Growing concerns

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Rooney Anand of Greene King speaks out over the future of real ale.A blindfolded brunette writhes ecstatically on a bed, her hands and feet tied to...

Rooney Anand of Greene King speaks out over the future of real ale.

A blindfolded brunette writhes ecstatically on a bed, her hands and feet tied to the corner posts. A dog licks her feet as her absent lover enjoys a pint of Abbot at the bar, downstairs.

The scene is just one of a number of new television adverts from Greene King designed to take the appeal of real ale beyond the traditional sandal-wearing CAMRA drinker.

The strategic shift is spearheaded by Rooney Anand, who is nearly a year into his tenure as head of brewing and brands at the £585m Suffolk-based business.

Like Neil Gillis, who is head of the managed pub business, Rooney has a food production-based background. His appointment, which probably raised a few eyebrows in the industry, is proof that chief executive Tim Bridge is not afraid to look beyond brewing and pubs for sharp individuals who can bring something fresh to the table.

Rooney says it's time for the industry to broaden the appeal of real ale. "It's time to explode the myth," he said. "Real ale is not just for old men with beards, it's for everyone."

The £1m promotional push also includes adverts in newspapers and magazines and a 15-city beer tour to take Abbot Ale to the masses.

"We have to wake the sleeping dinosaur," he said. "We are not talking about a growing industry." The figures back up this sentiment. In 1977, real ale was a 44 million-barrel business compared to 34.4 million today.

Rooney says beer-makers need to band together - sell real ale collectively - and could do worse than to look at what new-world wine-makers have done. "It's now okay for young men to know about wine," he says. "Last year Australia became the biggest provider of wine to the UK palate. They've made it easy to understand wine - they have educated the consumer, but in a light way - I would call it deftness of touch."

The brewing chief says the wine boys have achieved No.1 status in the UK wine market by working together promoting Australian wines collectively, rather than as individual producers. "They have talked about wine in a very evocative way," he said. "It makes you want to drink it, it makes you want to buy into it.

"There are opportunities for beer to do the same. It's a great product with great history. Whisky-makers use nuggets of information about their heritage as unique selling points. Why don't we do the same?"

Rooney says that certain players can continue to grow but it would be better to ensure the market and industry continues to have a future.

"Some beer-makers may well have been happy to see that Brakspear might stop brewing, because they can take that market share," he said. "This is tragic. It's no good growing market share in a declining market."

The former Sara Lee executive says with the number of pub visits per population head decreasing, beer companies need to work harder than ever.

While few can imagine real ale disappearing, Rooney says we need to safeguard a significant part of British heritage. "If we stopped selling cask ale it would be a clear indication that pubs had reached an all-time low," he said. "The difference between lager and real ale is like that between de-skilled ready-made frozen food and fresh real food." Indeed, it is strange that lager has a higher perceived value than real ale, when the latter costs more to make, keep and transport.

Of CAMRA, which castigated Greene King for moving Morelands brand Ruddles away from its original brewing site, Rooney said: "It's brilliant at keeping real ale on the radar but with Ruddles its actions were misguided.

"It was like the reverence of the beer was more important than its existence. It slammed us because we had the temerity to move it 100 miles, improve the product and give it a future.

"It's about the person who pays for the pint - their opinions are the ones that count. CAMRA needs to concentrate on promotion and preservation," he added.

Before Greene King, Ruddles had three owners in 10 years. The 20 per cent growth figure in the brand would tend to suggest the latest owners have got it right.

Greene King is a big player in the real ale market. In the session market, IPA is No.2 with a 10.4 per cent market share. In the premium sector, Abbot Ale is No.3 with 11.3 per cent of the market and in the take-home sector, Speckled Hen is No.1 with 9.9 per cent.

But Rooney is not interested in just Greene King but the craft of beer-making as a whole. "Greene King is a successful business with fantastic people, great brands and great beer, and I believe it will continue to be successful.

"While not losing sight of the fact that we brew fantastic beer, we have to talk about it in a way that engages people," he said.

"The field is open for great brands. A number of companies, such as Fuller's and Adnam's, have shown how it can be done."

The brewing chief says it would be arrogant for the sector to rest on its laurels. "We need to drive the category and the industry," he said.

The new Abbot adverts are amusing, and there isn't a beard in sight, but the underlying message would seem profoundly important.

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