In the nitrokeg market, the rise of John Smith's continues u

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When the research was conducted, the Scottish Courage brand had just added sponsorship of the Grand National to its award-winning Peter Kay...

When the research was conducted, the Scottish Courage brand had just added sponsorship of the Grand National to its award-winning Peter Kay advertising to further increase pressure on rivals.

"John Smith's is probably the definitive ale brand," claims Shaun Heyes, head of customer marketing for the regional on-trade at Scottish Courage. "It's growing rapidly and outstripping the other national competitors. We're actively increasing our investment and they're just walking away."

Scottish Courage points to Nielsen Media Register figures for above-the-line support by its competitors ­ which shows a drop of £8m in support for Worthington and £4.1m for Tetley's between 2000 and 2004 ­ as evidence that it is the big brewer most dedicated to the ale category.

"It's been about having a consistent approach," says Heyes of John Smith's success. Nitrokeg may not be the purist's cup of tea, but with the four most-heavily-listed ale brands all being in that sub-sector, it's hard to argue against its commercial value. The launch of John Smith's Extra Cold brings some new interest to a category about which there's been little to say other than that it exists, for several years.

Heyes says: "The fact is that people are drinking colder and there are people who are drinking across the breadth of the drinks market but want colder products.

"The traditional cask-ale drinker may not be interested, but we have to recognise that today's 40 and 50-year-olds won't be around forever."

Naturally, not many regional brewers are queuing up to get on the keg bandwagon because of the threat that might carry to their credibility, but one has put its head above the parapet.

Fuller's has repositioned its Organic Honey Dew as a keg beer but doesn't have its sights set on challenging John Smith's dominance. Instead, it's pitching the brand as a fizzy alternative to speciality premium lagers such as Leffe and Hoegaarden.

Marketing director John Roberts says: "It tends not to be cask-ale drinkers that it appeals to. We originally did it as a cask spring ale, but when we got through into the autumn it was more difficult to sell."

The relaunch also brings it into line with the bottled product. Roberts adds: "The bottle was 5% abv and fizzy and the cask was 4.3% and smooth."

Top 15 draught bitter brands in pubs by number of outlets

2003 2004

1 John Smith's Extra

Smooth Keg 19,201 21,250

2 Tetley's Smoothflow Keg 11,182 9,734

3 Worthington Creamflow Keg 8,193 8,433

4 Boddingtons Draughtflow Keg 5,867 5,535

5 Fuller's London Pride Cask 5,236 5,170

6 Tetley's Cask 6,153 5,166

7 Caffrey's Keg 6,899 5,091

8 Greene King IPA Cask 4,319 4,508

9 John Smith's Cask 4,207 4,425

10 Draught Bass Cask 4,325 3,746

11 Marston's Pedigree Cask 3,700 3,628

12 Greene King Abbot Ale Cask 3,371 3,117

13 Boddingtons Cask 2,634 2,634

14 Old Speckled Hen Cask 2,442 2,553

15 Courage Best Cask 3,112 2,420

Source: CGA-Centro Methodology

CGA-Centro data is based on a sample of 5,600 on-trade outlets. All data is weighted to represent the full Great Britain market. All data quoted in this article was collected during September 2003 and September 2004.

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