Supermarkets are sometimes seen as a threat to pubs, usually on the grounds of price — pubs, the argument goes, can’t compete when punters can buy 12 cans for the price of two pints of draught beer.
But supermarkets don’t only challenge pubs on price: they have also tended, during the last twenty or so years, to be ‘ahead of the curve’, offering a greater variety or more interesting beers than most pubs.
A few years ago, even living in London, our local pubs offered London Pride, Spitfire, Hoegaarden and perhaps a handful of other bog-standard brands. In the supermarket, at the same time, we could buy Vienna Lager, Kölsch, wheat beer and fruit beer from Meantime; German wheat beers; Czech and German lagers; a variety of Belgian beers; and British ales from Cornwall to Cumbria. That they were cheaper was an added bonus — it was choice and quality that drew us in.
They spotted a trend before it blew up and, at the same time, contributed to its blowing up. Now, it seems to us, supermarkets have withdrawn from the game somewhat, with reduced ranges, and less adventurous purchasing strategies in recent years.
Here’s what we think is happening: supermarkets are very adept at spotting a trend while it’s still possible to enter the market without a huge investment. Once everyone gets interested, like the classic hipster who was into X before it was cool, they move on.