Sunday, August 7, 2011

Weak beers to flood the market?

It seems that the Daily Mail has woken up to the fact that, from 1 October, the duty on beers of 2.8% ABV or lower will be halved. However, despite the suggestion in the article, I can’t see it affecting the price of the “normal” pint bought in pubs. Obviously it’s too early to say exactly what the impact will be, but I would expect the main beneficiary to be cheap off-trade lager.

Price may influence people’s decision as to whether to go to the pub or not, but once inside they’re not all that price-conscious, otherwise mild would do a lot better than it does. Also bear in mind that many drinks in pubs are bought in rounds, where there is less incentive to choose the cheapest, and any disparity in price is accepted so long as participants don’t blatantly take the piss. I can’t see £2 pints of 2.8% bitter decimating the sales of the 4% stuff at £2.50. I know it’s politically incorrect to say so, but people actually buy beer partly because it contains alcohol, so whether or not the taste is unaffected is not the sole consideration.

I can, however, see the likes of Carling, Carlsberg and Fosters bringing out 2.8% versions which may sell enough in pubs to be viable, but won’t take over from the mainstream brands. Apart from maybe a few existing milds being reformulated to take advantage of the lower duty, I really don’t see much impact on the cask sector. But of course only time will tell.