The lager boom: advertising or weather?

Graph mapping UK temperatures against lager sales 1959 to 1978

From about 1960 onwards,The Financial Times repeatedly ran articles attempting to explain the boom in lager sales in the UK, and debating whether they would keep rising, and how far. One of the reason most often given was the weather. A hot summer in 1959 saw imports of lager rise to a peak of 270,000 barrels, after which point lager production in Britain took off in earnest.

One British lager brewery reports that half its production is sold in the 17-week summer season, and another that it sells three and a-half times as much in its best months as in the bleak mid-winter. (FT, 14 May 1959.)

Guinness reckon Harp Lager acquires an increasing market share in the summer and manages to keep its new customers loyal in the winter months, albeit in reduced volume. (FT, 10 August 1974.)

As those quotations suggest, breweries certainly believed hot weather made a difference, and some reports suggest that lager briefly took a 40 per cent share of the market during the heat wave of 1976.

In our amateurish way, we’ve mapped percentage share of the market for lager against mean summer temperatures as recorded by the Met Office (see above). We can see a bump around the 1959 heat wave; again with the warm summers of 1969 and ’70; and once again with hot weather in 1975 and ’76.

On the other hand, commentators from the CAMRA camp were of the view that marketing was also a major driver, as expressed by Roger Protz in his 1978 book Pulling a Fast One, which you might have noticed we’re finding to be a gold-mine at the moment. He says lager advertising budgets were £268,000 in 1967; £3.2 million in 1974; and £9.8 million in 1977. Here are those budgets (in ‘millions of pounds’) plotted against sales:

Graph mapping brewery marketing budgets against lager sales 1967 to 1977

Now, that looks to us like marketing budgets rose in response to the market share for lager increasing: it was about making sure that, if people were demanding lager, it was your lager they bought.

Hmm. Ponder ponder. At some point, we’ll have to look at stats on foreign holidays mapped against lager sales, too.

DISCLAIMER: This post is strictly for the purposes of entertainment. These cobbled together numbers and graphs not to be used as a buoyancy aid.

14 thoughts on “The lager boom: advertising or weather?”

  1. I think you’re looking for a hidden tipping point. Could it be as simple as Place, the forgotten 4P that’s vital to the Coca Cola/Pepsi war?

    Be interesting to see when the lager fonts appeared and when the big distribution contracts were signed. Or perhaps foreign holiday uptake as you suggested on twitter.

    (PS I spend hours at work looking for trends, nothing more frustrating than two trends with no correlation and therefore no explanation!!!)

  2. There is no better proxy for cultural trends than Carry On films, and Carry on Abroad came out in 1972, around the point that ‘share of market’ line shoots upward…

  3. And around the time of the Monty Python travel agent sketch.

    And stopping at endless Majorcan bodegas selling fish and chips and Watney’s Red Barrel and calamaris and two veg. And sitting in their cotton sunfrocks, squirting Timothy White Suncream all over their puffy, raw, swollen, purulent flesh, ‘cos they overdid it on the first day.

    I remember thinking it was quite cool the first time I saw a mock bullfighting poster featuring “Bill Harris”.

    1. Me too – for one mad moment I thought our neighbour had actually discovered a hidden talent as a bullfighter while he was out there… Innocent times.

  4. Funnily enough I was wondering what effect on lager sales all those squaddies posted to Germany and drinking the local beer had on going down the pub when they got home, or did they just stick in the Naafi?

  5. I’d still prefer to put it down to demographics, albeit demographics mediated at least in part by advertising. In the 10 years 1969-1978, remember, there was effectively a turnover of 20 per cent in the “drinking population”, that is, around one in five drinkers died, to be replaced by new but much younger ones. The old ones were, for the most part, mild drinkers. Track the decline in sales of mild from 1960 or so onwards, as the men who had begun drinking around the time of the First World War started either dying, or not going down the pub any more because they were too frail. The young drinkers who were replacing them weren’t drinking mild and, it appears, they weren’t drinking bitter either. WHY that was is as much to do with lager’s increasing availability as the advertising that made drinkers aware of it.

    The push into tying up pub estates by the big lager brewers started with the formation of what became Allied Breweries in 1961 and took off about 1967, with the coming together of Bass M&B and Charringtons and the increasing devouring of its “umbrella” small brewery partners by Whitbread (22 takeovers between 1961 and 1968), so suddenly an increasing number of pubs were selling brands that were increasingly familiar through advertising.

    It’s significant, I think, that Scotland was always further ahead in its acceptance of lager than the rest of Britain, simply, I suggest, because its pub and bar market was much more dominated by big brewers – Tennents, S&N – committed to promoting lager. Lager was 20 per cent of sales in Scotland by around 1967 and 40 per cent 10 years later. So – advertising was important, yes, but so was increasing availability, and so was the arrival of a constant stream of new drinkers happy to try something different from what their dads and grandads were drinking.

  6. We thought about this a bit more last night and wondered whether mean summer temperatures are the right numbers, so we’re going to try it with peak summer temperatures and see if anything more pronounced emerges.

    Also, we’re going to look for information on when big, new UK lager breweries came on line. If, as we recall off the top of our heads, lots began brewing c.1970, then it might simply be that the sudden upward turn in share of market was a response to availability.

  7. worth remembering that people tend to go out and drink more in the summer anyway, so that might skew the figures.

  8. CAMRA being a campaign and not a historical society, you have to take anything they write with a pinch of salt. A convenient myth that suits propaganda is better than the truth.

    What better myth than lager drinkers are ripped off paying for adverts, whilst ale drinkers are not. If advertising is 5% of turnover, that is going to pay for TV adverts for big producers and adverts in CAMRA newsletters for smaller ones. Maybe chemical fizz is a better myth, though

    I’m interested in your travel correlation. Other relevant corrrelations might be servicemen returning from postings in Germany (a big part of the German wine boom of the 70′s) and many construction workers working in Germany in the 80′s due to recession in the UK.

  9. One further reason for the increase in lager and also keg beer sales was the development in the mid 1960′s of reliable flash coolers which enabled lager to be served chilled on draught which increased its market appeal,larger brewing companies which emerged about the same time also were able to invest greater sums in dispense and cooling equipment

    1. Surely John, flash coolers were around long before the 60′s. After all, bars on the Continent had been selling chilled draught lager for many years prior to that decade, and the same would have been true of the United States.

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