Saturday, 13 February 2010

Tetley, who cares?


I've looked on with slightly bemused wonder at the complaints over the closure of the Tetley brewery at Leeds. I can understand why people are upset about the loss of something they cherish dearly, after all, the production of one of my childhood sweets, CurlyWurly, is to move to Poland. The bizarre chocolate covered toffee bar will never be the same.

Clearly the loss of British jobs is something we should worry about. The continuing re-adjustment of the economic situation is causing various industries to contract with the inevitable shedding of workers. There is probably nothing we can do about that.

The beer industry is of particular note; not only is the recession having a detrimental impact on sales, the beer market is in decline also. Very simply the brewing industry has over capacity and so some breweries have to close.

There has been a significant increase of brewing capacity in the microbrewery sector further putting pressure on the larger breweries.

Personally, I'd rather a continual increase in volume of micro-brewed beer than have preservation of outdated breweries that make yet another brown bitter which most people don't care about. After all, the beer is not exactly exciting, so all we would really be mourning is the loss of a brand with no substance. Caring about that, to me, is just as silly as worrying about the shape of your chocolate covered toffee.

19 comments:

Curmudgeon said...

Do you really think microbreweries are putting pressure on Carlsberg, Coors, Heineken and Inbev? Surely it's like a mouse biting an elephant.

Woolpack Dave said...

I do see what you are saying.

But actually I think there is some evidence of there being an effect. If the beer market is shrinking, which it is, and the microbrewery market is growing, the overall effect is that the macro beer market is shrinking faster than overall. That's maths that is. How big is that effect and how much it matters is indeed a moot point.

Is the effect something that bothers the likes of Coors et al? There is evidence that it does that too. Overall I think the result might actually be positive in that these people will start making more interesting stuff. Brand enhancement is the thing here.

But surely the Tetley brand is more associated with the ale market? It sits, in my view, only 2 leagues above micro-brewed beer. Only the family brewers sit between them. I know people who used to enjoy drinking Tetley beer 20 years ago but now drink local beers. I know some pubs that will have had Tetley cask, or maybe Boddintons in 20 years ago but today have a row of great hand-pulled beer.

Plus, in this instance Tetley's survival is being campaigned about by people who are supposed to be beer enthusiasts, so it puzzles me why they are bothered.

Curmudgeon said...

It's a long time since I've had a pint of cask Tetley's, or even seen it on the bar, but there was a time when it was almost regarded as the national beer of Yorkshire, and was one of the few big brewery products given some respect by CAMRA. I get the impression that Carlsberg have thoroughly pissed away its brand equity as a cask beer - but it's still one of the biggest sellers as a smooth beer and the two versions of Tetley's (Smooth and Original) are #7 and #10 amongst off-trade ale brands, so it still has a significant position in the marketplace.

RedNev said...

I agree with your sentiments, Dave. While I do regret the closure of a bulk real ale brewer, I find Tetley's isn't the beer it once was. It was never the same after production in Warrington was ended and moved to Leeds; to me it's now one of the most boring real ales going.

Velky Al said...

Do breweries such as Fuller's count as "micro-breweries"?

I ask simply because I get the feeling sometimes that too many people over look the medium sized traditional breweries that make "boring brown beer" in favour of breweries chucking C-hops at everything and calling it a revolution.

Yes, it is great that British brewing is introducing new flavours to the beer drinking public, but isn't there a danger that real ale continues to be seen as "old man beer" when its erstwhile blogging champions are having their heads turned to beer that wants to be trendy?

It is sad that a famous brewing name such as Tetley shuts its doors, what is more sad is the shadow it became of its former self and that no-one seemed to care to object.

Ron Pattinson said...

I care.

Woolpack Dave said...

Al, I have a high regard for Fullers as it is at the moment. If they got bought out by a bigger brewery then who could say.

Jennings in Cumbria is similar having been bought out by Marstons. The changes are subtle but there is a danger of dilution of the brand that could eventually destroy it. I think it's being reasonably well looked after, but accountants and shareholder dividends are more powerful than the beer drinkers desires.

Ron, I'm sure you do care, very much. I'd love to know why. Is it because of a nostalgic desire for a bygone age? There is nothing wrong with nostalgia and I am guilty of that myself from time to time. However, keeping failed brands alive for no other reason than nostalgia seems a little bit of a pointless reason to fight for a brewery.

Tandleman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tandleman said...

I think the history of big beer brands in this country since the Beer Orders has been split two ways. Pushing of lager brands and neglect of ale ones. Given that Carlsberg has made a pig's ear of Tetley since day one, the road to where we are now has an air of inevitability about it.

But does it matter? Well if you take the view that a country's heritage brands - which come and go admittedly - are neither here nor there, it doesn't. But do you imagine Antwerp without De Koninck, or Munich without Paulaner? Amsterdam without Heineken or Dublin without Guinness? We had iconic brands known the world over too. Bass, Ind Coope, McEwans, Courage, yes and Tetley too, but they have all been neglected to the point of death by multi national owners.

As for the micros being a cause of this decline, well marginally, but actually they are just the beneficiaries of it.

When national brewers beer was sold in national brewer's pubs, the beer was usually pretty good and before we get too smug about micros, the rise of interesting micro brewed beer only came about 10 or so years go. Before that their beer was mostly browm and boring too. A lot of it still is.

There is a potential problem here that with the withdrawal to all intents and purposes of national brewers from cask ale has contracted the overall ale market and that's good for no-one.

Most brewers strive to be bigger and then their beer rarely improves in flavour though technically it will be better brewed. We will see that trend continuing as the economy picks up. The failure of Cains and Copper Dragon and others will not stop this desire to grow.

It all stems back to the beer orders and bad decision making. It would have been a more interesting world back in the eighties if the big brewers had held on the 2000 pubs each and sold the rest. Maybe better beer would have evolved anyway? We would also have had less incentive for brewers to chuck away their ale brands, more competition and less avaricious Pub Cos.

So, does the closure of Tetley's matter? Not if you only look at the small picture, but if you look at the bigger one, yes.

And it can still be a fine beer.

Barry M said...

CurlyWurly production moving to Poland? How come it only seemed to be available in selection boxes for the past 20 years? Although I always swapped my Curlywurly for one of my Brothers' Crunchies.

Oh, and shame about Tetley's, too, I'm sure.

Curmudgeon said...

Tandleman has it spot on there. Loads of micro-brewers, however good, don't fully compensate for the loss of well-respected big players in the market. And the much-reviled "Big Six" did used to brew plenty of good beer.

Whorst said...

Pattinson cares because he's got all their dated and outdated beer literature. Rumor on the street is he's in possession of the padlocked metal cask the brewery challenged Houdini to escape out of.

Eddie86 said...

2 points, if I may.

Firstly, perhaps the growth of microbreweries is just replacing the large ones shutting down? Along the lines of 100 micro's starting = 1 big boy closing down. It all depends on what you call micro brewing, surely. Is there a set number of BBs brewed per year that defines a micro, family, regional and national brewer?

Secondly, and possibly a can of worms, but a quote from Dave:

keeping failed brands alive for no other reason than nostalgia seems a little bit of a pointless reason to fight for a brewery.

Replace the words 'brands' and 'brewery' with 'pub' and discuss...

Ron Pattinson said...

Tetley's didn't just brew Bitter, remember. Tetley Mild reamains an icon to me.

Ron Pattinson said...

Tandleman, Heineken closed their Amsterdam brewery in 1989.

Woolpack Dave said...

Thanks guys, nice points. I get what you are all saying although I'm not sure I agree. It still comes down to nostalgia in my mind. Very admirable and well placed nostalgia, but that is insufficient to make a difference to corporate decisions.

Is cask being destroyed by these large breweries? Are microbreweries making an impact or just soaking up spare market gaps? These are interesting perspectives.

Eddie, you can indeed insert the word "pub" and the point in my mind is exactly the same. Being in the trade and trying to make an honest living out of it I do believe that there is an over capacity in the traditional pub market. There is only one way this can go.

Whorst said...

Elvis Presley is an icon, Tetley Mild is most definitely not! No wonder you're the king of geeks!

Leigh said...

It's the loss of jobs, Dave. Despite the current condition of the beer, or the brand, Tetley's means something to the people of Leeds - and before the cynics laugh, it does. It probably also means 'something' to the people who are fighting for it. We're as culpable for losses of sales, maybe, but when something that is part of the identity of a city goes, thats a shame. Maybe it's the yorkshire mentality. Look at Leeds United. We may be in League one but the club still gets an average gate of 25k every home game. Why? because it's our club. Maybe Tetley's is like that - ours. That's why - here in Leeds - this is still big news, and will be until the place closes.

Barm said...

Leigh is right. I feel the same about Tennent's. I don't think the beer is any good, but it would be a terrible shame if it closed.