Falling Lager Sales – Is the Love Affair Over?

unfiltered-lager-london fieldsWhile it remains by far the most widely drunk variety of beer, sales of lager fell from £12.7bn in 2006 to £11.4bn in 2011, according to market researchers Mintel – a decline that appears even sharper when a succession of above-average price increases is taken into account.

By contrast, cider’s volume sales have grown by 24% over the same period, according to figures released this week. And while overall revenues from ale have also declined, the boom in darker, connoisseur-favoured cask-conditioned beers has seen the number of microbreweries soar to an all-time high of 850.

Lager Has an Image Problem

It’s an inauspicious outlook for a lager, whose appeal not long ago appeared impregnable. And yet rarely has a product consumed by so many been so widely disparaged.

At the same time, the rise of real ale has allowed producers of cask beers to portray the keg-based market leaders as ersatz, synthetic and soulless.

“What’s the matter, lagerboy,” ran the recent advert for pungently flavoured brew Hobgoblin, “afraid you might taste something?”

Lager economics – Drink Less at Home!

The rising price of beer, fuelled by increases in taxation, has been blamed for widespread pub closures – the Campaign for Real Ale says 14 are shutting down each week. In response, Forsyth says, consumers have taken advantage of cheap supermarket offers and switched to drinking at home.

Equally, he adds, government-sponsored health campaigns have resulted in Britons drinking less – indeed, the UK adult drinking population dropped from 88% to 82% in the past five years.

Lager History Lesson

But the post-war boom in lager – outstripping traditional tipples like bitter, mild and stout – offers some clues as to what made the drink so appealing to millions in the first place.

According to Roger Protz, editor of Camra’s Good Beer Guide, lager took off during the 1970s due to a combination of social change and brewing giants looking after their own bottom line.

“In those days all bitter was cask-conditioned and had to be consumed within a few days of reaching the pub,” he says. “Lager could be kept for longer, and the big brewers saw an opportunity.

“Also, young people from working-class backgrounds were going abroad for the first time and trying new beer. Lager appealed to them because it was refreshing, new and quite exotic – to many, ale was something their parents drank.”

Crucially, he says, lager was pitched as an upmarket alternative to ale – and one that was suited to drinking in sizeable quantities.

In particular, it was targeted at men, who were seen as likely to ingest the most. For example, from 1969 to 1991 the Scottish brand Tennents adorned its cans with photos of sultry-looking models known as “Lager Lovelies”.

Lager Will Remain

It is believed manufacturers will learn from ale’s example and win back customers by improving quality.

Look to the success of imported premium varieties like the Czech Budveiser Budvar, as well as British producers like Meantime and Camden Town Brewery, which are admired by connoisseurs and High Street consumers alike.

Read more about Lager & more about the Mintel research. The BBC has an excellent article:  www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17211485.
Mintel repoort on beer sales can be found here: http://store.mintel.com/beer-uk-december-2012