Beer special

Debate: Premiumisation of it a trend?

By PMA & MC Allegra FS Roundtable debate - sponsored by Miller Brands

- Last updated on GMT

Cheers: MC Allegra FS's Richard Bissett (left) celebrates the beer with Mintel's Jonny Forsyth
Cheers: MC Allegra FS's Richard Bissett (left) celebrates the beer with Mintel's Jonny Forsyth

Related tags: Beer, Cask ale, Beer academy

Last month, key figures from across the on-trade gathered at Geronimo Inns’ site the Oyster Shed, in the City of London, for a roundtable debate on the premiumisation of beer in the licensed hospitality sector. Laurie MacDonald reports.

The event, held in association with Miller Brands, was hosted by Publican’s Morning Advertiser​ deputy editor Mike Berry and M&C Allegra Foodservice​’s deputy editor James Wallin.

Topics discussed on the day included defining the opportunities premiumisation presents on-trade retailers; the value of staff training and product knowledge — not just for front-of-house staff but among producers; how beer is perceived by consumers; and where the market might be heading in the next decade.

Kicking off the discussion, Miller Brands managing director Gary Haigh welcomed delegates, saying: “2015 is quite a milestone for us; 10 years ago we took our first orders as a company and an awful lot has changed since then. We know that premiumisation has been a big theme particularly within the on-trade. This discussion is an opportunity for us to look at what has happened and anticipate some of the future trends.”

Mark Dorber, founding director, The Beer Academy


There’s no doubt that there’s a massive interest in ingredients and process, and a greater understanding of the range of flavours of beer and different beer cultures, including how people enjoy beer on the Continent.

In comparison to great beer bars in Belgium, the UK has nothing that can hold a candle to those places.We need to continue to make sure that the support and training is in place to support this coming together of the beer cultures. But it’s coming into place a little slower than I would like.

The Beer Academy has put 300 beer sommeliers through their paces during the past three years, which has been great news for the on-trade in terms of the propagation of intelligent and responsible people in the industry and we’re witnessing a very high take-up in courses from consumers.

Mike Benner, managing director, SIBA


Aren’t we now in a position to capture the opportunity of greater consumer interest and willingness to pay more for beer?

There are three things at play here. Firstly, education — it’s about educating people about beer in the same way we do wine. Secondly, delivery in the outlet; staff training is something the industry has never quite cracked. Thirdly, range and getting it right for each outlet. We should be working as an industry on a simple framework.

As an industry, we’ve been talking about beer and food, glassware and training, and encouraging more women to drink beer, for a long time.

But none have been successfully tackled and there’s not been any genuine value attributed to beer as a category. That’s the biggest lesson from wine. The industry managed to position wine in a particular way to the benefit of suppliers and retailers, whereas all the beer industry has done so far is talk about it.

Jonny Forsyth, global drinks analyst, Mintel


Mintel asked consumers how they defined premium beer. The majority said it must be made with high-quality ingredients. Second, was that it was more expensive than other similar beers, third was that the brand had a long heritage and history, and fourth that it was made by a craft brewer.

High ABV is now considered premium in beer and that’s really been driven by the US market quite heavily, and 38% of beer drinkers think premium beer is served in branded glassware.

People are going to drink less often so it becomes that much more important that when they do drink it’s something special. They are much more concerned about health, and we’ve seen the prices of beer and all alcohol go up so if you combine those two things, it leads away from a volume-drinking culture and
more towards quality.

There’s another factor as well; in the past, beer was about tribes and people liked to define themselves by what they drank. We’ve seen a shift now to people liking to assert their individuality — it’s now cool to not belong to a big mainstream group.

There’s definitely a move toward quality over quantity, and I wonder if we’ll start to see a move away from queuing at the bar for a beer because that’s not a premium experience. Is table service increasingly the future?

Warren McCoubrey, beer guru, Living Ventures


In a lot of pubs, staff have no idea what they’re doing when they pour a pint, but when you show someone how and explain why it needs to be done in a certain way, they take it on board.

We now focus a lot on training but until we launched the New World Trading Company, the category had been on the backburner as it was all about cocktails and wine.

It comes back to the interaction between staff and guests, and that’s something you do see in Europe a lot more than here.

We encourage that interaction so customers have to ask the bartender what’s on offer and that improves staff knowledge because they have to know
all about the product.

It’s great to be a beer geek but it’s really important not to be a beer snob. If someone wants a drink that you don’t think is good, well it’s what the customer wants, so serve them with a smile and tell them about that product.

Dylan Murray, director of operations, Drake and Morgan


It’s a really good point how the consumer thinks about premium. We recently took Peroni over the £5 mark and it was a big leap of faith for us. We had a review looking at what it would mean for our customers and what have we seen? An uplift in sales because people are happy to pay that price point.

For a premium experience, it has to be about the customer facing the person pulling the pint who has the knowledge of what they’re serving.

We’ve just gone through a complete refresh of our drinks, and, if you put in a new cocktail list, there’s massive energy on the training, you put in a new wine list and whoever we’re buying from comes in and does a tasting and supplies tasting notes, but when we change our beer lines, it seems to be bottom of the pile.

Training is huge, it’s not so much the history of a product, but knowing what this product should look like when it’s good. For us, less is more — I’d rather have quality scores of nine out of 10 on a small range than have a massive range that delivers six out of 10.

Richard Yarnell, category manager for beer & cider, Mitchells and Butlers


For M&B, it’s about having the right breadth of range across the estate — we have 13 different high street brands so it’s not a one-size-fits-all. We have to have the right amount of stretch within our beer range but not forget about the people who go to the pub just to have a pint of their favourite brand. You can now go into pubs where there are draught beers priced over £5 on the same bar as ones that are £3, whereas 10 years ago that was rare.

As guest knowledge has grown, the desire to experiment has grown. It feels like the start of a move away from pint-drinking culture and there’s more of an acceptance of different measures, which presents an interesting way of differentiating your offering, whether that’s a 25ml measure of super strength beer served like a brandy or a taster tray of an ale range. It will encourage more people into beer and expand their repertoire.

As a drinks team we have a louder voice than we’ve ever had within the business. In regards to training, inconsistency is something we’re always fighting against. Guests are more discerning and have access to more information than they’ve ever had, so there’s a sales and service element that goes with that. It can’t all be about product knowledge, it’s about selling beer with confidence as well and we’re working at both of those.

There’s a lot the beer industry can learn from the wine industry when it comes to food matching; there’s common language to simplify the experience to make it accessible in a simple unfussy way that’s easy to deliver, because beer is accessible and it needs to retain that.

James Cuthbertson, marketing director, Dark Star Brewing and Pub Company


The industry has to be careful not to become too elitist behind the bar. There’s a danger in some looking down their noses, saying ‘you’re not cool enough to drink our beer’.

From a consumer point of view there will always be drinkers who know more than us because there’s a level of geekiness around craft beer that has people enthusing 24/7 to a level our bar staff will never compete with.

We have to acknowledge that not all staff will be obsessives, but there is a certain level they need to be at to deliver the right experience.

Gary Haigh, managing director, Miller Brands


One of the things we’ve come to realise during the past few years is that some of the larger brewers haven’t done a very good job of equipping retailers with knowledge about beer.

I think what the influx of new cask and craft brewers have done is make us wake up and understand our products to help operators sell them better.

For too long, a lot of the big sales forces didn’t actually know much about the liquid. The example I use is that if you went into a car showroom and asked to buy a BMW and the salesman said ‘it’s white but I don’t know much else’, you wouldn’t be that impressed.

At Miller Brands, we’ve undergone a very intense training programme, which means our sales team who meet with our retail partners actually know about beer. We have an obligation to equip them with the knowledge because if we’re not passionate about it how can they be?

Richard Bissett, senior client services manager, M&C Allegra Foodservice


Premiumisation spans all channels and involves taking something normal and adding something to it to take it to the next level. It’s happened with coffee and we’ve seen it with various foods. In beer, it’s come from the craft beer movement that didn’t really exist five years ago and it’s moved even faster than coffee did.

When customers go out they want to go to more relaxed places; they’ll spend £50 a head but they’ll be relaxed about it. That’s where we’re seeing most of the growth at the moment.

Food matching events are a key way to bring in more business so you can run tasting evenings that work really well on specific occasions.

In terms of exposure it helps pubs get a group of people doing the same thing, creating a special event and generating a bit of buzz this way.

Justin Carter, chief operating officer, Loungers


Our largest single category is draught beer so it’s an important driver for us. We try to provide reassuring brands on one hand and offer adventurous brews on the other like Cruiser, our own IPA, which sells the same amount as Stella and has been a great success.

The challenge is how much emphasis to place on adventurousness as a part of the business.

It’s easy to beat ourselves up about what hasn’t happened, and there are clearly things the industry needs to make happen, but it’s exciting, we’re in a really healthy place and the interest in beer is extraordinary.

Related topics: Beer

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