Tuesday 20 November 2007

Confused & Bemused

Beer sales have slumped to their lowest level since the Great Depression, according to figures released by the British Beer & Pub Association today (November 20, 2007).

But I'm a bit confused and bemused by this announcement and what it's trying to achieve; because, to my mind, all this proclamation is going to generate is stories about beer not being popular any more, which - if we're not careful - could surely just become a self-perpetuating prophesy.

Now the BBPA will doubtless claim that its aim is to highlight the rising costs and sinking sales of its members' products - but it is probably a good idea to remember that a significant number of its members are the big brewers and pub companies, which have a certain brewing and stocking policy that involves a lot of mainstream lager brands...

If you then think about this in light of the recent report written by Pete Brown* on the cask ale market, which showed most of the top-line 5% decline in the cask market comes from the ‘big four’ multi-national brewers, you begin to see a slightly different story emerging.

And if you then notice that these same companies are systematically withdrawing support from their cask brands.... I think you're beginning to get the outline of the picture here.

And now for the colour - independent and local brewers are reporting growth, on average, of 7.5% year-on-year, because they are enthusiastically investing in their brands which have genuine local provenance and are brewed in their country of origin, in many cases just down the road from where they are being drunk.

So why has this story been released? Well we all know that there is the threat of additional taxation on booze and this will undoubtedly be a bad thing for the brewing industry and pub trade - not to mention your pocket and mine - and I don't have a problem with trying to challenge that.

The major problem I DO have is that, once again, the BBPA's doom and gloom approach does nothing more than further damage beer's image by painting it as a product that nobody wants.

What this report seems to say to me, when viewed in light of Pete Brown's findings, is that, actually, fewer people want mass-produced products and that the big brewers are missing out by under-investing in their cask brands.

In fact, I remember very clearly nearly 10 years ago a representative of Bass Brewers saying that nobody wants cask any more because it's too complicated to have a living organism in the cellar and that consumers were 'voting with their throats' by moving to lager and smoothflow products.

And, whilst I am all for the Chancellor taking on board that there have been major increases in costs for nearly all the raw materials required for beer production, I think it's more than a little disingenuous of the big brewers to start crying now when they've held a lager/smoothflow monopoly over people's beer tastes for a good few decades.

Quite simply boys it's someone else's turn to play now so, rather than stamping your feet and taking your ball in, perhaps a look at the way consumers are 'voting with their throat' would do your business some good...

...but maybe that's just too simplistic a view.

*The Intelligent Choice Report on the state of the cask ale market was written by Pete Brown and co-published by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), the Independent Family Brewers of Britain, the Society of Independent Brewers, the Cask Marque Trust and the Why Handpull? group.


Anonymous said...

British beer conglomerates have not always demonstrated clear insight into what their customers want to buy. Even when they have good market research, they tend to screw it up (I learned a lot from Pete Brown and Martyn Cornell :)

I'm more excited about smaller start-ups like the Betwixt Beer Company, which is finding its way around traditional pub distribution by selling beer at farmer's markets. too bad I have no immediate prospects for tasting their beer.

Melissa Cole said...

Thanks for that Mark, I've let the outlaws know as they run a real ale pub in that neck of the woods.

Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

It seems to me that the same trends are happening around the common wealth and perhaps the States, beer consumption is dropping but the more charcterfull, craft, in the UK cask , end of the market is rising.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Melissa Cole said...

try telling the health nazis that we're drinking less but better!!

Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

Well , perhaps those who used to binge drink low end beer, now are drinking RTD's. Pre-mixers are something that probibly should be stamped out. Coco Cola Generation.

MicMac said...

Hi again, Melissa, & hi to Mark - thanks for the mention (I'm Mike from Betwixt Beer). It's true to say that we started as a non-traditional brewing company, but we are slowly & purposely becoming a bit more conventional in certain ways. In our experience so far, there is little profit (or indeed, ahem even wages!) in us working as 'cuckoo brewers' as we have for the past couple of years, so we will be hopefully soon be opening our own brewery on the Wirral. We currently generally avoid supplying pubs, because our production cost is so high, but with our own brewery we plan to sell our beers in as many places as can stock it, look after it & sell it! We plan to continue with the successful farmers markets, plus open a brewery shop. However, Mark, I'm afraid Rochester NY might be a bit beyond us for deliveries for a while yet though, sorry (there's flights to Liverpool from one of the NY airports, though, I think?).

Melissa - I'm curious where's the outlaws' pub?

Melissa Cole said...

Hi Mike,
Apologies for the delay - it's the Old Black Bull in Preston. I had a word with the outlaws and they said if you can supply through Hart Brewery then they'd be happy to look at stocking your beers.

Good luck!