As the first brewery established in Sri Lanka, Lion Brewery has paved the way for the country’s alcoholic beverage industry for over a century. We speak to Madhushanka Ranatunga, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, about the brand’s iconic history and vision for a delicious future.
EMBODY THE SPIRIT OF THE LION
Beer brewing – the journey from grain to glass – is a timeless art that has painted itself across a plethora of cultures, having pleased the palettes of both the commoner and members of royalty alike.
A drink that is truly as old as time, the spirit of brewing, in all of its flavours, styles, and traditions, endures as an intrinsic way to bring people together.
This symphony of science and passion can be traced all the way back to the ancient Egyptians, Mesopotamians, and early European tribes, each with their own unique blends of herbs, spices, and even fruit.
Having worked with global alcoholic beverage (alcobev) brands for over 20 years, Madhushanka began his career in tea tasting, where his interests then developed further into exploring tasting notes across a variety of beverages.
“My motivation to be within the alcobev industry stems from my passion for craftsmanship, recognising market opportunities, exploring and innovating within the sector, and a fascination with the science and artistry of crafting distinctive alcoholic beverages,” he opens.
This captivation with complex flavours and aromas, the commitment to sustainability and ethical sourcing, and the opportunity to contribute to the social aspects of enjoying beverages in myriad settings, are all instrumental in making a company like Lion Brewery a household name.
“The most important and exciting component is how global alcobev brands have been able to build a deep emotional connection and loyalty with their customer base through meaningful storytelling, personalised interactions, and unique brand identities that differentiate them, like that of Lion Brewery.”
Lion Brewery, originally named Ceylon Brewery, was the first brewery established in Sri Lanka 175 years ago in 1849.
As the country’s most popular beer brand, anyone who orders a drink in Sri Lanka is sure to recognise the iconic label which bears a lion’s head.
A hit among locals and tourists alike, Lion Brewery operates a plant that brews over 1.5 million hectolitres of beer annually for two big labels, Lion and Carlsberg, which are bottled and canned in the suburb of Biyagama.
The company boasts a variety of different brands in its portfolio, including Lion Lager, Lion Stout, Lion Strong, Lion Ice, Carlsberg Pilsner, Carlsberg Special Brew, Carlsberg Smooth Draught, Somersby, and Guinness.
“Lion Lager is our company’s master brand, setting the tone for the rest of the portfolio. Classified as a mild beer (less than five percent alcohol), it has become associated with the great outdoors and the core values of leadership, local pride, and adventure,” expands Madhushanka.
Lion Ice is the latest light beer to be added to the portfolio, having been launched with the intention to innovate from every angle.
“Packaged in a sleek can, it is the only product in our range that comes with two unique serving rituals using locally sourced ingredients. The “slice” ritual enhances the freshness of the beer with a combination of lime and mint; the “spice” ritual is a unique combination of burnt karapincha (curry leaves) and green chilli that packs the perfect punch.”
The Lion label, which is approximately 160 years old, is now exported to the US, Canada, the UK, Japan, the Middle East, Africa, and the Maldives. With its distinct values and world-class quality, the company’s growing geographic footprint in the international beer market is delivering sustainable growth and margin to both the business and the supply chain.
Lion Brewery is dedicating itself to achieving sustainability initiatives, having set a multi-stage plan for the months and years ahead that is adjusted for output targets and environmentally-friendly objectives.
“A goal we have is to establish a strong sustainability agenda for the business. Since cans, which are made of aluminium, are a big part of the industry, we are working closely with third-party recyclers to ensure the lifecycle of our cans is a closed loop, which will play a pivotal role in the betterment of our planet for future generations,” explains Madhushanka.
The company has adopted a “brewnomic” vision, first conceptualised by mechanical engineering company Steinecker, which is a supply concept for an energy self-sufficient, carbon-neutral brewery.
This idea centralises around breweries supplying their own energy by utilising residual materials accumulated during the brewing process, combining proven technology with a media supply that is gentle on resources.
This ultimately allows for companies like Lion Brewery to optimise their energy use, minimise peak loads, and adopt a modular concept that can be independently implemented while benefitting the environment.
In addition to introducing more eco-friendly goals for a better future, Lion Brewery highlights the incredible work its 300+ employees do on a daily basis to help the company find continuous success, even after 175 years.
“We empower our staff by living our values. We work closely with them to invest in talent as this is the best way to shape the future of the business,” enthuses Madhushanka.
“Our ethos is to maintain best-in-class services and products, and encourage cohesiveness in every aspect to ensure competition is kept at bay.”
As the second-largest taxpayer in the alcobev segment, contributing LKR70 billion during 2023 while injecting LKR16 billion into the local economy through the purchase of goods and services, the brewery is not only reaching these objectives but surpassing them.
A GOLDEN FUTURE
Despite the extensive history that encompasses the art of beer making, there is still a plethora of excitement and innovation within the industry, especially in Sri Lanka.
“Comparative to the global beer market, Sri Lanka is still in a stage of infancy. There is therefore a lot of potential for the industry to expand in terms of product offerings, occasions, and experiences around beer,” comments Madhushanka.
To address these opportunities for expansion, Lion Brewery is working towards introducing a craft range of beers that will diversify its portfolio offering even further in the upcoming years.
Additionally, the brewery is prioritising the continuation of its high standards, having won a slew of honours at the 2023 SLIM National Sales Congress (NASCO) Awards. It was also named Export Brand of the Year at the 2022 NASCO Awards, and won Product Packaging of the Year at the 2023 FMCG Asia Awards.
Ultimately, Lion Brewery is looking to continue its time-tested legacy by investing in its brands and strengthening its drink portfolio; building a strong innovation pipeline that will feature as a critical workstream to support international and domestic markets; and progressing people development and capacity building within the organisation.
“While our numbers and targets may change annually, our key priority is to remain the market leader, provide consumers with best-in-class products and experiences, and drive more focus on our sustainability agenda,” concludes Madhushanka.
The beer-making journey is not merely about the end product; it’s about the celebration of traditions, pushing boundaries, the joy of togetherness, and indulging in the very human act of creation.
Lion Brewery recognises the significance of this process and is proud to be a part of that journey.