SHANGHAI: Already the largest beer market in the world by volume, China is expected to overtake the US as the world's largest beer market by value within the next three years, a recent industry report has forecast.

According to Euromonitor International, the beer market in China was 79% of the size of the US market in 2013 (in fixed exchange rate terms), but is expected to record growth of 45% by 2017 to make it the global leader, Asia Outlook reported.

The growth will be underpinned by rising wages and disposable incomes in China combined with an increasing number of people within the legal drinking age limit.

Of particular note for international brands, Euromonitor expected the country's improved economic condition to lead to more Chinese consumers trading up to premium beers.

Economy beers dominate the market at present and accounted for 82% of overall beer sales in 2013 compared with just 25% in the US, but this is likely to change.

"As these new consumers' incomes increase and macroeconomic conditions improve, brewers will also be able to encourage consumers to trade up," said Amin Alkhatib, a global market insight analyst at Euromonitor.

"With ever increasing affordability both within and beyond urban centres, and with the increasing penetration of retailing channels, global brewers can capture a consumer base in provincial China that was previously beyond their reach," he said.

Snow, the brand run by a joint venture between China Resources and London-listed SABMiller, was by far the most popular beer in China last year.

It sold 10.3bn litres, followed by Tsingtao (5.2bn), Yanjing (3.8bn), Anheuser-Busch InBev's Harbin (2.8bn), and Laoshan (1.5bn). Via its complete portfolio of brands, Anheuser-Busch InBev sold 6.2bn litres while Denmark's Carlsberg sold 2.3bn.

Separately, The Drinks Business publication, working with Euromonitor, issued a list of the top ten global beer brands by volume sales in 2013.

Snow topped the global rankings as well and was joined in the top ten by three other Chinese brands – Tsingtao, which dislodged Bud Light from the number two slot, Yanjing and Harbin.

The other six international brands were Bud Light (#3), Budweiser (#4), Skol (#5), Heineken (#7), Brahma (#9), and Molson Coors (#10).

Data sourced from Asia Outlook, The Drinks Business; additional content by Warc