Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Blinded by the Light

Is pale beer losing its appeal?  We all probably know people that prefer dark beers, or even brown beers, but is this affecting beer sales?  There is some evidence from our American friends that this may be so.  Sales of Budweiser in the U.S. declined 29 percent between 2007 and 2012. Budweiser Select was down 61 percent over the same period, Michelob Light a staggering 70 percent. Miller Genuine Draft dropped 56 percent and Milwaukee’s Best Light 40 percent over the same period.  Heineken didn't get away unscathed either with a 37% fall over the same period for its light version.

Does this really mean anything for us?  Unlike many, I am not that convinced that what happens in the US always has a direct influence on what happens here, though in terms of trends there is undoubtedly some linkage.  It ties in well with  this post from Ed Wray about a "catastrophic" fall in off sales of standard lager.  He also said "ale accounted for 30% of total beer sales in the last quarter of 2013 against the usual share of 15%. Marstons sold 40% less standard lager and cream flow T-bar ales like John Smiths and Worthington lost 15%."   Now these are really rather startling figures and such changes cannot be accounted for solely in terms of craft beer taking market share. The  drop in John Smith's Smooth sales is particularly interesting, as it is the "go to" cheap smooth beer of the North.

So, it seems that the world, including the UK is falling out of love with no frills lawnmower style beer, but it is slightly more difficult to say exactly what is happening, other than, given global sales of beer are down, that folks are shifting away from beer and cheap light beer in particular and that there is some evidence that there is a move to the dark side.*   Does this mean that premiumisation still has some legs left in it and that as people are drinking less, they are drinking "better"? And darker? 

Kind of looks like it. 

Or maybe it was a recession thing?  That's the other side of the coin, in that those with less disposable income, that used to buy lots of cheap light beer are buying much less? 

*Premium and craft beers are rarely lager like pale.

Photo  is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported 


Cooking Lager said...

A 10% fall in a big number doesn't give you the same number as a 10% rise in a small number. For every 10 pint decline in large scale beers you get maybe a 1 pint rise in niche products. The niche product sells for a higher price, sometimes twice, indicating a higher unit value, though not higher market value.

Cooking lager may be in sad decline, but so is beer and so is pubs.

The rise of niche products will keep at least one or two pubs open in any given town. That's enough for the beards that still want them isn't it?

Coxy said...

how is Guinness doing?

Tandleman said...

Cookie: Indeed

Coxy: Very badly as far as I know.

Neil, Eating isn't Cheating said...

Where's the evidence people are drinking more dark beer?

Tandleman said...

Neil. The source for that is Beer Marketers’ Insights. Also anecdotal evidence as observed by me and others and evidenced by falling light beer sales and increased ale sales. Maybe though I should have said "darker" though I did hint at that.

Curmudgeon said...

More a case of standard pale lagers declining than pale beers as such. After all, many of the “new wave” cask beers are noticeably pale, and I’d say British cask beer on average is now paler than it ever has been. There are some hints of a growth in beers identified as amber or red, but so far not a dramatic trend.

py said...

For decades we've had nothing but shite beer in this country, and for decades young men have drunk it anyway due to the pressure of social norms. Over the past 10 years, I've witnessed first hand how those norms have been challenged and relaxed, and it is now completely socially acceptable for young men to drink a whole range of previously unthinkable drinks without being teased or bullied, or even not drink at all.

Without the social pressure to stick with beer, most young people decide quite quickly that they don't like it because they beer they are being exposed to is generally shit.

This is being partly offset by the promotion of modern style craft beers, but really thats just pissing upstream in comparison to the ongoing collapse of the mainstream beer market.

CAMRA could probably help, but they are either to stupid to recognise whats going on or too insular and ignorant to see how seriously this threatens the real ale market as well.

Curmudgeon said...

I’m sure it comes as news to both Tandleman and me that we’ve been drinking nothing but shite beer for three of the past four decades.

Tandleman said...

Well Mudgie, I suppose it is a moot point, but let's say "not all of it".

No. Seriously that is just as arrogant a response as the allegation that CAMRA is too stupid to see change. Or maybe, despite writing about it and witnessing it for 40 years, we are.

Cooking Lager said...

Py is right in a way, though. I used to feel enormous pressure to drink lots of lout. Occasionally even bitter. Peer pressure and masculine insecurity, I guess.

Then one day I decided to live true to myself. I didn't have my usual lunch of manly meat pies and pints of lout.

I drank a craft beer and suddenly I was free. Free to eat moroccan cous cous salad. Free to eat organic free range ethically sourced fair trade freedom food tofu flavoured gourmet pulled pork. It was like waking up from a dream and discovering I was alive.

Free yourself!

Admittedly I rarely drink these days. Can't afford it. Who can afford craft beer prices? I drink mainly peppermint tea. But still, I support good beer in my heart and steer clear of that arse gravy Mudgie throws down his neck.

py said...

The vast majority of pubs 10 years ago served nothing worth drinking. Things are a little better now, but its still easy enough to find a pub that serves nothing but industrial keg and a couple of tired, dull, ropey casks. No wonder people are deserting beer if thats the best they are being offered.

Calling someone arrogant is no way to win an argument. Perhaps camra do know about the problem of plummetting beer sales, but that only makes it more troubling that they're not making any effort to address it. Perhaps they do genuinely believe their own press and think that gaining an extra 1% share of a market that is shrinking 10% overall is some kind of success, rather than the abject failure it really is.

Coxy said...

Just what is it that you want to do?

We wanna be free
We wanna be free to do what we wanna do
And we wanna get loaded
And we wanna have a good time
That's what we're gonna do
(No way Tandy let's go)
We're gonna have a good time
We're gonna have a craft party

Ron Pattinson said...

"For decades we've had nothing but shite beer in this country,"

That's one of the stupidest statements I've ever read. I fell my IQ falling just reading it.

py said...

Well don't read it over and over, whatever you do, or you won't have any IQs left at all.

You really think all those people drinking Fosters for all those years actually LIKED Fosters? No chance.

Cooking Lager said...

I like Fosters.

py said...

Social conditioning cookie. You don't really, really you like barrel aged black IPAs.

Curmudgeon said...

To suggest that people only drink Fosters because they’re fools or dupes is more than a little patronising. Most drinkers are not beer enthusiasts – they just want something that’s consistent, cool, refreshing, not too challenging in flavour, that lubricates their socialising and has a gently inebriating effect. That may not be what you look for in a beer, but they’re not wrong to take that view, just different. No product will sell if it doesn’t meet consumers’ needs.

Carling’s nicer, though.

py said...

I didn't say they were fools or dupes. I'm not judging, I'm explaining why beer sales have fallen off a cliff and will continue to do so.

I said that the reason we have traditionally drunk so much terrible beer is because a) until recently there was strong social pressure for young men to drink beer, and b) because there was very rarely anything better on offer.

Now consider 3 things:

a)there is no longer a stigma attached to men drinking cider/wine/alcopops
b) most beer in most mainstream pubs is generally pretty unpleasant tasting, at least for beginner drinkers
c) there is growing social pressure on young people to not drink anything at all.

Hell, I didn't like the taste of beer when I started drinking 20 years ago. If I was 18 today I'd probably be drinking pear cider or some other sweet crap as well.

Cooking Lager said...

You still don't like the taste of beer, Py. You have been conditioned to think you like craft beer out of a desire for social acceptance in craft beer circles. What you really like is cheeky vimto, but you are too scared to drink one.

py said...

It is all true. I'm a huge fraud

Erlangernick said...

This discussion is what made Britain Great.

py said...

Britain isn't really great, you're just socially conditioned to think so.

The Beer Nut said...

"T-bar ales": nice term.

Mike F said...

Py . You are pretty much right. The majority of pubs in the late 90s and 2000s in the North East sold a smooth lager, a cooking lager, a stronger lager, a dry cider snd Guinness. You may have exagerated about ' nothing but shite beer' but you were correct when you changed it to the vast majority. Every pub in the town had zero Cask. Every club in town was the same. Shit beer everywhere. Was it different anywhere else? Were all the pubs overflowing with good beer? Or was the odd pub good and the majority selling variations on the same theme. McEwans 80 bob, vaux Samson, John Smiths Bitter or Camerons Strongarm up here. Was it different elsewhere?

Phil said...

py has got a point about the decline of beer as a universal drink for young men, & the loss of the rite of passage of getting used to the taste of it (and losing your childhood sweet tooth). Not sure if that trend can account for recent developments, though, as it's been going on since the first wave of alcopops. I remember seeing a story about Gazza (which shows how long ago it was) going on a massive binge, consisting of bottles of Two Dogs alternating with shots of Archer's. If the alcohol doesn't get you the sugar will.

py said...

Still, when I was at uni in 2000s, everyone I knew drank lager and you'd have been called all sorts of names if you differed significantly from this.

Every time I go into a student bar nowadays, big groups of lads are sitting there drinking fruit cider.

Its also worth noting, that if you take the 20 or so guys that were drinking Fosters/Carlsberg/Carling back in 2000, none of us still drink it now there is better beer available. Why would we, its awful stuff, I don't know how I got through so much of it.

Coxy said...

so what you're saying is that today's students are twats, and you used to drink a drink that you thought was awful because you didn't want to be called names? I remember my student round was usually nine pints of lager and a bitter for me.

py said...

I'm not saying they're twats, I'm saying the social pressure to drink alcohol and specifically beer is no longer what it once was.

Whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing is up to you, but from a brewer or beer advocate's point of view it is a challenging situation.

It used to be easy to sell beer to young people, they'd drink any old shit as long as it was cheap enough and wouldn't get them labelled a girl/poofter etc.

Nowadays they won't; as beer advocates we need to actually make the effort to persuade them that beer is the best tasting drink in its own right. Thats a big challenge that will require a concerted effort from multiple parties.

Cooking Lager said...

why not leave them alone and let them drink what they like?

Rob said...

I think py must have had crap uni friends. I went at the same time as him and I can't remember anyone commenting on your choice of drink.

It was mainly crap though, but it was crap wine/spirits/alcopops/cider/beer. As long as it was cheap and got you drunk it didn't really matter.

Coxy said...

my uni drinks included Pernod and black , black mamba (snakebite with a double pernod and black in, half bottles of Vodka , but mainly Burton Ale and keg ansells

StringersBeer said...

Sherry for me. Beer was for the rugger types.

Curmudgeon said...

Poofter :p

Curmudgeon said...

I have to say I mostly drank real ale at university, and so did a lot of the people I knew. Mind you, that was in the 70s when it was vaguely trendy.

Steve said...

py - agree

The vast majority of pubs had a terrible range of beer, 1 lager, 1 "premium" lager, smooth/creamflow and a cider - this only started changing in the early 2000's

Growing as a young drinker it was Stones, Carling, Strongbow on keg.

As late 90's student is was:

Keg - Flowers, Fosters or really boring, inconsistent real ale - Bass, Pedigree anyone? This was until i found out where the beardy people go and then realising a decade later that it was just a little less boring as well.

Now it's far, far better - with free houses serving what people demand, with good, intersting, well kept real ale too.

Even Wetherspoons now sell good beer - it's in cans and bottles, but I can perfectly live with that - started drinking in Wetherspoons again. Another Bengali Tiger at a reasonable price! The cask, IMHO, is just too inconsistently kept, even in the better pubs, to even touch.

py said...