So, now that there are many delicious, well-made, exciting beers to be had in the UK, the only downside seems to be in finding them. It is surprising how few pubs seem to have taken hold of the movement. Sure, some pubs might have an odd craft beer on tap, but more often than not, what one finds are the usual suspects.Is it laziness or is it the big guys paying for space/tap lines? Or, are consumers satisfied with the current fare on offer and therefore on-premise establishments see no need to diversify their selection and create more work for themselves?
I don’t have enough data to answer this conclusively. Consumption of micro-brews on-premise is increasing rapidly; 79% over the previous 12 month period according to the Publicans Morning Advertiser’s article Demystifying the Craft Beer Movement by Jessica Mason. Still, craft beers only represents 1.9% of the total beer volume according to Mason. There is still a lot of hard work to be done before craft beers represent a sizable chunk of the UK beer market.
Having worked in distribution/import in the US, it was common place for the big players to offer incentives or kickbacks to licensees in order that they carry their products, no matter what laws might have been on the book to the contrary. It often made it challenging working for smaller players who didn’t have this type of “marketing” budget and to find those accounts who saw the bigger picture–that offering a better beverage selection wins repeat customers and new business.
This brings me back to an analysis I did of the Australian beer sector a few years back. According to data it appeared that Australia was on the verge of becoming a wine drinking nation. Wine consumption was increasing, while beer consumption was dropping significantly to 66 year lows according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)(Sun Herald, 4/2/2014, Philip Hudson).
The incomplete, raw data supported what the “experts” conjectured; consumer tastes were changing and Australians were set to become a nation of wine drinkers . After digging a little deeper, however, the conclusion made didn’t match with other pieces of the puzzle.
First, it was identified that due to a wine glut, wine prices were depressed. Beer prices on the other hand were relatively high, especially in on-premise environments mostly due to Australia’s excruciatingly high level of taxation on beer–among the highest in the world according to Carlton & United Breweries corporate affairs director Jeremy Griffith. (Sun Herald, 4/2/2014, Philip Hudson).
Second, the vast majority of pubs continued to pour the same boring, flavorless mainstream beers that they had for years. The big players often paying for their tap lines in some fashion or other, to keep the standard fare on tap despite hardy demand for craft beers according to Fairfax Media. Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/business/competition-probe-circles-beer-makers-lion-carlton–united-20140530-399qj.html#ixzz3CS6xL1fY
The moral of the story, the trade hasn’t been responsive or encouraging to the changing taste of consumers. People have been left to voting with their palates and opt for wine or something else.
Back in the UK, the last several years have seen incredible growth in the UK independent beer movement, but it will be interesting to see how far the movement will go.
Will the big guys start making more interesting brews and steal the independent’s thunder? Or, will independent breweries continue little by little to chip at the big boys? Time will tell, but I am hoping beer lovers continue to find greater choice and quality both in the pubs and in their local shops.