The price is always right

04 April, 2008

Don't fear passing the Budget hikes on to customers, good ones remain loyal

On the morning of the Budget

I was slowly

roused to consciousness

by the sound of


Humphrys grumpily interviewing someone on

Radio 4 . As sleep fell away, I realised that

someone from the drinks industry

was getting

the rubber-hose treatment.

The interviewee was from JD

Wetherspoon (it

could have been chairman Tim Martin) and he was being quizzed about potential tax hikes , specifically the Conservatives' proposal to treble tax on "alcopops", and significantly raise it on strong beer and cider , to fund tax cuts on lower strength drinks.

The interviewee

said that this sort of thing didn't work, because then all you'll get is people bringing cheap booze in from Calais. This gave me the opportunity to start the day with a giggle, as I


being asked to go into a shop to buy some cigarettes for a couple of schoolkids (boy, did they

pick the wrong guy to ask) a few days ago. How disorienting might it have been if, rather than being stopped

buying some smokes, they'd offered me a

few grand to import a load of alcopops from France? "'Scuse, mister, but can you nip down to Dover and run a load of dodgy RTDs back for us?"

And they say the spirit of enterprise is dead.

Well, the proposed dramatic hikes in the Budget didn't materialise, although some increases

will sting a bit. There has been lively debate

on these pages lately (and elsewhere) . Some commentators

argue that on one hand customers will refuse to pay £2 for a bottle of local SIBA-affiliated ale, and on the other that we should welcome the Budget as a transparent and honest way to pass on price rises

to customers.

I'd like to relate my own experience of these two issues as an illustration of how price rises specifically, and expensive beer generally, might work out.

I'm thorough to the point of bloody-mindedness about passing on price rises , and there is a certain rapport to be gained with customers by cursing the Chancellor together. If a beer becomes more expensive to produce, then I wouldn't expect

a brewer to soak up

the cost, nor a wholesaler. The beer must come to market at a price that reflects its cost of production. Over the past year, beer prices have

been hit by the rising

costs of

raw materials and utilities . I've slowly edged the prices up on certain beers, always passing on price increases, but

believing that this would kill sales. But far from it, as

the beer

keeps selling, to a point where I'm surprised that people

remain loyal to a beer that has become disproportionately expensive compared to its quality.

Ditto for super-premium Belgian beers, selling for about

£15 in a

Champagne-style bottle. My initial

fear was

that it would

never sell. Not a bit of it -

when people ask me if it's worth

£15, I have to answer that I've tried it, it's

good, and enough people feel the same that it's worth


Don't get me wrong . We sell a lot of Carling, Oranjeboom and Scrumpy Jack - in fact, if we didn't, then we might struggle to stay in business. But that doesn't stop us also selling Deus, Thomas Hardy Ale, and Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout. Be bold. Branch out. Hold fast. You will be surprised at the results.

Bookmark this

Site Search


English wine: a happy harvest for Christmas

All across England and Wales, vineyards are being harvested. Down winding country lanes come armies of welly-wearing conscripts wielding secateurs and buckets, ready to reap the rewards of our vines. Happily they come, their cheeks ruddy with pride. Half an hour later they’re crawling over muddy clods with lacerated hands, drenched in claggy juice and cold sweat, as if ploughing through an endurance race.

Click for more »
Upcoming events


Is blended Scotch overshadowed by single malt in retailers?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Don't know