Consumers can the can

18 February, 2011

The ale bandwagon continues to roll along – perhaps at a slower pace than before, but there is still tangible momentum. The economic downturn may have taken its toll, but as a category it’s worth £477 million in take-home, according to Nielsen

figures for 2010, and there has been 7% growth over the past two years.?Delve deeper into the figures and a patchier picture emerges, however. There are some big fluctuations between premium and standard ales, between bottles and cans, and between retail channels.?According to Hall & Woodhouse’s ale category overview, released in February, PBAs are up 1% by value in the take-home market as a whole in the past year, but by 7% in the supermarkets. Sales of bottled ales in the impulse category – the sector covering convenience stores and specialist off-licences – fell by 18%, the Badger brewer says. The demise of First Quench accounts for some of this downturn.

The same report describes a 3% fall in canned ale sales, the brunt of which is borne by the impulse sector, which saw a 21% decline while supermarket sales rose 2%.?Bill Simmons, Fuller’s off-trade sales manager, says: “The impulse channel is facing a tough time as consumers look to tighten their belts in the current economic climate, so sales of premium ale in this channel are down on last year, although value is holding up well against volume. However, consumers haven’t stopped buying beer – the multiple grocers have benefited as consumers plan their shopping better and look for deals in larger outlets to save cash.”?Greene King says in the impulse sector, bottled ales are worth three times as much as premium canned ales and account for 40% more sales value than standard canned ales. On that basis, it argues, they represent the greatest beer opportunity for the independent retailer.?The Old Speckled Hen and Abbot Ale brewer reckons almost 25% of households buy bottled ales. “Many ale shoppers are trading up from standard canned ales to bottled ales,” it says, quoting Kantar Worldpanel data. “The bottled ale category is growing shopper numbers and these shoppers are also buying them more regularly, so there’s an opportunity to attract repeat shoppers. And all this in a category which brings in superior margins.”?Yet Marston’s, whose brands include Pedigree and Hobgoblin, wants retailers to do more with their beer fixtures to ensure the ale category achieves further growth. It quotes Nielsen figures for the year to November, which show premium bottled ales have grown by 4.6% in volume terms and 8.3% by value.

Kantar Worldpanel stats show 135,000 new drinkers were recruited to the category in that time.?James Coyle, sales and marketing director at Marston’s Beer Company, says ale has achieved a “remarkable performance in the face of the economic environment and major grocery retailers having reduced shelf space for PBAs in the past 18 months”.

He adds: “We recognise shopper penetration is still too low, but believe more can be done with our retail partners to continue to recruit more shoppers to a category that delivers a higher basket spend than any other in beer.”

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