Sunday, September 21, 2008

Supermarkets and beer

My beer of choice to celebrate my middle daughter’s birthday was a random one, based on it being the fifth beer in the line in the fridge and her turning five. Logical enough, I reckon. The beer was a Platinum Blonde from the Six Star Breweries and it was odd in a couple of ways.

As I have stated in these pages previously, I understand the whole low carb beer thing but I just don’t get it. I know that lazy marketing men can’t be arsed getting together with the bean counters at the bigger breweries to sort out a compromise between taste and cost but to come up with a constant stream of regurgitated ‘idea beer’ products that are the same as most of the piss weak marketing beers as the others have already pumped out is just disrespecting real beer drinkers. To henceforth cover my own arse, I shall state that I bought this beer in the interests of research. Plus I knew it would be shit but I didn’t feel it fair to bag a beer that I hadn’t tasted.

The reality is that most of the people who drink these gimmicks don’t care as much for the taste and quality of their beer as they do the ‘look’ and the quantity of their beer. Fancy or familiar labels and plenty of it, thanks. They will try a ‘new’ beer even if it’s the same beer with a ‘new & improved’ sticker on it.

This latest in this already overcrowded market place is made for, and by, the Woolworth’s supermarket chain, one of the two giants in the grocery and liquor game in Australia. This beer is the first in a range to be produced under the Six Star Breweries name. And it is just a name. There is not even one, let alone many Six Star Breweries. This is the name of the ‘marketing operation’ as they call it which, in a way, is admitting the gimmicky cheapening nature of this venture. The beer is made (possibly brewed) at Victoria’s Independent Distillers the contract brewer who makes, among others, Kingfisher under license.

This is not a new thing. Worldwide brands like Sol and Hollandia and locals like Tasman and Hammer ‘n Tongs have been made for the supermarkets alone as a price lead or homebrand beer for many years. Oetinger Pils and Maes Belgian Pils are others in this basket. Some of these beers are OK as standard fridge fillers and I have some of them as ‘no-think back ups’ from time to time – something I can just reach in and grab while I decide what I’m going to do next. I can also see that it is not a terrible thing for supermarkets to have a low price beer to get the punters in – I just don’t think we need so many of the same!

The two things that worry me about this situation are the fact that the downturn in pub patronage in the UK is being blamed partly on the upsurge in supermarket liquor sales and I don’t want to see that happen here and the fact that this is a marketing war – and wars have casualties.

Just listen to the battle cry from the head marketing wally from Woolies;
"We have got control over point-of-sale … we have control over floor, shelf and fridge space, and those are powerful things and in many ways equally as powerful as the other tools available to brand marketers." ... "We don't enter these sorts of projects unless we can capture a reasonable share of market, and we are looking at mid to high single digits,"
This is not a bloke with beers best interests at heart, nor the best interests of the beer drinkers. Prominent positioning, floor space advantage and other Marketing 101 catch phrases mean nothing except this – for every beer that these peanuts decide will be ‘beer idea of the month’, another beer or two must make way. And the ones to make way won’t be a similar low carb, low taste, low effort swill-piss, it will be the sweat of a craft brewer or a daring attempt at an odd-ball Belgian dubbell or Munich Helles by an emerging brewer or a worthy effort at something just a little better than the ever increasing line up of copycat lagers with no merit other than that they taste a bit like beer.

There’s my rant. Maybe it won’t happen. Maybe the big guns will keep each other honest and good beer will be readily available and reasonably priced. Maybe the small independent retailers will all survive and move away from competing with the Goliaths and start selling good craft beers and crafty imports. Maybe the circle of beer will continue to turn and real beer drinkers can keep buying real beer and the bogans can keep buying slabs of VB and we all sleep well at night.

Prof. Pilsner

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