Pubpaper 598 – Us and Them

Posted: 17th March 2011 by admin in Pub Paper, Writing

I’d love to know what planet Scott Wilson, director of public affairs at Molson Coors is on.  He declares that small and large brewers need to join forces to fight off the “dark forces” of wine and spirits, and declare a “beer revolution”.  Quoting Scott “The feminine perception of beer was of male dominance, too gassy, too many calories and too bitter, If you solve these problems, you will bring in a new audience”.  The first step in solving this problem seems to be not drinking most of Molsons’ UK distributed brands, including Coors, Carling, Worthington, Caffreys and Sol, all of which fall under his negative labels.

He appears to be totally ignoring his shortcoming of his own products and at the same time dismissing the healthy state of British real ale.  He quotes “Look at the craft, the service and love that goes into coffee — we need to recreate that for cask beer”.  Given that this speech was given at the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) annual conference, I’m sure that a lot of SIBA’s 400+ members thought this rather disparaging of their efforts, as well as putting down the large nationwide network of specialist real ale pubs which sell them.  There are hundreds of small brewers and dedicated landlords out there who pour their heart into making and selling the product, unlike Molson who simply pour money into plants and distribution.

“It was the mid 1990s that we saw the last real innovation in the beer market with the widget. Craft brewers have the opportunity to led the beer revolution.” he continues.  The widget made distinctively average and poor beers taste slightly better and give them a better head. There is a similar invention which does the same job with a lot less fuss, it is called a good real ale in a glass bottle poured correctly.  However this invention has been around several hundred years, and didn’t need its own jingle, who can forget “It’s got a widget, a lovely widget, a widget it has got” from the 1990’s advertising campaign.

Cask ale is leading the revolution already with recent year on year (08-09) growth in the market share of beer sales, while bucking the trend of falling sales within the trade with 8.5% growth in volume sales over the same period.  Compare this to Molsons’ where UK sales were down 10% by volume in 08-09.   It is not the small brewers which need to modernise but Molson Coors. With the exception of the recently purchased Sharps Brewery in Cornwall, their beers are, for their vast majority, generic lagers and mass market ales.

As you know from following this column, I am firmly on the side of the smaller independent brewer and real ale in general, thus a large brewer has to do a lot to impress me.  Molson Coors argued the points above when I gave them the chance to respond, and although they make some salient points, I still think that Scott Wilson was way off target .  While not commenting on my first two points specifically, they do make a some valid points which do apply to the whole beer market.

Beer has declined from 70% to 40% of total market share over the last  40 years.  However 40 years ago, the wine market for the average working person was more limited with the core brands being Blue Nun, Black Tower and Mateus Rose, unlike now where you can buy 60 different wines at your local general store.  The 80’s and 90’s also cemented wine as the female drink of choice as beer was marketed at the “Loaded” generation.  Women do not drink beer in big numbers still, an example being at the beer festival on Thursday at the Ship Inn, 95% of those present were male.  We still have a long way to go to compete with wine for the female market.

They also argue that total volume of beer sold has dropped 18% over the past 5 years, but that could be said about many aspects of the economy over the same period, we are still in a recession for all intents.  When people do not have money, we cannot expect to gain many new customers for a product, however what cask ale has done is to consolidate its customer base through some very hard times.  Cask ale is cannibalising customers from the larger brewers products, but it shows that the cask product is considered better than what the larger companies are offering.

I for one cannot argue with that last sentence, until next week, happy supping.