Despite a wet and miserable British summer last year, the Euro 2004 football championship brought cheer and beer to many living rooms, and most brewers can reflect on reasonable annual sales figures.
Carlsberg reported an outstanding year and says it continues to be the fastest growing take-home lager, growing 63% in volume [ACNielsen Scantrack MAT y/e May 14, 2005].
For many, though, pricing remains an issue across both mainstream and premium lagers.
Kevin Brownsey, off-trade sales director for Coors Brewers, says: “Pricing is lower than I’ve seen it for a long time, which is suicidal in the long term. Stella Artois - far from being reassuringly expensive - is repeatedly cheap.”
Although many in the trade have noticed a drop in value for Stella in the multiples, Interbrew UK has responded this year by launching the brand’s biggest ever promotion with a £40m ad package.
“It’s early days, but we’ve already moved forward on pence per litre and it’s encouraging that other brewers are also moving forward on pricing - notably Scottish Courage with Foster’s,” says Stuart MacFarlane, Interbrew UK’s MD of take-home sales. “We are convinced that consumers will move to specialist beers. The focus should be on secondary siting to improve visibility and availability of brands, and increasing the amount of ready-chilled beer available.”
Proper chilling of beer is seen as key to improving its image. Coors Brewers is investing in chilled beer innovation and is encouraging wholesalers to sell more of its beer cold over the predicted hot summer. Scottish Courage is also calling for increased space for beer in chilled sections. “Convenience stores and smaller supermarkets will win on sales through chilled,” says Paul Stanger, off-trade customer marketing director at ScotCo.
The focus is not solely on beer, either. The company has launched Strongbow Sirrus cider to capture the soaring premium end of the market and has removed its 50% extra promotion from White Lightning to promote responsible drinking but also to grow value.
“ScotCo has been commendable with its treatment of White Lightning,” says Chris Carr, MD of Merrydown Cider, noting that Merrydown has already struggled though a period of raising its profile after price promotions from years ago.
Many are anticipating that 2005 will be another remarkable year for cider, with innovation helping to fuel consumers’ thirst for quality and vintage products.
“Cheap cider seems to be drying up and the big guys are making more of a song and dance about the top end,” says Barry Chevallier Guild, sales & marketing director at Aspall.
Specialist beers have also seen good growth, as has the idea of pairing beer with food. Glenn Tutssel, executive creative director at global brands agency Enterprise IG, says: “Beers and ciders can cut through certain spicy foods, and beer such as Premier Cru has the language of wine.”
Premium ales are likewise capturing consumer tastebuds. But Jonathan Neame, chief executive of UK brewer Shepherd Neame, notes: “We need retailers to continue to drive prices up. We would also like to see more regional champions stocked on a regional basis alongside established national brands.”