The beer and pub scene of today is a far cry from just a decade or two ago. New beer drinkers demand greater variety in taste, flavour and alcohol content, driving significant changes in the industry and fuelling the beer revolution across Britain. Against the backdrop of the anti-alcohol lobby, rising costs and a bit of a reputation problem, the beer industry has to keep changing tack to try and keep pace with today’s consumers.
Opportunities – craft beer and mindful drinking
It’s clear that beer has never been better in Britain, with more than 2,000 breweries across the country. The Great British Beer Festival alone boasts nearly a thousand different brews under one roof. As a result, consumers are expecting – and demanding – more from their drinking experience. A huge variety of flavours and styles must be on offer behind the bar, and knowledgeable staff should be on hand to make recommendations. As quality over quantity reigns supreme, more people care about where their drink is from, how it has been made and by whom.
Whether due to the fact that we are more health-conscious, or simply extending our expectation of choice to the non-alcoholic sector, low to no alcohol beer has gained significant prominence in recent years. While it’s unlikely that the claim that “one in four millennials are completely teetotal” is completely accurate, there are a number of reasons people are turning to low and no alcoholic options – running a marathon, taking part in Dry January or being designated drivers for the evening.
As a result, it is no longer a given that water or juice is your only alternative. Today, there are some great beers for people who cannot (or choose not) to drink, with “mindful drinking” captivating people’s imaginations. Last year the very first Mindful Drinking Festival took place in London, promising to offer “healthier, hangover-free alternatives for the festive season”. This sentiment seems to have struck a chord with a number of younger people who are more health conscious than ever before. Club Soda actively campaigns to get more non-alcoholic beers into pub and, while they don’t make up a significant percent of sales, Heineken alone has seen a 23% increase in licensed premises over the past year.
The revolution in beer quality and choice is often lumped under the “craft” heading. How we define craft beer, however, still leaves the industry scratching its collective head. Does a craft beer have to be made by a small brewer? Does real ale from a cask qualify? Who defines what is “artisan”? Some beers that are owned by the largest global brewers – such as Hop House 13 (owned by Diageo) and Camden Hells (owned by AB InBev) are widely considered to be craft.
Wherever you are in the craft beer debate, there is no doubt that more beer drinkers can only be a positive for the industry. CAMRA hopes this trend will lead to greater education and understanding of real ale, the pinnacle of a brewer’s art.
Threats – pubs, health and sexism
While beer may be booming, there’s no guarantee this will last. There are a number of new and emerging threats facing the industry, from pub closures, to the anti-alcohol lobby and sexist labelling.
As people expect more theatre and excitement from their beer, they’re also less willing to part with their money. The cost of living continues to rise and pub-going is the first luxury to be cut. In recent years, cheap supermarket prices have given consumers the option of bypassing the £5-6 cost per drink in a pub by selling beer in multipacks for as low as £1 a brew. As a consequence, more people are drinking at home and missing out on all of the social benefits of pub-going, leading to 18 pubs closing every week. With more than a third of the cost of a pint made up in various taxes, CAMRA is actively campaigning to cut the tax burden on pubs to try and help stem costs and bring consumers back to the on-trade sector.
At the same time, we are seeing the anti-alcohol lobby crack down on drinkers, slashing the recommended units per week and releasing scaremongering stories which promise an early death to anyone who drinks. CAMRA believes this desperately needs to be challenged before drinking becomes as taboo as smoking, and has supported the establishment of Drinkers’ Voice, a new organisation dedicated to being the voice of common sense for all drinkers in challenging the anti-alcohol lobby.
Finally, as the consumers become more health and socially conscious, the days of sexist labelling and marketing strategies need to be firmly put behind us. The beer drinkers of today are no longer impressed with the “boobs and beer” marketing approach, and are calling for more inclusivity. There is simply no room for mistakes anymore – with the increased competition in the marketplace, consumers will simply go for another brand if they come across a pump clip or label that is sexist or derogatory.
It is certainly a mixed bag for the beer industry, but also an incredibly exciting time. It is clear throughout this that consumers are in the driver’s seat, and that consumer perception is in some cases more important than reality. The beer industry simply needs to do what it can to keep up.
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