Wednesday 21 December 2011

Added value

Beer sales overall are dropping. They are dropping much more in pubs. This is a fact that can be backed up by hard evidence. I have here a copy of the 2011 BBPA Statistical Handbook. It is very good indeed. It shows for instance that beer sales in on "On trade" was around 67% of the total in 2000. In 2010 it was just under 51%. "Off sales" by comparison was less than 32% in 2000 but in 2010 only a shade under 50%. For the first time in history beer consumption in pubs, when you bear in mind "on trade" includes restaurants, hotels and other public drinking establishments, is no longer the dominant beer market.

There are many factors that are causing this. One, of course, is the fact that the traditional pub is no longer fashionable, or at least not as much as it used to be. Eating out has become much more popular and it is very evident that fewer and fewer pubs can survive with a pure wet trade.

An increasing awareness of the health harm that can result from excessive consumption of alcohol, and an increasing social stigma being associated with "binge drinking" and "alcohol related crime" led in part by the tabloid press, further damages the industry.

While some are worried that beer is becoming pompous and somehow above itself1, I have consistently and repeatedly argued that this is a good thing. People are turning away from beer and pubs in favour of the grape, home drinking and restaurants. Overall alcohol consumption is dropping, although having only dropped back to around the same level as the year 2000. More importantly the number of cases of drunkenness has decreased from around 20 cases per 10,000 people in it's peak in the 1970s to less than 5 per 10,000 now. The thing that does bother me a little about this figure is that the police may be less inclined to prosecute purely for drunkenness these days. Good job really, otherwise I suspect I may have been prosecuted by now, and perhaps some of my readership too.

Whilst the supermarkets and their relatively low pricing of alcohol must surely be damaging the industry, there is very little we can realistically do about this. The vast majority of the general public see the supermarket as a good thing. The pricing is perceived as good, everything is under one roof and you can park your car right outside the door. However, the supermarket does not provide for a smaller proportion of the population who want something different. I rarely buy beer in the supermarket because they rarely have the beer I want to buy. I often go to the pub and buy beer, sometimes it's even the beer produced in my own brewery. I do so for a very good reason.

Hardknott beers at Craft Beer Co - one of an emerging number of contemporary beer bars

I could set up a cask, or even a keg, in my brewery, or in my garage or kitchen and enjoy my own beer at a much lower price. And I have done on occasions. I prefer to pay a little bit more and drink it in a pub. Why?

Because the pub is warmer than the brewery. Because I can sit and talk rubbish about nothing with the friends I have at the pub. Because someone gives me my beer in a clean glass and wipes the tables down, the decore is better and overall the experience is much better than at the brewery or at home.

It bothers me a lot that there are repeated noises from many people about how the supermarkets are damaging the pub and beer industry by their cut price alcohol. Whilst this may well be true what we inadvertently do is reinforce this commonly held belief. We are telling people that beer is cheaper in the supermarkets, so people now believe that more than ever.

Pubs are special because they add value to the drinkers experience. Special beer in a growing specialist beer market providing added value because the beer is more flavoursome, stronger, shipped from lands afar or perhaps just a little bit daft only goes to strengthen the beer market and helps to grow the businesses that I hope the reader would like to see flourish.

Beer snobbishness is good for beer, not bad.


1I was going to link here to several posts by other bloggers, but I realise that none of them quite say that. But there does seem to be an undertone of the old "beer is the drink of the common people" and "Beer should not be too expensive or snobby"

Here are some posts, although I suspect the reader has already seen them.

Boak and Bailey and again

There are of course good points made, but I can't help feeling that there is a lack of joined up thinking when it comes to how we worry about how beer is sold, marketed and priced. It was the Daily Mail piece this morning that caused me to write this piece.


wowninjas said...

While I agree with you that drinking good quality beer in a good quality establishment is indeed a beneficial thing to the beer industry as a whole. I disagree with the notion of being snobby about other breweries beers somehow helps the beer trade as a whole (a la James from BrewDog's claim that there were no other British brewers he admires). What we need to do to try and save the British beer industry is celebrate the wealth of choice that is now available so if people want a solid pint of brown bitter they can have it and not feel like any less of a beer lover than anyone else.

Curmudgeon said...

I agree that the BBPA Statistical Handbook is well worth reading - I posted about it here. A lot of guff is talked about beer and the licensed trade with no foundation in fact.

A good pub drinking experience is always going to be better than drinking at home, but there are a whole raft of reasons why it has become far less popular. And, sadly, anti-drink propaganda tends to drive drinking out of the public gaze much more than it reduces it in total.

Unknown said...

wowninjas, I totally agree with you there. I do try not to judge other beers or breweries in a derogatory way. Just because I don't think a beer is worthy does not mean others won't enjoy it.

I suspect I've not made as good a job of explaining what I mean. I believe beer has lost out to other forms of alcohol and certainly the BBPA book shows this in numbers. A simplistic explanation is that people have a higher expectation of their status than in the past and so drink wine or spirits instead as it makes them feel posher.

All I'm trying to say is that posh beer will only help lift the image of beer overall, just like posh wine helps sell the regular stuff.

Mudgie, I agree about stigmas pushing drinking underground. Wasn't that what happened with prohibition in the States?

Curmudgeon said...

"All I'm trying to say is that posh beer will only help lift the image of beer overall, just like posh wine helps sell the regular stuff."

I recall having this discussion somewhere before. Posh wine in general doesn't define itself in opposition to cheap wine. It's all wine, some is better than others, but it all benefits from the halo effort.

Even more so with whisky.

But, rather too often, posh beer defines itself by not being cheap, crap beer.

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

" A simplistic explanation is that people have a higher expectation of their status than in the past and so drink wine or spirits instead as it makes them feel posher."

This is a really interesting point actually. I think that the problem beer has is that aficionados of wine and spirits are seen as more educated and elite whereas aficionados of beer are seen mainly as crackpots and drunks.

I also agree with Curmudgeon in that most good wine or spirits seem to be able to sell simply by being better than the competition and I think a lot of the craft breweries need to let their beer, and not their publicity stunts, do the talking.

Unknown said...

In my experience just making good beer is nowhere near enough to get your beer noticed.

However, it is true that being careful about how we define good beer is important. How we raise the awareness of good beer without simply saying it's better than "that crap beer" is tricky.

If anyone has any ideas I'd be happy to know.

Equally, preventing beer aficionados being seen as crackpots and drunks may be tricky too. And before anyone points out the obvious, I know, I only need to look in the mirror.

Phil said...

there does seem to be an undertone of the old "beer is the drink of the common people" and "Beer should not be too expensive or snobby"

I'll happily own up to both of those positions. Millions of people (still) drink beer regularly; I'd like to see a world where all of those people were drinking good beer. I don't think selling expensive specialist beer to the tiny minority of people who are interested in it and can afford it is part of the solution.

How we raise the awareness of good beer without simply saying it's better than "that crap beer" is tricky.

This is an elephant-trap that opens up in front of anyone who defines "good beer" as different from most beer. (It's not a problem for anyone who just wants to make a good cask bitter, for instance - they can just say "our cask bitter is good".) I only know of one reasonably satisfactory solution to the problem of coming up with a broad definition for "the good stuff", and it's "real ale" - God knows it's not perfect, but it's better (as a definition) than any of the alternatives.

Unknown said...

Phil, beer is the only market where some people seem to think the good beer should be less expensive than the bad beer.

Typically mass produced lager is more expensive in the pub than cask beer. I think there is a very good reason for this; cask beer is not necessarily better and is often worse.

Beer is seen, by the majority of the population, as the bottom end of the quality and aspiration scale.

Although not quite the same for cask, some, like you, see cask as better quality. However, the truth seems to be that cask is not always better, and is often worse. Most beer drinkers do not drink cask regularly. Many positively avoid it, at any price.

The beer that you see as overpriced and inaccessible is often very much better quality, Sometimes it is just overpriced I'll grant, but that is often an opinion of the drinker and every drinker is different.

Tandleman said...

"The beer that you see as overpriced and inaccessible is often very much better quality"

That point is debatable at best. I think you are on safer ground when you argue that beer snobbishness is good for beer, though that is debatable too I suppose. The good thing - and you started off on that tack - is that it gets young people into pubs and bars and talking about beer.

They will gain a broader understanding later, as we all tend to do and may then mix and match much more.

So yes it is good for beer and pubs (as I said in your link)

Unknown said...

Tandy, a pricey beer that is difficult to chug down, might well not be worth the price in your eyes, but there are people who do appreciate something that is a little dearer.

However, we broadly agree, I think, in that if a snobby sector to beer gets more people into pubs, and of course the emerging "craft" beer bars may not class as pubs for some people, then this is generally a good thing.

Tandleman said...

We do indeed broadly agree that I would remark that some pricey beers are hard to enjoy in any way. But of course the same can be said for mass produced beers. Some beers are just hard to drink.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting article Dave, and it inspired me to write my first blog. I agree on all accounts exept for how beer snobbishness is good for beer. surely that creates a bigger gap to those drinking mass produced products?

Unknown said...

Batty, you are assuming there is a gap. there isn't, there is a continuum. There is a false gap created by CAMRA and cask beer, but the vast majority of cask beer is just as mass produced as non-cask.

I digress. Snobbishness doesn't damage other industries and generally improve them. Housing, food, wine, cars and holidays for example. There will always be things in these areas that are out of reach to the average person. But there will always be something you might just be able to afford, but think is just to silly for you to justify. There will be someone who you know, who might or might not be better off than you, who will not consider it silly and will buy it. They in turn will have something just out of reach, but they will know someone who can buy it. And so it goes on until we get to the upper echelons of society. It's human nature to be a bit jealous, but that jealousy creates aspirations and drive and that in turn drives people to be successful.

Beer should not be different.

Wishing to inhibit snobbishness is wishing to inhibit inspiration, ambition, aspiration and drive. It is, frankly, a bit of an old fashioned and conservative view point.