As the triumphal procession of craft beers and premium world lagers rolls on, John Porter reports on a sector with a thirst for cross-selling and upselling
Despite beer having been drunk for at least 10,000 years – roughly since humans quit the hunter-gatherer life in favour of agriculture-based communities – innovation remains a notable feature of the sector. In March, US trade body the Brewers Association officially recognised a trio of New England IPAs (a hazy, juicy beer style), bringing its beer category count to well over 150.
Its move clearly throws down the gauntlet to operators looking to offer a beer range that gives consumers access to choice and innovation without overwhelming them. However, before getting too carried away, it’s also worth paying attention to the cautionary note sounded by a YouGov poll published at the end of May, which found that consumers believe that the average pint of beer in the on-trade is priced 60p more than is reasonable. As the industry knows only too well, in a market where consumers are cautious on spending, perception of value for money is important.
CGA figures for on-trade beer sales in the year to 21 April 2018 show sales down 2.5% year-on-year but value growth of 0.3%. Categories driving the trade include craft beer, which is up 6.3% in volume and 9.8% by value, and premium world lager, which is up 10% in volume and 11% by value. In contrast, standard keg bitter and cask ale are down 8.3% and 6.7% in volume respectively.
Understanding these trends is key to driving sales in a tough out-of-home market. Jerry Shedden, category and trade marketing director at Heineken UK, says: “There’s no doubt the beer category has evolved over the past few years, and craft is a segment that is definitely having its moment – it’s a trend everyone is talking about and wants to try.”
Citing Heineken’s Maltsmiths brand, he adds: “These lower ABV styles are more accessible and are currently winning in the market. They act as an entry point for consumers to try something a bit different.”
John Clements, head of commercial marketing at Marston’s, says: “It’s quality over quantity across the industry and increasingly so in the premium beer category. It’s about value for money, rather than price.”
With Marston’s distributing premium Japanese lager Kirin Ichiban as part of its portfolio, Clements says: “Consumers are becoming increasingly open to influences from around the world and want to try beers they haven’t seen before, while also going in search of brands with real heritage and a story to tell.”
Anders Kissmeyer, brewmaster at Theodor Schiøtz Brewing Company, which has started importing its Polar Monkeys Chairman IPA into the UK, suggests that on-trade beer sales are “being driven primarily by consumer interest and demand for smaller batch brews and the greater accessibility of unique, craft beers for bar operators. There is an enhanced consumer interest in sampling new, unfamiliar products.”
Paul Sullivan, managing director of Hop Back Brewery, sounds a note of caution. “While choice is generally a positive, there is a tipping point when it can become confusing for consumers,” he says. He advises to “keep the range interesting, but not scary, work with brands and, wherever possible, local brands. Ask suppliers what they can do to help you sell their beers. Make sure that the needs of your customers can be supported across the beer category.”
Eddie Lofthouse, managing director at Cornwall’s Harbour Brewing Co, believes smaller brewers have an advantage when it comes to training. “We run tasting and profiling sessions on-site in pubs and restaurants, explaining our products,” he says. “We want the people serving the products to understand why we’re so passionate. We can’t engage with every end user, but we can help every member of bar staff be as excited about the product as we are.”
A match made in heaven
Pairing beer with food has been flagged up as an opportunity for operators for some time. While some now do it very well – the CGA figures show that food-led businesses have seen beer value sales rise by 4.4% year on year – there is still room for others to improve, according to Stephan Kofler, sales and marketing director for imported German lager Krombacher. He says: “Many operators don’t give beer the space it deserves on menus at present and it’s a mistake, as it is a great product for the cross-sell, just like wine.
“Knowledgeable staff who can inform customers about great pairings can provide the most benefit, so we spend a lot of time providing training. We also work with venues to run beer and food nights.”
Liam Newton, marketing vice-president at Carlsberg UK, says: “Beer’s diversity, moderate alcohol content and broad flavour spectrum are a perfect match for a range of dishes. When pairing beer with food, it’s better to start with your existing menu as beers are flexible and can work with savoury and sweet dishes.”
He suggests matches such as Brooklyn Naranjito (an aromatic American pale ale) with Mexican food, Cajun chicken or ribs; and San Miguel gluten-free with shellfish or olives.
Adam Dulye, executive chef for the Brewers Association, says: “To get more non-beer drinkers into pairing beer with food, we need to use language with which they are already comfortable. Beer drinkers may know what an IPA, saison or witbier is, but a wine drinker won’t. It’s easier if staff ask diners what they like to drink – ie something crisp and clean, hoppy and bitter, malty and sweet. Everyone knows these flavours, so you can lead the customer into the beer styles from there.”
Rupert Thompson, managing director of Surrey’s Hogs Back Brewery, says: “Pairing doesn’t need to be complicated – a pint of our flagship TEA ale and a pork pie is hard to beat as a combination. It’s about making the most of the opportunity. Customers watching sport on TV or getting together with friends will be planning to enjoy a beer or two, but are usually open to persuasion when it comes to food. It can be as simple as a member of staff suggesting home-made sausage rolls or a cheeseboard to accompany beer from a local brewer.”
Martyn Railton, managing director of distributor Euroboozer, sums up: “Competition is fierce in the on-trade, so it’s vital that operators have a point of difference in the beer department. New England IPAs and sours [tart beers] are the buzz styles at the moment, but for me, the key when it comes to trends is balance.
“That means being creative, mixing things up and promoting the beer list effectively through social media, events, tastings and cross-selling with food. It’s about showing beer at its best, so offer seasonal specials and limited edition beers and try to upsell your special beers as you would an expensive bottle of wine. There is a thirst for the new and different, so operators have to make the most of the opportunity.”
Tart sours, hot devil and sweet goddess
Big Drop Sour
Big Drop Brewing Co, which specialises in beers below 0.5% ABV, has launched a sour beer, reflecting the current popularity of the style. Big Drop sour is a light summer beer inspired by the Berliner Weisse style. With a citrus aroma and a smooth, juicy tartness in the finish, the beer is recommended to accompany a rich cheese or seafood with a squeeze of lemon.
O’Hara’s Stout, Red Nitro and Irish Pale Ale
Euroboozer has added three beers from Ireland’s pioneering Carlow Brewing Company to its range. Carlow’s award-winning O’Hara’s beers are available in 30-litre steel kegs as well as 33cl and 50cl bottles. The O’Hara range includes Irish stout (4.3% ABV), Irish Red nitro (4.3% ABV) and Irish pale ale (5.2% ABV).
Rucksack Pale Ale
The first in a series of collaboration brews between Charles Wells and London’s Fourpure Brewing Co, Rucksack pale ale is a crisp, easy-drinking 4% pale ale that packs a flavour punch with spicy and citrus notes. As part of Wells’ Wandering Brewer project, the partnership with Fourpure will span 12 months and see four different limited-edition keg beers.
Three beers from New York-based Sixpoint Brewery have been added to the range distributed in the UK by Heathwick. Jammer is a 4% ABV gose (a sour beer) with a fruity coriander aroma and a touch of sea salt, Righteous Ale is a layered and complex 10.5% ABV barrel-aged rye ale, and Alpenflo is a 4.9% ABV helles (pale lager).
Belgian ale Duvel is now available in the UK on draught for the first time, with the 8.5% ABV beer using the same ingredients and achieving the same carbonation as the bottled Duvel. Inspired by English ales, at the original tasting someone said, “this is a real devil” – or “duvel” in colloquial Flemish – and the name stuck.
Sulis is a premium English lager from Bath Ales, brewed to coincide with the opening of its new brewery in May 2018. At 4.2% ABV on draught, the lager is inspired by Sulis Minerva – the Romanised name of the Celtic goddess of Bath’s thermal springs; it is light and sessionable, with a hint of fruitiness thanks to Lemondrop and Hüll Melon hops.
Tetley’s No 3 Pale Ale
Tetley’s is back in its home town of Leeds, with brand owner Carlsberg UK brewing Tetley’s No 3 pale ale at Leeds Brewery. Inspired by the original recipe from 1868, Tetley’s No 3is 4.2% ABV and uses English hops to create a full-flavoured, crisp and refreshing beer.
- Bath Ales
- Big Drop Brewing Co
- Brewers Association
- Carlsberg UK
- Charles Wells
- Harbour Brewing Co
- Heineken UK
- Hogs Back Brewery
- Hop Back Brewery
- Kirin Ichiban
- Theodor Schiøtz