With the British teams out of Euro 2008 and the threat of another washout summer, it's time the big players put their thinking caps on

No one is looking forward more than I am to seeing Cristiano Ronaldo deliver a one-man show on the pitch this summer in the Euro 2008 championships. That said, the crucial factor for most Brits will be the notable absence of the home countries at this major tournament. This year the traditional sight of excited - and thirsty - throngs gathered around TV screens to cheer on the British teams will be sadly missing and sorely missed.Couple this with the prospect of another wet summer and the chances of a successful season for the long drinks industry drop quicker than Derby County.

And right at the heart of this dilemma stands canned lager, that perennial favourite and most dependent performer on the take-home pitch. For three decades canned lager has been the lifeblood of the take-home market, but suppliers and retailers are on the brink of scoring an own goal when it comes to the future development of the category.

In recent years, canned lager has taken a bruising. Constantly portrayed by the media as a catalyst for binge drinking, the category also lies at the centre of the lemming-like war to win consumer footfall with cut-price promotions and discounting.

In a fiercely competitive retail environment, where the beers, wine and spirits aisle receives the majority of retail deals, canned lager is usually the first 'sacrificial lamb' to be featured. As a consequence, promotional activity on canned lager rarely creates value. Instead it adds fuel to a vicious circle in which major brands slug it out in a share-steal stalemate.

Unless we are all brave enough to break out of this cycle, brands will forever be left in the Catch-22 situation that S&N UK experienced in 2007 on its leading brand Foster's, which lost share in peak trading periods because it wasn't included in the most heavily discounted deals.

What's more, there are signs of market fatigue for canned lager as consumers gain a thirst for premium bottled lagers and over-ice cider.

It's time suppliers and retailers stopped taking canned lager for granted and worked together to ward off the threat posed by more forward-looking competitors.

The category has seen little to no innovation and canned lager is all too often presented to consumers as a commodity product rather than a collection of high-profile brands backed by some of the biggest media spends in the grocery sector. The category should not be dependent on fluctuating weather patterns and sporting events beyond our control: we must all do more to meet and satisfy changing consumer desires.

In April S&N UK took a significant step towards addressing this need with the launch of Foster's with In-Can Scuba and Kronenbourg 1664 with Dynamo Système, which contain widgets specifically developed to work with lager. These lagers can command a price premium over their standard-brand counterparts, capitalising on the trend for premiumisation.

I firmly believe the fate of the canned lager category lies in the hands - or perhaps at the feet - of all of the big-league players in our industry and we must decide which way we are kicking. Do nothing and the canned lager category will go backwards. Work together to invest and innovate in the development of the category and the long-term prosperity of this great industry mainstay will be secured.n

Mark Gerken, S&N UK sales managing director (off-trade)