Liquid gold: can canned ale hit a seam of sales?

15 August, 2014

For some time, canned ale has been the dowdy cousin of flamboyant premium bottled ale. The humble format has seen sales slide 2.3% for premium ales and 6.6% for standard ales, according to Marston’s 2014 Premium Bottled Ale Report, while more than 140 products were launched in the PBA category last year – compared to fewer than 20 in canned ale.

But signs are that cans are shaking off their frumpy image ready to emerge from their cocoon refreshed as an exciting part of the ale category.

Trendsetting craft brewers are starting to release their beers in cans with some success – Brewdog notably launched its Punk IPA in the format – and now more mainstream brewers and buyers are starting to look at the package afresh. Tesco beer buyer Chiara Nesbitt tells OLN: “Canned sales continue to grow at Tesco, despite the rest of the market seeing challenging times.

“Our data highlights that canned beer customers are making more frequent trips and are spending more per trip – so, as a group of customers, they are very important to the category.

“The beer team strongly believes there is more to come from the trends we see across the globe and that UK customers still need to understand that drinking canned products doesn’t have to mean mainstream or standard products. Plenty of craft lines are canned, quality doesn’t change.

“We are still a little way off customers accepting cans as they do bottles. However, the data is showing that we are making steady progress. We do back the concept of cans and believe this will be the future.”

Carl Middleton, head of take-home and export at Marston’s, points to declining canned sales in IRI figures. He says: “The consumer trend towards more premium brands and formats doesn’t bode well for canned ales. The key to a potential turnaround in the off-trade lies with innovation, and we see premium craft and mini-cask as potential differentiators which could drive a resurgence in consumer interest.”

Lee Williams, senior brands marketing manager at Thwaites, says: “The general decline in total can sales is masking the growth segments of the market – namely golden ale and craft beer in cans.”

Craft beer specialist James Clay saw sales of canned craft beers to independent retailers soar by more than 250% in the first half of 2014 – and there are no signs of the growth slowing, says account manager Ben Hodgkinson.

He says: “Since launching Brooklyn lager in cans two years ago, we’ve expanded our permanently stocked range of canned craft beers to include 15 products in response to the enthusiasm for the format for craft ale.

“For a long time cans have had a bad reputation in the UK, due to the poor quality of the beers, but this has nothing to do with the cans. Consumers are now taking a fresh look at the humble can and are recognising the benefits when it holds a great-tasting beer. Cans are more environmentally friendly, they are better at preserving freshness, and are far more convenient.”

Greene King retail sales director Neil Jardine says the UK market’s fixation with bottles is “sometimes puzzling”, adding: “We have already seen some speciality craft beers appearing in cans in both supermarkets and pubs, so providing ale in a wide range of formats for different shoppers and different occasions has to be the way forward.”

While most in the market agree that canned sales are set to take off, not everyone concurs on why that is.

Thwaites’s Williams says: “While the quality of the beer in can versus bottle is a valid one for aficionados, the key driver for cans for the average beer drinker should be occasion. I’d love to believe the nuances in flavour and quality of the can versus bottle are appreciated by the masses, but it will be the rise of the craft 33cl can that will eventually change perceptions.”

And Zak Avery, owner of Leeds shop Beer Ritz, says: “Canned beer sales are good, although clearly tied into the boom in craft. It’s hard to tell whether people are excited about them for the reasons all the breweries cite – lighter, more recyclable, impervious to light, etc – or whether they are tied into the novelty value that seems to populate the beer scene at the moment.”

INDIE’S VIEW

Leigh Norwood, owner of Cheltenham beer specialist Favourite Beers, shares his view on canned beers:

“When I first opened my shop nearly four years ago I vowed I would never have any canned beers on the shelves. My mind was changed a couple of years ago when a friend challenged me to do a taste test between canned and bottled versions of the new recipe Brewdog Punk IPA.

“In a blind taste test, three of us preferred what turned out to be the canned product – the hop aromas and tastes were fresher and more vibrant. I was sold.

“Since then I have investigated all the advantages of canned versus bottled beer and came to a decision that cans could well be the future, particularly in the craft beer market.

“New manufacturing processes are used to coat the insides of the cans so none of that old metallic taint spoils the taste of the beer, they are cheaper to transport and easier to store, they are a far better barrier to light and oxygen and they chill quicker.

“They are also more versatile in many situations. In recent weeks, many people have bought cans to take to music festivals where glass bottles are banned.

“I now regularly stock 20 to 30 beers in canned form and more are arriving all the time. My customers were quite slow in accepting the packaging, but as they have realised the benefits and tasted the difference they have become far more enlightened.

“If I now stock the same beer in bottle and canned form it tends to be the cans that sell quicker.

“Canned beer has exploded in the US craft beer market in recent years and the fact that more UK craft breweries are now following the trend is a sign that things are definitely changing.”

“For a long time cans have had a bad reputation in the UK, due to the poor quality of the beers, but this has nothing to do with the cans. Consumers are now taking a fresh look at the humble can and are recognising the benefits when it holds a great-tasting beer. Cans are more environmentally friendly, they are better at preserving freshness, and are far more convenient.”




Bookmark this


Site Search

COMMENT

Donald Trump: the US has much to learn from history

The reasons Donald Trump should not be left in charge of a shopping trolley, let alone the keys to the White House, are plentiful and well-documented – from his use of the word “bigly” and lamentable business legacy to his dubious post-modern feminist principles, quite astonishing lack of political acumen and, most worrying of all, his bewildering hair. 

Click for more »
Upcoming events

Polls

Is blended Scotch overshadowed by single malt in retailers?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Don't know

Facebook

Twitter