Publicans must reduce the range of beers they sell if they are to survive in an increasingly competitive marketplace, a major brewer has warned.
Launching Whitbread Beer Company's annual market report, marketing and sales director Stewart Gilliland complained of "too much duplication" on the bar.
"Pubs need a smaller range," he said. "Licensees must begin to think about quality rather than quantity and ask themselves what the right range is for their pub."
Gilliland was speaking against a backdrop of uncertainty over Whitbread's future in brewing — the parent company has admitted it will dispose of "operations with limited prospects", with the brewing arm a probable candidate.
"The market is consolidating around super-brands and niche brands," he said. "The brands in the middle are being squeezed — they are the ones which should be taken out."
Whitbread's experiments in reducing the range of bottled beers in an outlet by 23 per cent, accompanied by a re-merchandising of the chillers, has actually led to an improved consumer perception of choice, according to the report.
The company's retail arm has taken out 14 per cent of drinks in test outlets without the majority of customers noticing.
"The principle is good, and we plan to monitor our range at least annually," said Whitbread Pub and Bar Company commercial director Chris Emmel.
"We need to eradicate consumer range 'blindness' which comes about because there are too many drinks available."
The report confirms the shift towards fewer, bigger brands identified by The Publican Newspaper's own Brands Report.
The share taken by the top 10 beer brands rose from 31 per cent in 1989 to 48 per cent in 1999.
While UK beer volume, at 30.7 million barrels, is two per cent down on last year, the value of sales is one per cent up, reflecting the move towards premium brands.
In the on-trade, beer sales were flat at £12.3billion, but there was growth in both standard and premium draught lager and draught stout.
Managed pub chains increased beer sales by three per cent in the year, while leased and tenanted pubs suffered a drop of two per cent.