Fake tales of Copen hagen

My eldest daughter and I are currently into the Arctic Monkeys.  To use the innovation curve so often misquoted in the press, you can hardly call us ‘innovators’ – well, to be fair, you can hardly call me an innovator. It’s ‘Laggards’ all the way in the Tinted House*. ‘Bardus et prout’ (‘Backwards and Proud‘) is our humble yet forward-thinking family motto.  In my defence though, I bought the album at the time of the initial hype but was also aware that she was 5 and there was one of those pearlescent ‘Parental Advisory Lyrics’ stickers on the front.  I still have to turn the volume down at the right moment on ‘Fake Tales of San Francisco’, otherwise I will find myself in a tight corner where I need to explain both fornication and self pleasure to her on the way to Stagecoach.  Mum’s job I reckon.

But anyway – the rather tenuous link here is about the bandwagon – ‘Get off the bandwagon and put down the handbook’ Alex wails nasally in his Sheffield twang in the aforementioned ditty – and a link to last week’s ‘Radler’ piece.   It’s nice to watch a bandwagon being jumped on in the moment – let’s call it Bandwagon Live!

Last Summer, in the fresh and shiny New Shandy category, Carling Zest was born; last week, I reported on the Heineken following suit with Bruce, Sheila und Gunter’s ‘Foster’s IMG_2578Radler’, whilst framing the opportunity positively as the ‘mid strength moderation’ segment.  And just like the proverbial buses, here comes Carlsberg Citrus, a 2.8% citrus beer.  Whilst Paddy Power are taking money on the next Pope, just round the corner Betfred are offering good odds on Stella Limon (‘that’s Li-mon not Le-mon’) and even Greene King are odds on for Greene King IPA Light with Lemongrass.

You can’t criticise the Danes here – Anheuser Busch were first to market in the US with Bud Light Lime four or so years ago to amazing success, and many others in many markets have followed suit.  It’s all a sobering (possibly, literally) reminder of the importance of really understanding what drinkers want.  Us beery bloggers have a tendency to self-pleasure ourselves on all the interesting craft, cask, funky bottle stuff and often typecast the world in our own image; typically only noticing what we want to see***.  Yet over there in the other real world, people are interested in lower strength, flavoured beers and don’t seem too bothered if it comes out of a mega factory.

It’s all fine by me, if beer is the winner, that’s a good thing. But I’m left scratching my head, wondering if genuine innovation is finally dead.

* Everitt Rogers, brother of Buck, was a sociology Professor who has helped marketeers and business people for over 50 years with his book, Diffusion of Innovations. In it, he postulated** five stages, with innovators who are all feisty, cool and leading the way, early adopters who pretend to be and then at the far end, the Laggards who couldn’t give a Monkeys but just couldn’t refuse that bargain at Comet when it went into administration.

** Titter ye not.

*** Something called Inattentional Blindness. Look who swallowed a textbook.

© Beer Tinted Spectacles, 2013

The thorny issue of ‘craft’

Over a quiet beer or two, I have been wrestling with a dilemma.  Actually, no, that’s not right, as a dilemma is something you can’t satisfactorily resolve.  Rather, a thorny issue:  when is craft craft or not craft?  To stretch it further, are big brewers who sell ‘craft’ beer simply responding well to the drinker trends in the market, or are they being just plain crafty?

The Motley Fool (www.fool.co.uk) – a network of bloggers offering advice and gossip on companies and share performance – recently penned an article on US craft beer sales. It made for interesting reading:  although craft beer is only 6% of the market place, they are growing strongly, up 14% in the last year according the American Brewers’ Association – in an overall market where per capita consumption is declining.  Interestingly, the big brewers’ performance within this was marked. Miller Coors’ Blue Moon brand grew by 50% between 2009 and 2011, and Leinenkugel’s grew by 20%.  Anheuser Busch is also a player. They have bought Goose Island and also launched their own craft brand, Shock Top, the latter growing 70% year to date*. In comparison, more established players – the genuine craft brewers it is argued – are growing much more slowly.

Raspberry WheatWe drank Shock Top Raspberry Wheat in the Salty Dog in Sarasota – with no idea it was an ABI beer. Inspired marketing or a confidence trick?

There are two really interesting dynamics going on here.

First, that there is a debate going on about ‘craft’ at all.  Big companies get big for a whole host of reasons – luck, daring acquisitions, market expansion, exploitation… and brand building skill.  If they spot an opportunity to sell brands to drinkers, they’ll do it, and endeavour to do it with scale.  As far as I’m concerned, if a drinker is happy that a beer is a craft beer, then whether we agree on principle or not becomes purely academic: it is. Get over it, and start competing.

Second is the debate about what constitutes craft?  The answers are invariably couched in a hotchpotch of measures: volume brewed; use of adjuncts purely for taste, independence.     This is missing the point – a point bigger than beer. What manifests itself in beer as ‘craft’, is a slew of market trends impacting right across food and drink products: national, regional, local, provenance, authenticity, passionate producers, natural ingredients, interesting tastes & textures, original recipes – I could go on.  It’s popping up in tea, coffee, wines & spirits, across all foods from fresh meat and veg to ready meals and snack foods.

So what’s the connection?  These trends are tapping into our desire to emotionally connect in some way to our roots – however we define them as individuals.  This could show itself as national pride or local knowledge; it can show itself as truly authentic or re-interpreting the past, but importantly it doesn’t define itself by scale.  Look at Rachel’s Organic or Yeo Valley – organic, touchy-feely, yes. Niche – no. Or Tyrell’s Crisps, Red Sky or Kettle Chips.  Made from potatoes (not substitutes), interesting natural flavours, lovingly fried in kettles, yes. Niche – no. Or Sam Adams, Blue Moon, London Pride, Doom Bar – interesting, unusual, brewed with care? Of course.  Niche – no.

It’s good news all round for brewers, but as it’s about more than just the beer – it’s great news for brewers great and small.

*Clearly, that’s in the year to the date of their earnings release, not the year to date this year.  Mind you, January sales up 70% would be no mean feat.

© Beer Tinted Spectacles, February 2013