BEIJING: Cosmopolitan Chinese consumers are searching out premium and craft beers, a development that is attracting the attention of brewers around the world.

Premium beers are expected to account for more than one third of the $80bn beer market in China by 2020, compared to less than 10% in 2010.

"The premium segment will be an important battle ground for brewers going forward because it will be the main growth driver," according to Katharine Song, a Rabobank analyst based in Shanghai.

"Brewers are adjusting their strategy to focus more on high-end products," she said.

China may drink a quarter of the world's beer volume but it accounts for only 3% of brewers' profits, another reason to encourage drinkers to trade up.

That will have been a factor in the recent sale of SABMiller's 49% stake in Snow, China's top-selling beer brand, as part of its own takeover by AB InBev.

Shanghai Daily noted that this move freed up SABMiller to focus on more lucrative bets in the Chinese market than a beer which sells at 50 cents, in US currency, per bottle.

There is a willingness among shoppers to spend more to stand out from the crowd, with premium beer sales increasing three times faster than the overall market last year, a trend which will aid the marketing efforts of mainstream imported brands.

"Sometimes people choose premium beers — Heineken or Carlsberg for example — because it has a marketing angle or image, a certain attraction like going for a coffee to Starbucks," said Michael Jordan, brewmaster for Boxing Cat Brewery in Shanghai. "It's a kind of status symbol."

Demand for imported high-end beers surged 60% last year as consumers splashed out on craft ales costing up to nine times as much as a bottle of Snow.

And brewers from Scotland to New Zealand have actively targeted drinkers in China, with more planning to follow suit.

"China's on the hit list to tackle in the near future," said Luke Raven, director at Ilkley Brewery in northern England.

Data sourced from Shanghai Daily; additional content by Warc staff