Beer: A Real Talking Point in 2012

I have to admit that I can remember the days when the two key beer brands in Scotland were Tennent’s and McEwan’s and their advertising campaigns were legendary. Roll on two decades, and Tennent’s and McEwan’s (although both are under different ownership) are still there, but in the last few months there are a host of new names to add to the Scottish repertoire and best of all the new additions are ales!
First off the blocks was Belhaven IPA – which obviously was launched to take some of Deuchars IPA market share; then C&C, owners of Tennent’s, challenged Belhaven Best with the launch of Caledonia Best, and just last month Belhaven decided to take on Guinness (probably the biggest target of all) with the launch of Belhaven Black. But not one to rest on their laurels the Caledonian Brewery have launched 2.8% Copper Ale, and I anticipate there is going to be a run on lower gravity ales following the government’s tax incentive to brewers.
Now they do say it is more difficult getting new customers than hanging on to old ones, and some may say that it is easier to go take market share from a successful brand, especially when that brand is the only one in the market, than create a totally new beer category (for some reason SPA springs to mind!) . So it has really come as no surprise that finally Tennent’s are taking on Belhaven, and that Belhaven has taken on Deuchars and Guinness… The only puzzle is why has it taken so long?
Belhaven customers no doubt will know that for years (since about 1979) Belhaven has had a contract with Tennent’s which resulted in Belhaven Best and Tennent’s lying side by side on the bar as Belhaven distributed Tennent’s, and also put it into their own pubs, but that trading contract has come to an end. Perhaps in anticipation of the contract ending, C&C created Caledonia Best to compete directly with Belhaven Best in the Scottish market. C&C are actively incentivising customers to stock Caledonia instead of Belhaven. And probably for the first time ever, Scotland’s leading ale brand Belhaven Best, has some competition in the market. Competition is good for the licensees, and it’s good for customers. Both brands are going to have to be visible to both trade customers and consumers if they hope to gain or hang on to market share. Increased marketing activity will encourage people to talk about the two brands, and the more people talk about beer the more chance they will come to the pub and try it. There’s also a good chance licensees are going to get more marketing support from the brands, as they seek to get and keep people on board.
As for Belhaven Black, well there’s nothing like going for gold, especially in this Olympic year. David v’s Goliath comes to mind. But knowing Scots if the products tastes good, then there is every chance that Scottish stout drinkers will try Belhaven Black. That’s if its owners, Greene King, decide to put some marketing spend behind it. After all Guinness advertising is iconic as is the brand to such an extent that licensees are possible scared to take it out. That would probably be an ‘ask’ too far.
Says Jim Anderson of The Anderson in Fortrose, “When it comes to creating and maintaining brand loyalty, no one does it better than Guinness. Their propaganda machine has been churning out seductive claims and dreamy imagery for centuries, and despite recession, depression, prohibition and the Troubles, this dark, weak, expensive, slightly-sour drink has continued to call most of the marketing shots in a modern world that’s looking increasingly for light flavours and free rides.”
He continues, “The awesome power of Guinness’ brand loyalty is best experienced in pubs which don’t carry it. I should know — I’ve run plenty of them. When a punter is told there’s no Guinness Stout – and this has happened to me hundreds of times over the past 30 years – they will first turn around, arms outstretched to address the general rabble with something like, “What? No Guinness? What kind of pub is THIS?”, then turn back to the bar and ask either for a heavily-branded lager (Stella, Budweiser etc.) or a heavily-branded spirit (Smirnoff, Jack Daniels etc.) I honestly can’t remember a single instance in which the punter asked if I had a different stout. Now, that’s brand loyalty, when the actual product is less important to the user than the status attached to the product.”
But says Belhaven Brewery Director George Howell, “Until now there has been a lack of choice for stout drinkers, so we are fully expecting its arrival on the bar to create a bit of buzz and give people good reason to get back to their local.”
The raft of new products has also been welcomed by wholesalers. Says David Urquhart, Joint MD of Gordon & MacPhail, “For producers to stay ahead they have to be better, produce a great product and be innovative, in order to stimulate the market. Youngsters these days are more adventurous, inquisitive and want to try different things. Knowledge is also so readily available particularly because of the web.”
He continued, “Statistics show that the volume of beer sales is dropping, but there is no doubt that people are prepared to pay more for quality products. People are pushing the boundaries of what they are prepared to try, looking for new products and new flavours, and different styles to suit different moods.”
Says Scott Arnot one of the directors of Lebowskis agrees, “It’s good to see that beer companies have upped their game, particularly when it comes to ale. We have found across our three units, ale is becoming more popular with our drinkers. Our customers have a real interest in what they are drinking and like to try a variety of beers. They ask questions and our younger guests don’t always want to drink continental beers which often have high ABV’s.”
He continues, “It is refreshing to see a wider variety of beers out there. We try to stock a variety and that includes beers from West, Willam Bros and Lomond Breweries.”
While Allan Cunningham of the Ben Nevis comments, “It is really good for the beer sector and the category, and will be a door opener to let people see other beers that are out there. The new additions to the bar will encourage them to try new beers. Obviously the new beers are not for ale connoisseurs, but for more mainstream consumers and bar owners are keen to offer their customers new brands to try.”
Frank Murphy of the Pot Still is also keen on the new developments. He told DRAM, “I think this can only be a good thing! With the core brands changing it will get people looking at what is sitting on the bar. I think it will get people talking and it will hopefully make people more aware of the choice out there.”
He continues, “It seems that the more beer pubs I visit I notice a real move with the times and that they are all taking a step towards the Americanised way of things. There is more choice and definitely something different on offer.”
While most licensees are keen on the changes none would be drawn on whether they thought Belhaven Best or Caledonia Best was best… and it is probably too early to say how well Caledonia has been received. Steve Annand, commercial managing director for Tennent’s, said at the launch, “We produce the nation’s favourite lager, we produce the nation’s favourite cider, and it’s our ambition to have Scotland’s favourite beer.”
While Belhaven boss Euan Venters is confident that Belhaven Best can hang on to its crown. He said, “We are committed to maintaining Belhaven’s position as “Scotland’s Best” and will continue to enhance our product offering and customer service levels to consolidate that position”.
It’s not just interesting on the Best front. The government’s decision to lower the taxation on lower gravity products has given the brewing industry a real boost. Stephen Crawley, MD of Caledonian Brewery comments, “Beer is the lower alcoholic drink of choice. Although we can’t say it is good for you, it is certainly not as bad as some
other products. And lots of people
are passionate about cask. The government has given us this opportunity and we are taking it, and investing in new products.”
The first one from the Caledonian stable is 2.8%. Says Stephen, “It tastes fantastic. It has plenty of flavour and we have had some very positive responses from publicans. The challenge for us is the issue of ‘social responsibility’. This allows people to have a beer rather than a soft drink. And cask drinkers probably know more about ABV than other drinkers, but it is really up to the publican and their staff to explain. The key thing for licensees is that they can sell it for between 15p and 20p cheaper a pint. That’s a good saving for customers.”
Now that 2.8% has been launched, Caledonian are planning a raft of other new beers to keep the trade and consumers interested. Says Stephen, “Between now and the end of the year we are planning at least four new permanent beers. The next one will be out in March.”
Tom Cannon the man responsible for marketing the beers for Caledonian comments, “Consumers do want to know more about ABV than before, and by providing more information consumers can make the right choice for the right occasion. Our next new beer has an ABV of 4.5% and a strong orange and coriander taste. It’s called Dutchman and probably will do best in style bars.”
He continues, “We believe there is a much brighter picture in this sector now. For too long there was too little change and now it’s about to explode.”
I think he could be right.

Category: Features
Tags: Beer, Susan Young