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Cobra Beer Ltd.’s Strategic Analysis Report


Executive Summary

The present report is devoted to an external, internal, and stakeholder analysis of Cobra Beer Ltd (CB). CB is a UK- and India-based beer company that is predominantly oriented towards Indian cuisine (Bloomberg 2017b). The external analysis, which includes Porter’s Five Forces, shows that the UK beer industry has been losing its attractiveness because of an increase in supplier, customer, and substitute powers. However, CB remains a powerful incumbent of the mature UK beer industry. The PEST analysis demonstrates that the worldwide beer industry appears to be relatively attractive, especially due to new markets development in the still-growing industry, but it has issues, including the sluggish crisis recovery (Tomlinson & Branston 2013).

The internal analysis shows that the major resources of CB include its experience (positive and negative), human resources and their management, and the organisational culture. Also, customer research and innovation are an important element of CB’s value chain (Davies 2016). As for the PR issues, the analysis determines that CB had lost and needed to win the trust of external stakeholders as a result of a questionable deal in the past, but nowadays, the company demonstrates that it is a responsible corporate citizen (Smale 2014).

The four alternatives that are currently available to CB include focusing on domestic market and avoiding global expansion, postponing global expansion until the recovery from the recession is complete, or advancing in the global market with or without simultaneous extensive development in the domestic one. The report argues that the focus on a prompt global expansion without a similar focus on the domestic one suits the company’s goals, is acceptable from the perspective of its vision and can be feasible due to CB’s resources.

Introduction

The present report investigates the Cobra Beer company’s strategy and outlines recommendations for future strategic development based on external, internal and stakeholder analyses. Cobra Beer is a major brand manufactured by Cobra Beer Ltd (CB), currently a subsidiary of Molson Coors Brewing Company (UK) Ltd (MC) (Bloomberg 2017b). CB has launched a diversification program and currently produces various other goods, including bicycles, sunglasses and lamps (Cobra Beer n.d.a). However, CB brand beer remains the company’s primary product, which has earned the company 88 Monde Selection medals for unique smoothness, quality and taste, tailored specifically for Indian dishes (Cobra Beer n.d.b). The present report reviews the specifics of the company’s strategy to define its future action, which should involve global expansion.

Forces and External Environment that Shape the Industry

This part of the paper is devoted to an external analysis of CB’s industry, which includes the UK and global beer industry (Bloomberg 2017a). The analysis will be carried out with the help of PEST (a macro-analysis), Porter’s Five Forces (PFF) and Industry Life Cycle (ILC) models (Allen 2015; Fleisher & Bensoussan 2015; Rao & Klein 2015). The summary of the analyses can be found in Appendices A–C and Figures 1–3.

The company’s founder and current chairman, Lord Bilimoria, believes that the UK beer market is extremely competitive (Burns 2014). This view corresponds to the fact that local beer industries tend to be relatively well-developed and are often mature due to their long history of beer-brewing (Stack, Gartland & Keane 2016; Wells 2016). The international beer industry, on the other hand, can be defined as still growing (see Appendix A): it started its development in the second half of the previous century, and it continues to expand (Stack, Gartland & Keane 2016). From the point of view of PFF, this means that the UK industry faces significant entry barriers because of the resistance of the incumbents (Rao & Klein 2015). CB is one of these incumbents, meaning that it enjoys the protection of high entry barriers.

With respect to the force of consumers, the UK beer industry is characterised by the high bargaining power of clients. Indeed, the demand for beer in the UK has been decreasing in recent years. Tomlinson and Branston (2013, p. 213) demonstrate that this phenomenon is likely to be the result of other alcoholic drinks (especially cider and wine) becoming more popular. These beverages can be regarded as a threat of substitution (see Appendix C). However, there has been a trend showing a modest increase in off-trade beer in the UK (British Beer and Pub Association 2016b). Tomlinson and Branston (2013) point out that on-trade beer has been increasing in price, justified by increases in taxes and duties but making the product less attractive than off-trade beer, the price of which has managed to decrease due to supermarket discounts. The issue of increasing prices and growing taxes can be viewed as a problem from the perspective of supplier bargaining power because price control depends on the suppliers’ prices and quality (Fleisher & Bensoussan 2015). It is particularly significant since nowadays, the production of beer is greatly facilitated by potentially costly technological advancements (Cobra Beer n.d.b).

However, the consumption of beer is growing in certain global regions. As of 2012, Europe showed little increase in consumption while Africa, Asia and Latin America exhibited a noticeable increase (Stack, Gartland & Keane 2016, p. 61). Therefore, the situation in the UK market is less economically favourable compared to the global one.

One of the major economic factors affecting the industry was the recession of 2008 (see Appendix B). The Indian cuisine industry in the UK, which is directly connected to CB’s on-trade sales, was damaged by the crisis of 2008 and has been struggling to recover with relative success (Washtell 2016). Another significant economic factor involves supportive industries, in particular, tourism. The number of Indian tourists visiting various parts of the world has increased, but the British Beer and Pub Association (2016a) reports that for the UK, the number has been decreasing, which illustrates the increasing attractiveness of the global market.

From political and legislative points of view, a couple of factors are of importance for the industry. Lord Bilimoria sees the EU as a force that is both restrictive and beneficial: in particular, he considers the regulations to be limiting, but he is not sure if he can support Brexit because he believes that it would result in the UK losing its value as a market (Howard 2016). In general, Lord Bilimoria believes that the mere intent to leave the European Union may have damaged the reputation of the UK as a stable business partner. As a result, he is searching for the means to improve the situation: for example, by advocating for changes in tourism policies and the development of new visas, especially for the Indian population (Bilimoria 2015; British Beer and Pub Association 2016a; Skapinker 2015). For the time being, however, the political events related to Brexit appear to be somewhat threatening to the stability of the industry.

The government of the UK appears to support the brewery industry, especially with respect to export. As of 2013, 22% of the country’s exports in foods and drinks constituted alcoholic beverages (Collin, Johnson & Hill 2014, p. 19). In general, the government considers representatives of the industry to be important stakeholders, which means that current policies are developed in consultation with them and keeping their interests in mind (Hawkins & Holden 2014, p. 67). Therefore, the government provides a beneficial environment for the development of the industry. However, it also has introduced certain restrictions and standards with respect to production and marketing; for example, the UK has maintained its Advertising Standards Authority Code of Broadcast Advertising (Searle, Alston & French 2014).

Concerning social developments, two factors can be pointed out. First, it is important for the beer industry that the beverage typically is strongly identified with a particular nation, and national drinks are usually favoured over foreign ones (Stack, Gartland & Keane 2016). This factor can be both restrictive (from the perspective of global export) and beneficial (from the expatriate perspective). As for expatriates, migration is a socioeconomic and political factor that can be regarded as significant for the beer industry; for CB, Indian migration is particularly important. To sum up, PEST, PFF, and ILC demonstrate that the UK beer industry is mature or, possibly, declining and faced with multiple issues and threats while the global industry seems to offer numerous opportunities.

Internal Strategic Analysis

An analysis of CB’s internal strategic analysis involves discussing the company’s value chain (VC) and considering CB in the context of a resource-based view (RBV) analysis (Fleisher & Bensoussan 2015; Grant & Jordan 2015; Well, 2015). As one of the company’s major resources, experience should be pointed out. Throughout almost thirty years of its history, CB has encountered both successes and failures. From the time of its establishment, the company was growing at a rapid pace (about forty percent growth every year), and profits were predominantly used to support ongoing growth (Smale 2014, para. 5–6). According to Lord Bilimoria, the latter decision was a major mistake, which eventually resulted in overproduction and debts and nearly destroyed the organisation (Heilpern 2016; Howard 2016).

Lord Bilimoria reports that the crisis of overproduction was only resolved through the formation of a joint venture with MC through a pre-packaged sale, which helped to write off the debts (Burns 2014, p. 189). He also states that the sales of the company have never stopped growing, although he has managed to prevent outgrowth from occurring again (Smale 2014).

It is noteworthy that Lord Bilimoria has a degree in commerce (and another in law), and if at the beginning of his career as an entrepreneur, he had no experience, today he is an experienced and competent chairman (Howard 2016; Smale 2014). Also, the deal with MC did not just save CB from bankruptcy: it provided CB with more extensive resources, including those of a financial nature, and made it a part of a brewery giant with more than 350 years of experience, an 80% market share in the American market and a 17% share in Europe (Barrow 2016, p. 248; Stack, Gartland & Keane 2016, p. 67).

Lord Bilimoria believes that the main features that help his business stay afloat include a loyal team and the company’s culture, especially its values, which incorporate integrity (Heilpern 2016). Thus, the chairman of the company appears to regard human resources (HR) and organisational culture as key resources of CB. Both components can also be viewed as a part of the value chain because they involve multiple activities aimed at the creation of value, and they are rather closely related (see Appendix D, Figure 4). Here, they will be discussed in detail.

CB’s culture involves open communication and the requirements of honesty, commitment and discipline – which, however, is predominantly related to work. There are no additional rules (for example, dress codes), which, in the view of the managers, should help the team to remain efficient but content with their job. In fact, employees are allowed to drink at the workplace within sensible limits (Davies 2016, p. 72). The values of the company include passion, enthusiasm and the desire to achieve success, as well as a ‘vision for the product, supported by a commitment to all stakeholders’ (Davies 2016, p. 70). With respect to people, CB is devoted to the development of HR: even Lord Bilimoria is sometimes involved in coaching (Davies 2016). Thus, the company acknowledges the value of organisational culture and related HR management.

The main competitive advantage of CB is its unique, original product, Cobra Beer, which comes in three varieties: Cobra Beer Zero, an alcohol-free beer; King Cobra, a double-fermented beer and Cobra Premium, as the name implies, a premium Cobra beer (Cobra Beer n.d.b). Lord Bilimoria specifically points out that the beer was developed to fit Indian cuisine, which, in his view, the UK beer of his youth could not manage. As a result, he attempted to create ‘a beer with the refreshment of a lager, but with the smoothness of an ale’ (Smale 2014, para. 27). It can be suggested that the product was developed to fit the needs of the customers and with a deep understanding of their wishes. Therefore, the company was established due to a feat of customer research, nowadays a major part of the value chain for CB (Cobra Beer n.d.a).

The development of the product involved experimenting with the aim to achieve the flavour that Lord Bilimoria had envisioned (Davies 2016). In other words, the beer was innovative, and the element of the development of a solution to challenges discovered through customer research was not overlooked in CB’s value chain (Burns 2014; Skapinker 2015). CB continues to innovate in diverse fields, including beer (Cobra Beer n.d.a). For example, the company has recently improved glasses for CB, which the company has been producing since the beginning (Burns 2014, p. 188), to enhance the pouring process (Cobra Beer n.d.b).

The next element of the value chain is production (see Appendix D). CB maintains and indeed highlights the quality of its product (Barrow 2016). Also, CB’s managers think strategically with respect to production and other operations; CB’s reports are not available to the public, but it reports the rule of having detailed three-year operating plans (Davies 2016). Apart from that, the brand promotion, marketing and public relations (PR) efforts of CB have proven successful. CB has always generously invested in advertising (Davies 2016), and it has been demonstrating through contributions to charity that it is a responsible corporate citizen (Cobra Foundation 2017). Thus, by responding to the customers’ needs, innovating, ensuring the quality of production and promoting the product, CB has found a particular niche and discovered a demand for a particular type of beer (Heilpern 2016; Howard 2016).

By 2015, CB’s beer was sold in the majority (more than 95%) of UK curry restaurants, which can be explained by the company’s targeting strategies (Barrow 2016). In addition, the company has been extending its reach towards supermarkets (Smale 2014, para. 40), becoming available in most of the largest supermarkets by 2015 (Barrow 2016, p. 248). As of 2016, the retail value of the company amounted to £250 million (Heilpern 2016, para. 7). To sum up, CB has gained a notable prominence in the market (Barrow 2016), and Lord Bilimoria reports his intent to make the business global in about 20 years (Davies 2016, Howard 2016).

External Stakeholder Issues, Corporate Reputation, and Brand Equity

The present part of the report reviews PR issues and activities of CB. The concepts of corporate social responsibility (CSR), reputation management and organisational ethics (Beal 2013; Buckler 2017), as well as stakeholder theories (Crisan & Adi 2017), were used in this part. These concepts were aimed at assessing the issues of the external stakeholders as well as the way CB addresses them.

The PR activities of CB are important as an element of its value chain (see Appendix D), which is particularly obvious because of crisis-related activities. It can be suggested that the risky activities of the past, involving uncontrolled expansion, demonstrated a lack of concern for stakeholders (Crisan & Adi 2017). In addition, the growing overproduction of CBL, partially coinciding with the financial crisis of 2008, made the managers execute the deal with MC, which is not always considered ethical (Smale 2014, para. 3). In particular, it is problematic because the pre-packaged sale legally wrote off the debts to unsecured creditors, including suppliers and package developers (Burns 2014). In other words, the company has the right to avoid paying these debts, and Burns (2014) reports that the reaction of the creditors has naturally been negative. Thus, a major concern of CB’s stakeholders includes this event, which must have affected the company’s reputation. Fortunately, CB is working to resolve the issue.

Indeed, Lord Bilimoria reports that he has been paying the debts despite the fact that they are legally non-existent because he believes that it is the right thing to do (Smale 2014, para. 15-16). Lord Bilimoria also claims that throughout the period of the crisis, the team were open about the issues and gave interviews to report changes in the situation (Heilpern 2016), which is logical given the company’s emphasis on the importance of integrity and honesty. Finally, CB remains loyal to its supporters who showed loyalty in return; for example, the company continues to use its original warehouse, which struggled through the crisis with CB, even though additional warehouses are necessary to meet the current levels of CB’s production (Davies 2016, p. 71). It is noteworthy that the supply of beer never stopped, even when the company was on the brink of bankruptcy (Smale 2014). Thus, the company has been working on preserving and cementing the trust of external (and internal) stakeholders, attempting to alleviate the damage dealt.

Lord Bilimoria views CSR and PR as a means of building relationships with the community, prompting the company to engage in multiple activities aimed at demonstrating that it is a responsible citizen (Davies 2016, p. 72). In particular, CB has created its charity organisation Cobra Foundation (2017), which provides various forms of support to the young people of South Asia. It is also noteworthy that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (2017) includes King Cobra, one of CB’s products, in its list of vegan-friendly beer brands, meaning that animals are in no way involved in or harmed by the production process. Thus, the company clearly takes into account community and environmental concerns and contributes to their resolution.

Finally, it is noteworthy that the staff of the company is diverse, which is reflected even in the board of directors, including ‘a Kenyan, two Britons, a Pakistani, and an Indian’ (Davies 2016, p. 72). Lord Bilimoria promotes the relationship between India and the UK and supports immigrants (Bilimoria 2015; British Beer and Pub Association 2016a), which can be regarded as another attempt to respond to the community’s concerns. Apart from that, Lord Bilimoria suggests that immigration presupposes an influx of talent to the UK (Skapinker 2015), demonstrating that his agenda extends beyond helping individuals and involves being responsible with respect to the entire country. It can be concluded that the company works to create welfare for all the stakeholders involved, including shareholders, employees, customers and the community at large (Crisan & Adi 2017). Regarding the concerns that CB has managed to identify, including trust and the company’s reputation as well as CSR-related issues, the company is choosing to respond to those that appear to be strategically important for itself.

Strategic Options and Recommendations

The presented analysis points to several important conclusions. First, the UK may be slowly losing its attractiveness while also offering a relatively stable market for CB given the ubiquitous use of the beer by the target population (visitors to restaurants specialising in Indian cuisine). It should be pointed out that CB does not appear to have experienced a problem related to the reduction in beer demand due to its unique niche (Heilpern 2016). Tomlinson and Branston (2013) also report that reduction in demand has predominantly damaged pubs, which CB has never targeted. Also, CB’s spread to supermarkets offers promise due to the slight increase in the off-trade sales of beer. Still, the trend of decreasing demand for beer in the UK raises concerns about the future, especially since CB intends to continue to expand both in the field of beer sales and other areas that the diversification process has opened (Davies 2016, Howard 2016). Moreover, the problem of the Indian cuisine crisis in the UK and the Brexit threat suggest that CB might experience consequences from these issues if precautions are not taken. Therefore, CB needs to make a decision about future action as soon as possible – before it experiences the negative outcomes of the described situation.

Second, the global market seems to be exceptionally attractive for CB. Here, it is noteworthy that beer is reported to be historically related to a country’s or a nation’s identity (Stack, Gartland & Keane 2016), and given CB’s focus on Indian cuisine, there are many Indians not currently reached by the company. Ongoing globalisation is prompting Indians to emigrate to a number of countries, and in 2015, the Indian diaspora of migrants was the largest in the world, amounting to 16 million people (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs 2015b, p. 3). The countries that are reported to hold the greatest number of Indian expatriates are the United Arab Emirates, the US, and Saudi Arabia (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs 2015a). Apart from the expatriates, the tourism industry is noticeably supportive of brewery entrepreneurs (British Beer and Pub Association 2016a), which is especially relevant for CB’s experience of selling on-trade beer. Thus, CB does have an opportunity to reach numerous potential customers if it expands.

Third, CB currently has many resources. The company has recovered from the crisis, although it has not reported that all its debts have been paid. The production growth of CB never stopped, but it slowed down, and Lord Bilimoria managed to deal with the issue of overproduction, which can be regarded as a positive outcome. Also, CB’s joint venture with MC offers the company access to extensive financial and other resources relevant for a beer company. At the same time, other breweries also experienced the crisis (Walle 2015), even though they may not have suffered to a similar extent if they had no comparable internal issues. In other words, CB is a strong competitor nowadays with its distinct, original product and recognisable brand that targets a particular market segment but does not yet reach it globally. CB has the resources to handle expansion and related challenges, and it should be capable of repeating its success in new settings due to the specifics of its product.

Fourth, the company has had issues with expansion, resulting in PR problems and damage to the company’s reputation. This aspect is important to consider because it narrows the options available to CB: to refuse to carry out any global expansion and focus instead on the domestic market, to postpone global expansion until the market is fully recovered from the recession or to expand globally in the near future with or without a simultaneous domestic market expansion. According to the SAF model, the options need to be evaluated from the point of view of their suitability (appropriateness from the perspective of the objectives of the company), acceptability (appropriateness for the stakeholders) and feasibility (the use of resources in the most efficient way) (Daidj 2015, p. 5; Morley 2014, p. 221). The present report appears to demonstrate that the latter option is the most suitable, appropriate and feasible, which is proved by the environmental, internal and stakeholder analyses.

From the point of view of appropriateness, a global expansion is of interest for CB’s stakeholders, including MC. Currently, MC has a very small share in Asia and no sales in Africa, a situation that does not correspond to the increase in the rate of beer consumption in the regions (Stack, Gartland & Keane 2016, p. 67). However, Asia (especially the UAE) seems to offer many potential customers, making an expansion to an area that has been showing a rapid increase in beer consumption reasonable. It should be pointed out that appropriateness needs to be defined by the stakeholders themselves (Daidj 2015, p. 5). However, it can be inferred that the option would be considered appropriate due to the company’s unchanging focus on the Indian population. This focus probably could be modified with time, but it is directly related to the company’s philosophy, vision and integrity, which is why the present report does not suggest such a radical change. Instead, the company is encouraged to proceed with its visionary work on a larger scale, a familiar activity for CB.

With respect to suitability, the company’s goals, opportunities and situation need to be taken into account. The purpose of expansion appears to remain important for the company if its ongoing growth of production can serve as an indicator. Moreover, Lord Bilimoria believes that, sooner or later, a company has to expand globally, which demonstrates that the option corresponds to the goals of the management (Davies 2016, Howard 2016). Similar goals would be expected from MC, and this fact can be especially relevant due to the lack of the company’s engagement in the rapidly developing beer markets that can be targeted by the expansion. At the same time, as mentioned, the situation calls for action: while the UK demonstrates unimpressive growth rates of beer consumption, the rapidly growing markets like Asia and Africa are being taken up by competitors (Stack, Gartland & Keane 2016). Waiting for an excessively long time can result in these competitors settling in the markets and CB having to overcome significant entry barriers. Thus, the decision to expand globally in the near future appears to be suitable.

With respect to feasibility, the issue of the negative experience of expansion needs to be taken into account. Currently, the industry is recovering from crisis as seen in the struggles of Indian restaurants in the UK. As a result, it would not be surprising to discover similar tendencies in other countries, making progress in them more difficult. However, as pointed out, CB is currently at its strongest; it is a mature incumbent in the UK, with limited opportunities to develop in the country, but with multiple resources coming from its ongoing growth and MC’s support. The issue of trust has almost been resolved, and the company has proved itself to be a responsible corporate citizen and a financially capable project. As a result, the hardships of global expansion should be feasible from the point of view of investment, which should facilitate its acquisition. Also, the option of expanding globally without simultaneous expansion within the domestic market can be used to focus the resources of the company on the former, making it more feasible. To sum up, the present report suggests making use of the increase in Indian tourism and the notable expatriation rates, as well as currently available resources, to focus on proceeding with the visionary work of CB on a global scale in the near future.

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