Leo, U-Beer brands) and ThaiBev (Chang, Archa) have traditionally claimed around 95% of the local beer market, leaving about 5% for premium beers, imports and local craft beers, which account for between 0.5-1% of the total market.

Thailand’s total beer market sold close to 2 billion liters and was worth 180 billion baht (US$5.8 billion) in 2018, according to the most recent market data.

While craft beers account for a tiny portion of overall sales, they represent one of the few growth sectors, ringing up sales growth of between 40-50% in 2018, according to research by the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), a Bangkok-based think tank.

Craft beer promoters see the industry as a potential wellspring of economic opportunity for homebrewing entrepreneurs, now more than ever as the kingdom seeks new growth drivers with the pandemic-induced collapse of the crucial tourism industry.