Meet The Brewer | State Of Play, Grant Caunter

State of Play Grant Caunter

Founder and CEO of State of Play, Grant Caunter, said that his first real job was at DB Breweries. He started in December 1996, and it was the beginning of a 25-year career that landed Caunter his dream job as the global director for a craft and variety at Heinkein based in Amsterdam. Here, Caunter oversaw an annual five billion euro global portfolio.

“I have always loved working in the beer industry, the people are a special breed, and I searched the world for great beers in amazing places wrapped up in very cool stories.”

Caunter shared that the beer quickly plays out in real-time with product innovation and marketing to mirror the social mood and trends. The CEO stated that New Zealand leads the way for craft beer, with retailers and hospitality in New Zealand quick to showcase the latest trends for a public interested in trying new and exciting things.

While Caunter was at Heineken HQ, he carried his experiences in crafts to the company’s most prominent beer markets, where he was tasked with expanding Lagunita into 45 different countries, forecasting growth in new-to-craft markets, and streamlining the craft model, balancing the demand for innovation, in conjunction with developing core brands scalable into retail as well as on-premise.

Caunter stated that all was well until March 16th 2020, when he received an email explaining that due to COVID-19, he was in lockdown and would not be able to come into the office, or travel, with no people contact. He shared that he did not return to the office for the last 18 months of his employment with Heineken.

Lockdown was difficult for Caunter.

“Already 145 kgs, unfit with sleep apnea, and constant hangxiety, I was coping like a lot of other people with daily happy hour, that got earlier and earlier.”

Caunter shared that when outdoor bar terraces opened again, he felt that things were out of control with the number of times he went out to enjoy double IPAs. Therefore, on July 3rd 2020, Caunter and his wife Nicky stopped drinking alcohol to retake control and commit to change, sharing that alcohol was central to both of the couple’s bad habits.

The zero scene in Europe was already expansive, with 10 percent of the beer market being non-alcoholic. Within 45 weeks, he was 45 kilograms lighter, no longer using a sleep apnea machine and had a resting heart rate of 20 beats per minute less than before.

After finishing his assignment with Heineken, Caunter returned to New Zealand in September of 2021. After two weeks in MIQ and another lockdown, Caunter enjoyed a zero-percent beer.

However, New Zealand had only a few options outside of imported products. With extensive experience, Caunter wanted to expand New Zealand’s zero-percent choices to include full flavour, naturally brewed, alcohol-free beer.

At the beginning of March 2022, Caunter began State Of Play, New Zealand’s only zero-alcohol brewery.

Caunter launched an IPA, followed by a dry-hopped Pale Ale in November, and later this month, he will launch a world-first fusion brew of Sunbreaker Ale with ginger, lime, and honey.

The latest supermarket data has revealed that State Of Play has had a significant year, its volume growth to the craft category in the past six months, placing the company as the 6th most considerable volume growth contributor of all craft brands. State Of Play has 30 percent distributions nationwide, and with the upcoming ‘dry-July’ month, State of Play's zero-percent beers are well positioned.

The zero-alcohol category in New Zealand has exceeded two percent of total beer, with growth at 65 percent, with the market first propelled by major brands such as Heineken. The growth and popularisation of zero-alcohol beer have opened up opportunities for independent brand growth as consumers move away from alcohol-removed pilsners to new, fuller, flavourful brews.

“This is the shift from drinkers needing a zero (functional requirement) to wanting a zero (emotional and social benefit). It’s no longer shameful taking a craft zero to a BBQ.”

The increased quality of zero-alcohol beers has directly caused a decline in mid-strength beers, with Caunter predicting that in 18 months, the zero-alcohol market would get closer to a four percent market share. With consumers demanding high quality, Caunter stated that alcohol removal does not provide the same experience of the taste of an IPA or Hazy, which is why State Of Play has decided to brew with a new yeast strain that ferments by converting only simple sugars, ensuring a flavour profile, with the hop highlights and experience consumers want, while being low in sugar with only 59 calories per can.

Furthermore, Caunter emphasised that zero beer is nutritionally healthier than sports drinks as its nanotonic, containing the precise amount of vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates needed for refreshment. Caunter shared that alcohol is a depressant, with the body focussed on converting alcohol before addressing the food it was drunk with, incrementally adding weight to the scale, which low-carb beers do little to help with.

“The only way to enjoy a beer and kick off the weight is with a Zero alcohol brew.”

Caunter stated that New Zealand is leading the category with its taste with the ingredients list, including hops, malts, and natural adjuncts combined with speed to market, which is suitable for New Zealand beer drinkers.

The CEO predicted that three groups would drive the zer alcohol market. Firstly, those like Caunter who love beer but want it without alcohol. The second includes what Caunter described as the moderators, consumers who consider alcohol-free a good choice for a mid-week drink or an in-betweener. The third group consists of the younger generation of 20 to 30-year-olds, who Caunter explained have a different relationship with alcohol, with him pointing out that many choose to avoid alcohol altogether.

Caunter revealed that State of Play is brewed entirely at B Studio in Napier, with the product containing 0.37 percent alcohol, which is less than orange juice or a ripe banana, and each beer is pasteurised once it is canned, making it stable and capable of maintaining flavour for longer.

Speaking of his favourite, Caunter revealed he loved an IPA after sport and State Of Play’s Nectatron with food as it complements anything spicy.