Here's a puzzle. All the statistics show that total production of real ale has
been in significant decline since the mid-1990s. Volumes fell by around 5% in
the year to January 2007 alone. And, yet, most regional brewers report that
their sales of real ale are increasing and the growth in the number of
microbreweries - 160 new ones in the last two years alone - shows no sign of
abating. So what's going on?
A new report commissioned by CAMRA, brewers and others such as Cask
Marque provides the answers. "The Intelligent Choice - The True State of the
Market for Cask Ale in 2007" has been written by respected beer expert Pete
Brown. It pinpoints quickly the heart of the enigma - the behaviour of the big
four multi-national brewers (InBev, Coors, Carlsberg and Scottish and
Newcastle). Between them they control 76% of the beer market (which
includes lager) and 56% of the ale market. They still market large volumes of
real ale - things like John Smiths, Bass, Boddingtons, Tetleys and
Worthington. However they have almost totally lost interest in their real ale
brands because they can't "grow" them internationally like they can with stuff
like Stella and Kronenbourg. It's these big brewery real ales which are in
steep, if not terminal, decline and that's why the overall figures look so bad.
Regional and local brewers, whose beers most of us would regard as infinitely
superior anyway, are seeing sustained sales and volume growth.
The report concludes that real ale is ripe for further overall growth. Current
consumer trends in food and drink feature demand for quality, character,
local-ness and environmental friendliness - all areas in which real ale scores
strongly. The biggest barrier is the simple fact that most people who don't
drink real ale have never tried it - so there's a big challenge for CAMRA and
others here. Perhaps a large-scale sampling programme would destroy
Here in Cambridgeshire we're especially fortunate in that nearly all our pubs
sell real ales and we have lots of local brewers producing fabulous beers. It's
not difficult to believe that the future looks bright but campaigning must go on.