Thursday, 15 January 2009

Germans Supping Less and Cheaper

According to Die Welt, The German Brewers Association has released figures indicating that consumption of beer in the country is at an all-time low. In 2008 per capita consumption sank to 109.5 litres, 2.2 litres less than 2007. The heady days of the 1970's when consumption was high above the 150 litre mark are far away now says the article.

The drop is being blamed on the recession, the elimination of smoking in bars and changes in consumption patterns among younger drinkers. Brewers indicated that market conditions were increasingly difficult during the last quarter of the year. The drop in consumption will put pressure on Germany's 1,300 breweries and likely result in consolidations and some closures.

There is also some rather disturbing facts about what beer Germans drink, presumably at home. They like it cheap. The top selling beer was Oettinger, a bargain brand which is sold very cheaply. This is followed by well known brands Krombacher, Bitburger, Warsteiner and Becks. An on line survey with Die Welt shows that 50% of Germans say they buy on taste, yet the brewers figures show they buy on price. This leads to a prediction that brewers will find it difficult to increase their prices to customers this year.

In my view, homogenisation, branding, falling consumption and sheer lack of imagination is turning Germany into a beer wasteland, with just a few pockets of brightness. I have remarked on it before, but the German beer market is becoming ever more depressing.

The article is here in German only


The Beer Nut said...

Lots of beer consumers think they buy on taste when the opposite is true and real flavours scare them.

Whorst said...

Interesting article Talismann. I went on a slight bender last Saturday at my local German food and booze outlet. I had a curry wurst with fried potatoes and 4 half liters of Kostritzer Schwartzbier to wash it all down. The guy who runs the pub is one of those old school Germans, who is very opposed to English beer, and anything with the name ale in it. I of course mentioned Dusseldorf and he said those beers had "nothing to do with that ale shit." I tried to tell him that they actually do. He said maybe I know more about it than he does. His beer of choice is Bitburger. My point is this. I don't think Germans as a whole are interested in reinventing the wheel. They're quite content on drinking beer that they find adequate. They also appear to be quite nationalistic still. I know that some can be the coolest people in the world, but the older ones still go on about the war with the English, and everything from Germany is better than anything else.

Anonymous said...

Well, depressing indeed when opne looks at theoverall figures, maisn brands, buying habits of the average drinker...

Yet beyond that there's an interesting trend : the slow reversal of the "if it's local beer, it's crap" preconception which so many German drinkers show, once they've been convinced that a major brand is what they should be seen drinking.
Meanwhile, Germany has a solid tradition for ecological conscience and the whole carbon footprint thing, along with a yearning for more transparent supply chains, is definitely working, slowly but surely, in favour of smaller / family brewers with a strong local identity.
The best example is Rothaus, which is state-owned, therefore is managed with long-term profit in mind (no brainless costcutting here, they want to keep their customers), does not do any advertising apart from some sponsoring of local events and some point-of-sale stuff, and hasn't substantially changed its label design since 1967 (gasp, shock horror).
Yet rothaus just can't cope with demand, and are taking advantage of it by stating they will brew what they can, not overstretch their capacity. Indeed the people there are very good at playing the "cult" card, but the brewery nevertheless shows how in a collapsing market, a brewery with strong local roots giving the impression they care for local consumers can do more than survive.

Ganter in Freiburg in Breisgau, whose beer was universally regarded as sh*te among the hip locals, has also bucked the trend by turning back to those local consumers, and using its Wodan winter doppelbock (an atypical one tasting more like an old ale) as a flagship brew for the local market.

Cheers !


Tandleman said...

I know both Rothaus and Ganter. The odd thing is that there are lots of decent local breweries brewing fairly decent beer. In a lot of cases as good or better than the big boys, but I have noticed a trend towards less tasty beers. So many times I have thought "why are they brewing this - it just isn't distinctive in any way?" This year in the Allgau was particularly a case in point, with few beers better than the brands in any noticeable way.

Anonymous said...

Dumbing down ? I did not really notice much of that With Ganter or Rothaus in the past 6 years or so, apart from Rthaus launching a Radler with artificial sweeteners, that is.

My take on it would be that the Allgäu is an area mostly living on tourism.
Which entails the majority of drinkers with disposable income to spare are likely to be tourists rather than locals. Those are here for a few days, and usually not for the beer...
Whereas, when there's a solid local population to provide yearlong with beer, as is the case with Ganter or Rothaus, getting away with dumbing down the beer seems to be more difficult.

But indeed smaller brewers, and brewpubs in Germany are remarkably unable to come up with anything vaguely out of the ordinary tat could justify added value and therefore higher asking prices for them.

Cheers !


Erlangernick said...

I had my first Beck's ever, I think, last night at a café in a modern university/office complex here in Erlangen. It wasn't as bad as I'd expected, even at 2.30 € per 30 cl.

The other Fassbier on offer, Hetzelsdorfer dunkles Vollbier from a tiny countryside brewery about 20 km away, was much better, of course, despite being over-gassed. I had a couple.

The only national brand I drink regularly is Clausthaler Extra Herb alcohol-free (not the regular white label crap, mind). It's one of the hoppiest beers im Vaterland. If other national brewers could brew as well as Clausthaler do this alcohol-free beer, the world would be a much better place.

I mix it with the outstanding Aufsesser Pils to make a nice session beer at home. One does what one must.

WRT the Rauchverbot, sales in the Bavarian gastro trade were actually up quite a bit last year, the year the smoking ban was enacted. People are eating out more and staying out longer. Despite this, the incoming coalition gov't plan to gut it to appease the smokers, a hefty group at 33% of the population.

This should happen in the coming couple of months. Then the national election in September...I predict the coalition won't see any improvement as a result. But I'm just a poor Ausländer, what do I know?

Tip: Visit Franken again. Beer's pretty good here, despite the crockery.