Most wholesalers suffered as a consequence of the supermarkets’ price war on beer last Christmas and fear it will be at least as bad again this year.
At least one major player is also threatening to delist two leading brands as a result.
That was the verdict of a panel of leading wholesalers taking part in a survey organised by The Grocer.
More than two thirds who responded said their sales had suffered, with one commenting: “Christmas sales continue to be a disaster area for us.
“Brewers have lost control over their own brands.”
Another said they had managed to increase sales but only by concentrating on pack sizes that were not promoted in the multiples.
He pointed out that the multiples tended to slash case prices and added: “We can usually beat them on dozen packs and 4s and 8s.
“The full case pricing encourages retailers to buy them and then break them down for sale.”
Few had received any reassurance from brewers about this year’s prices, with one commenting: “How can they?”
One said brewers feared the worst, and another commented: “They are expecting deep-cut prices once again and shrug their shoulders.”
The vast majority said they expected another price war this year with many saying they feared it could be even worse than last year.
One commented: “There is a major price war continuing, and as beer sales are declining or flat at best, the temptation to really hit the prices will be great.”
Another big wholesaler added: “There will almost certainly be a price war. It has become a major footfall driver at Christmas and the big four are all vying for share.”
Despite the extreme pressure, few said they would consider delisting any big brands.
However, one major wholesaler said: “We are currently evaluating the proposals we have received, and will be reviewing these offers in line with price activity at our competitors. We are already looking to delist two major brands this Christmas.”
Another who said he might delist added: “Wholesalers are distributors and therefore can only delist in the most extreme situations. But we may be forced to consider radical action.”
Another major wholesaler suggested they might be forced to look to the grey market. “Delisting is not the answer, but trying to offer equivalent brands at keen prices is a start.”
Tongue-in-cheek, one suggested the government’s crackdown on binge drinking should curtail deep discounts.
John Wood