Heineken UK relaunch

Today’s issue of Marketing Week carries a story about Heineken, who are apparently relaunching in the UK with a more “continental” image. They want people to drink Heineken in smaller measures, with a thicker head, as a “premium beer”.

This won’t do anything about the actual taste of their beer – it’s still “cooking lager” – but it is an interesting step away from British lager culture.

Marketing Week also points out how badly Heineken goofed when they relaunched last time, putting their beer’s ABV up to 5% just when everyone got upset about binge-drinking. They spent a fortune on announcing “new, stronger Heineken”, and then a year or so later their competitors were all announcing, for example, “new, weaker Becks”, or Stella, or Carling.

They’re also announcing a new “draught keg” for home use. Er… Party Seven?

Government strategy on binge-drinking

The UK Government have announced a new “alcohol strategy”, with the title “Safe. Sensible. Social.” [Link to 1mb PDF]

Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker said:

It is unacceptable for people to use alcohol and urinate in the street, vomit and carry on.

It’s almost regarded as acceptable to drink to get drunk and we want to change that attitude.

Apart from the fact that I don’t know exactly what “carrying on” means (laughing? swearing?) I broadly agree with these sentiments.

I also think, though, that cheap, nasty beer which it’s impossible to drink for any other reason than to get drunk, is partly to blame. There’s a good reason why you don’t hear much about “ale louts”, isn’t there?

More nice tasting beer; smaller measures; in nicer glasses; and a beer “tasting” culture, would all help to combat so-called binge-drinking.

Times article

BBC news online

German beer prices up because of growth of biofuels

Ochsenfurter KauzenAccording to the Arizona Star, the price of beer in Germany is going up because barley farmers are turning their fields over to crops which can be used to make biofuels.

Helmut Erdmann, the director of the Ayinger brewery in Bavaria says:

Beer prices are a very emotional issue in Germany — people expect it to be as inexpensive as other basic staples like eggs, bread and milk

In my experience, beer really is considered an everyday essential. There’s barely any tax on beer, as far as I can tell – certainly nothing like the levels we have in the UK – and it’s possible to pick up a bottle of, say, Salvator for 79c in most German supermarkets.

Big brewers supporting small ones

News from the “Morning Advertiser” that Charles Wells pub company are to open a speciality beer pub in their home town of Bedford made me think about the big brewery business model.

In a period when small producers and local produce are cool, and big brands just aren’t, more and more of those big brands will want a piece of the smaller ones. In the past, they’d have taken over smaller brands, incorporated them, and eventually done away with them altogether. Now, it makes more sense to keep them intact, but at arms length.

McDonalds aren’t hiding the fact that they own a share of Pret a Manger, the posh high street sandwich chain (itself now also a big brand). They just don’t publicise it much. It’s insurance for them in case the bottom falls out of the little brown beef pattie market, and also protects them from accusations of being low-class, or peddlers of only unhealthy food. They’re hedging their bets.

Charles Wells Pub Company, a part of the growing Wells and Youngs’ empire, are helping the parent company to cover itself here, too. People can’t accuse it of crushing competition, or reducing variety if it keeps opening pubs selling boutique beers – beers, of course, which don’t directly challenge it in the marketplace.

Market forces might be working out in the favour of the British drinker: if customers want choice and the products of smaller breweries, the big breweries are going to get in on the act and help out.