We’ve all had the experience in a pub where we’ve been disappointed with a pint of beer served to us, writes Mike Berry.
Whether it’s because the beer is too warm (or too cold), lacking in condition or tastes stale, the knock-on effect is that you think hard about buying a second pint, or even visiting that pub and handing over your cash again.
Beer is hugely important to the continued health and success of the on-trade – it accounts for seven in 10 alcoholic drinks sold in pubs – and the entire category is worth over £12bn. But despite this, often beer quality is neglected by pubs.
The reasons behind this are hard to fathom, but mostly a combination of lack of time or expertise when it comes to cellar management, alongside complacency when it comes to serving fresh, well-conditioned beer.
This year, Fleet Street Communications has again compiled and edited the Beer Quality Report, (PDF) a joint project from our client Vianet and Cask Marque. It finds that the profit opportunity per year to the pub industry through improved beer quality management is a staggering £709m.
Broken down to outlet level, for a pub selling 300 barrels a year, the opportunity equates to almost £17,500 per year. The more beer a pub sells, the greater amount of profit it could realise.
The report comes at a pertinent time for operators as this year and beyond promises to be particularly challenging, set against the backdrop of rising costs, Brexit uncertainty and an ever-shifting economic landscape.
This year alone, costs are set to climb significantly due to the weaker pound and its effect on imported goods, increases to both the national living and minimum wage, the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy – and the much-publicised hikes to business rates.
Just last week, Tim Martin, the outspoken chairman of pub chain JD Wetherspoon, warned that the company will require like-for-like sales of 3-4% in its next financial year to maintain profits at current levels. An added danger is that rising inflation further erodes consumer’s discretionary spending.
Given this wall of costs it’s imperative that operators maximise every opportunity to boost profits. The beer industry has made great strides when it comes to quality from grain to glass. Vianet and Cask Marque have, for many years, been leading the way in identifying and helping to close the performance gap. But, as this report clearly shows, at retail level, it can do better.
Pubs have a huge amount of existing goodwill among their customer base. They remain an important part of our national psyche. Consumers continue to show an increasing desire to eat and drink out, seeking value, provenance and an element of theatre. But in order for pubs to continue to benefit from this, operators must ensure they are meeting and exceeding customer expectations. Otherwise there is an increasing risk that the on-trade beer market starts to become an irrelevance due to failing quality.
The good news is that it is within pubs’ gift to grasp the opportunity; improved line cleaning and cellar management regimes, allied to more focus on staff training to improve pouring and till yields will all make a positive impact. The rewards are clear to see: a higher quality product, greater profitability and happier customers.
Yes, there are headwinds, but as ever quality will shine through.
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