Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Extending the repertoire

Yesterday, the latest edition of the Cask Report, written by Pete Brown, was published. Broadly speaking, this gives a positive message for cask ale, with volumes remaining steady in the context of an overall decline in on-trade beer sales, and thus recording a gain in market share. This was the first time cask volumes had not shown a year-on-year decline since 1994, which is especially impressive given the very difficult general climate for the pub trade. Unlike pretty much anything else they offer, cask beer is the one thing you can only get in pubs, clubs and bars. This has already been dealt with in general terms by other bloggers such as Tandleman, Hardknott Dave and Pete Brown himself.

Two points sprang out, though. The first is that only 18% of people who drink cask beer sometimes, claim to drink it regularly. Clearly this provides an opportunity to increase sales by encouraging people to drink it more often, but it also underlines the point that, for many people, cask beer is just one element in their repertoire of drinking. Cask drinkers are also more likely to experiment in the fields of wine and spirits. There isn’t the Manichean divide between cask drinkers and keg/lager drinkers often portrayed by some voices in CAMRA. So generic condemnations of lager and “chemical fizz” may end up not “converting” people, but putting them off. If you want to encourage someone to try something, but make out that what he’s currently drinking or eating is rubbish, you are in effect implying he’s a fool.

The report also highlights the association between offering cask beer and a more affluent customer profile. Long gone are the days when it was the working man’s pint – that, if anything, is now Carling and Stella. But you have to be careful not to put the cart before the horse. Simply putting cask in a crappy downmarket pub won’t suddenly get middle-class drinkers flocking in. There’s a strong association between affluent areas and Waitrose stores, but you won’t regenerate Beswick by putting a Waitrose store in the middle of it. In many pubs, there may be the potential to introduce cask, or increase the cask offer, but you have to weigh it up carefully and take your customers with you.

Pete is also absolutely right to emphasise the quality issue – there is no point in offering cask beer if you can’t keep it properly, and a few poor pints will put people off drinking it in general. Warm, flat, hazy beer should be completely unacceptable.

9 comments:

  1. REAL bars catering for the Nouveau Riche and apparatchniks, calmly
    bowing their heads to central
    diktats set against a backdrop of
    boarded up lower class taverns

    Not my England ,Mudgie
    Not my England.

    In my England ,each to his own,
    his choice,his freedom,his liberty.

    Free Thinker

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  2. Why on earth would you want to encourage occasional pong drinkers to neck more pong? What good is that going to do them? More expensive pong at that.

    Sounds to me like you are encouraging fiscally irresponsible behaviour, for your own ends.

    Better to encourage them to neck lovely cheap wholesome supermarket lout.

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  3. Well, cheap supermarket lout is losing market share to bottled pong as well :)

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  4. I don't see only middle class drinkers as the way to expand cask ale drinking, although it might be a convenient excuse to push up the prices. As for Waitrose, here in supposedly posh Southport, our Waitrose closed after a couple of years through lack of business, so things can be more complex than preconceptions may suggest.

    I do agree about quality, but isn't this - in the words of Basil Fawlty - "stating the bleeding obvious"? You might as well say the way forward for bakers is to sell fresh bread. But it provides a few more words for Mr Brown's article, and I believe journalists are sometimes paid by the number of words.

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  5. Put Pete's marketing genius is clear, RedNev. If you want people to drink more pong and view it as "top notch" you have to charge an arm and a leg for it.

    The old demand and supply theory of economics is sooooo last week.

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  6. @RedNev – up to a point I'm agreeing with you. It's dangerous to assume that association is causation. And to some extent the concentration of "beer enthusiasts" on the novel and unusual has encouraged cask beer to be seen as a more upmarket product.

    Quality may seem to be bleeding obvious, but it clearly isn't bleeding obvious to all the purveyors of cask beer who serve up warm, flat, hazy pints, so the point is still worth ramming home.

    Not really relevant to the cask beer debate, but AIUI Waitrose in Southport took over a former Morrisons or Safeway store that wasn't very well located. They still have a store down the road in Formby, and a growing number of others across the North.

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  7. It was well enough located enough for Morrison's for many years; it was always full and its sales were excellent. Waitrose was just too expensive and was never busy, even at the weekend, whereas Morrison's had been so successful on the same site that it moved a few streets away to bigger premises.

    And I think it is relevant to the cask beer debate in this respect: charge too much, and people won't buy from you. With excessive tax rises, I'm afraid we can't have premium pricing of beer on top. Or have real ale drinkers been conned by the notion of a product being Reassuringly Expensive (à la Stella Artois)?

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  8. Traditional beer has been ruthlessly dragged upmarket in the years since what Mudgie refers to as the "heyday of pubs". There are a number of reasons for it which I won't go into here, but I suspect that any hope of taking beer back to its roots - beer as in cask - is a forlorn one.

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  9. Indeed Greater Manchester is possibly above all others the area where cask beer remains something bought by ordinary drinkers in ordinary pubs.

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