Oddbins has just gone into administration, Thresher Group went the same way last year, and pretty much every other specialist booze seller has had a tough time over recent years.
But there is one exception – the specialist beer shop. This post on Retailinsider.com has been prompted by a visit to Kris Wines in north London, which has been around for years but is enjoying booming trade as a growing number of beer afficionados make the pilgrimage to this low-key store for a fix of unusual beer.
Kris Wines might be dishevelled on the outside but it sparkles on the inside. Thankfully it is far from unique today as there is a mini-explosion in specialist beer shops around the country who are benefiting from a number of trends in the marketplace.
One thing is that the premium bottled beer market is doing tremendously well – growing at 3.4% by volume and 6.9% by value year-on-year, according to the recent Marston’s independent Premium Bottled Ale report. Such is its appeal, 135,000 new shoppers have been recruited to the category over the past year.
Where the specialist beer shops gain is that they are massively differentiated from the boring offers that have been prevalent in the off licences of old. They go for super-premium products that are difficult to find elsewhere.
This is in sharp contrast to the chains who have built their models on flogging mainstream brands at knock-down prices. And this has been proven to be a busted proposition as the supermarkets have made this part of the market their own.
Average beers at below-average prices works well for them in their high volume businesses. Although I do have to admit that the big grocers do now sell a decent range of interesting beers (in their larger stores).
But it is still not a patch on the range sold at Kris Wines, or any of the other shops now ploughing this increasingly lucrative furrow.
Along with Kris Wines we can include Utobeer in London’s Borough Market, The Bottle Shop in Canterbury, BeerRitz in Leeds, and RealAle.com in Twickenham. There are many others that I’ve not name-checked and I apologise because they are doing a great job. There is also a big amount of online activity from the likes of BeerMerchants and MyBreweryTap.com.
These outlets are benefiting from the willingness of their customers to pay the justifiably racy prices for hard-to-find beers. We are talking super-premium levels here. One of the drivers of this is that brewers are increasingly producing limited edition runs of bottled beers that are proving very collectable and as such demand is high.
Many of these beers are particularly high in alcohol so they benefit from laying down in the same way as wine. This is a world away from low strength session beers and fizzy lagers that are designed for gulping down without thought.
Click on this link to read an article in the Financial Times’ ‘How to Spend It’ magazine on the trend for collectable beers (penned by yours truly).
If this Retailinsider.com post does nothing more than whet your appetite to visit one of these specialist beer stores or peruse the websites of one of the online operators then it will have achieved all that was hoped. Go forth and experiment.