Genuine Imported Beers: Retailing

Related tags Beers Beer Beer style Wheat beer

If customers are forking out for an imported beer, make sure it's served properly.In theory, specialist imported beers represent a terrific...

If customers are forking out for an imported beer, make sure it's served properly.

In theory, specialist imported beers represent a terrific opportunity for bars and many pubs. They are growing fast, offer high profit margins and create interest. For suppliers, however, working with the trade to exploit this opportunity can be a frustrating experience. Simply plonking a font on the bar or stocking up the fridge with imported beers will not succeed.

While their taste is, of course, an important factor, these products command a super premium price, and not just because there is something special about the liquid. If your discerning customer is going to fork out perhaps 50 per cent more per pint they expect - and deserve - something more.

They should also be paying for the theatre of serve that accompanies these beers - the right glass and the right pour. We drink with our eyes and the difference a glass makes, to both the look and feel of these brews, really is a matter of make or break. The disappointment on the face of an aficianado of cloudy wheat beers who has just paid £4 for a pint in a stacker nonic tells the whole story.

There is nothing complicated about the retail disciplines involved, but they represent an additional challenge for pubs already grappling with training their staff to even basic standards of service.

Interbrew UK is working with selected on-trade retailers to build the category by opening outlets that encourage people to try beers such as Hoegaarden and Leffe. "I would urge retailers to focus on quality," says Interbrew's Colin Pedrick (pictured)​. "Failing to address this will hamper the category's development.

"Consumers in Belgium experience these beers as they are meant to - dispensed and served with appropriate theatre in the correct branded glass every time. It is important that UK retailers try to replicate this quality experience."

Adin Wener, sales manager of Specialist Brand Development, points to a surprising North-South divide. "The real innovation in beer is going on up North, in bars in Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool and Nottingham," he says. "They all have 10 to 15 speciality beers behind their bars. They are all well arranged and on the whole none of them are big brands.

"There is none of this in London - in the big Hoxton or Soho bars - they are more interested in bigger brands."

Punch Taverns, however, has been an exception, launching a speciality beer scheme for its lessees and tenants in the South East last summer around brands such as Duckstein, Leffe Blonde, Fruli, Paulaner and Franziskaner.

Licensees were armed with background on the category, definitions of the different beer styles and advice on marketing around beer and food.

Sadly, Punch marketing manager Geoff Brown admits that "the response has not been great". "It's hard work and a constant exercise to get licensees to understand that the whole concept is these beers are different and have to be treated differently," Geoff comments.

"The way they are retailed, the branded glassware, the theatre of serve, the point-of-sale - it all has a massive impact. They are expensive beers so you have got to make it special for the drinker."

The difficulty of the project came home to Geoff with an experiment at one pub where Holsten went in and trained staff in the correct service of Duckstein.

"We went back to the pub in the evening and, of course, all the staff had changed. We got three glasses of Duckstein filled to the brim with no head.

"We'll keep plugging away though," he says. "The growth of imported beers in the off-trade shows the demand for beers people can luxuriate in and relish. We have to make sure they can have that kind of experience in the pub."

Tips for selling imported beers

  • Always ask your supplier for advice on how the beer should be served. Ask for glassware and whether training is available for your barstaff
  • Chill bottled beers and refresh glasses with cold water before pouring draught beers
  • Use branded glassware whenever possible. As well as adding value to the customer's experience branded glasses are a great marketing tool and will prompt other people to order a brand
  • Pour bottled beers in full view of the customer
  • Train all barstaff not only on how each beer should be poured and served but each beer's style, taste and origin so they can talk to customers about them
  • Why not organise a tasting for staff and get them to choose their favourites?
  • Make sure customers know which beers you have on sale. Don't rely on back-bar display alone - use chalkboards, tent-cards and beer menus as well
  • Include tasting notes in your point-of-sale marketing
  • Imported beers are well suited to serving with food. Take some space on your food menu to make recommendations on good matches.

Case study - Inspire, Coventry

Customers at Inspire in Coventry are taking a more relaxed approach to their beer drinking - wisely enough as the best seller is the Belgian Duvel which weighs in at a stonking 8.4 per cent ABV.

More than 75 per cent of the beer drunk in the bar is imported. Sales have quadrupled over the past four years and it currently stocks 20 to 30 different brands, all bottled, changing five to 10 beers each month in response to customer reaction.

"An abundance of different beers and their strength lends itself to a more relaxed drinker who doesn't want pint after pint and this leads to a comfortable and relaxed bar," says licensee John Leape. "People can sample different beers all night and next time try their favourite with a new beer just in."

John and his staff have developed a close relationship with their customers. "We recommend, taste, explain and, if they are trying a beer for the first time, we offer to change it if they don't like it - but in four years of selling Duvel it has only been returned four times, which isn't bad."

Inspire has been selling imported beers since the day it opened. "We started with a small selection of trappist beers and went from strength to strength," says John. "In particular, Duvel has increased year on year with a great spin-off for more unusual Belgium beers.

"Imported beer drinkers tend to be open minded, adventurous, willing to try something new and are not scared to spend money. If they don't like it they will always try something else. These people will also try new spirits, wines and food. They are the new breed of independent drinkers," says John.

"Imported beers also create an interest from customers who want to reminisce about a holiday or trip where they first tasted the beers. They bring along their friends and family so that they too can feel the ambience of that country."

As well as point-of-sale material and promotions, John uses staff training as an important marketing tool.

"Product knowledge is paramount, on how to store and serve the beer and knowing the story behind each one," he explains.

"All our staff have been trained to serve the beers. It only takes a minute and the point-of-sale is always a good cue - to remind staff of, say, Duvel's oversized head.

"Barstaff are also regularly trained in helping customers choose a type of beer which they will like."

Related topics Beer

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