Speaking in an interview with The Morning Advertiser, Roger Ryman also said that the decline in the number of pubs was not irreversible, but that licensees could no longer open their doors and “wait for people to walk in”.
“I don't think it [the decline in pubs] is irreversible, but equally, looking at market forces and demand, maybe the country has been 'over-pubbed' in the past, and it shouldn't necessarily be a written law that all pubs must survive,” he said.
“People will continue to go to pubs now and in the future, I'm convinced of that. They will go to pubs where they get a quality experience. People might go to pubs less, but they might spend more when they go there.”
On the subject of how venues ought to try to recapture lost customers, Ryman added: “You have to focus on the experience. There are pubs out there doing an amazing job; real success stories.
“It's all about service and understanding what your customers want, and delivering it. You can't just open your doors and wait for people to walk in.”
Brewery-tied model lauded
St Austell currently runs around 170 pubs of its own, and Ryman stated his belief that the brewery tied model was the best way to ensure beer quality.
“Generally brewery estate pubs are better because they have a vested interest in the product,” he said. “We are Cask Marque accredited in every single one of our pubs and have invested heavily in cooling equipment. In pub company’s the priority isn’t on beer quality because they don't see the perceived value. We as brewers do.
“Brewery tied houses still have a lot of advantages to them for the tenants and the brewery. If I was given a choice I would go for a brewery tied house every time because you've got a better chance of getting a decent pint of beer.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Ryman also gave his views on last week’s Autumn Budget, and suggested that small brewers relief was giving smaller brewers an unfair advantage in the marketplace.
“Ultimately what is important is fairness, and so long as all sectors are treated fairly and are able to compete fairly, then the system works,” he said. “Arguably with small brewers relief you might say that is unfairly weighted on the side of the smaller brewers.
“I know that we benefit from economies of scale, but actually when you consider that beer duty is two thirds of our production costs for making beer, if we could make our beer for nothing they would still be paying half of what we pay.
“You could argue that small brewers relief is unfairly weighted towards small brewers and hence the barriers to entry are too low and allow in too many new brewers.”
Small Brewers relief reform needed
Asked whether he thought small brewers relief needed reforming, Ryman said: “I would say to be fair it should be (tweaked). Do I think there is a realistic chance it will be? Personally I think the chancellor has more than enough on his plate for the time being.
“Fundamentally there is a weighting towards smaller brewers, but if our beer and our service is better than other people's then we will be successful as a business. You can always blame somebody else, but if things aren't right it is usually down to you.”
On the subject of whether the announced freeze in duty was a bonus for the industry, Ryman said: “The brewing industry has always been a cash-cow for the Government. They aren't daft; they're looking at revenue maximisation. For all the talk of reducing alcohol consumption the Government needs the cash, so they will do the maths and work out where to place duty to maximise the amount of revenue. Let's not pretend they are doing the brewing industry any favours.
“However, the reality is that a freeze in duty rate has to be considered the better of the options we were facing. Clearly we are grateful that the chancellor hasn't chosen to hike duty and squeeze an extra ounce out of the brewing industry.”
Ryman has been at St Austell brewery for nearly 20 years, and in that time has taken the brewery from producing around 15,000 to 115,000 barrels of beer annually. He said the strength of the brewery was down to its ability to stay ahead of the market, but admitted the trend towards hazy, New England IPAs had taken him by surprise.
“I think we have managed to evolve and stay ahead of the curve,” he said. “We have created contemporary beer brands and been ahead of the market. When we launched Proper Job as an IPA I said to our marketing guys 'nobody knows what an IPA is'. It is hard to imagine in today's market, but actually the market wasn't flooded with IPAs at that time.”
Hazy IPA debate
When asked if St Austell remained ahead of the market now, Ryman said: “We do make Underdog, which is an unfiltered hazy beer, but I would rather do our own thing and have confidence in ourselves.”
“New England IPA is a very noisy product sector; it is very fashionable, but what that translates to in volume I don't know. Being perfectly honest, that trend caught me with my pants down a bit. I didn't see it coming.
“I don't hate those beer styles, but I don't particularly love them either. I don't have the aspiration to make one, and I'm not actually sure how you make beer that cloudy. You've actually got to be actively doing something to make your beer that murky; why would you do that?”
On the subject of why there was such division over hazy beer, the St Austell brewer added: “I've read Paul Jones' blogs up at Cloudwater, and I agree with a lot of what he is saying. Everyone wants to put a brewery into a box.
“I've never thought about St Austell brewery as being in a box. I've never thought of us as a regional brewer or a family brewer. We are a brewery that makes the best beer we possibly can and nothing more than that.”
“It's a bit like Monty Python; you're all worshipping the same bloody God but you all hate each other. You almost have this religious fervour going on with breweries. There's the CAMRA lot and the craft beer lot and they all hate each other. Come on guys, it's just beer. Lighten up a bit.”