Who would have thought that after many years of very successful trading we would no longer have Woolworths on UK high streets and that the once-mighty HMV would be a shadow of its former self. And in the US the leader of the photography pack Kodak would now be effectively dead.
There is no guarantee of immortality for any brands – even for those that appear to have unassailable leads on their competitors. Guinness is one big-time brand that has dominated the stout market in the UK and a large number of overseas markets for many years.
It has held on to power in its key markets for centuries and still reigns supreme. It is a must-stock brand, which is why you’ll find it on almost every bar throughout the UK. And with its strong negotiating position it has given little away on margin to bar owners and pub operators.
But it is coming under a tad of pressure from a variety of competitors who want to introduce an alternative – which will likely be more profitable to bar owners. Among the bigger players taking on Guinness is Greene King-owned Belhaven that has just launched a Scottish stout and Wales-based SA Brain that has its Brains Black stout that hit the market a year or so ago.
The latter cheekily took a few kegs over to Dublin for the Ireland V Wales Six Nations match and made it available in the Jack Ryan pub very close to the famous Landsdowne Road ground.
The brewery had originally stated that its plan had been to brew a beer that was identical to Guinness and to then hopefully wean people off its better known rival.
Unfortunately when doing a taste test in the Jack Ryan it undoubtedly failed. In this head-to-head challenge it simply had a lot more flavour than Guinness. In comparison, the Irish stout was shown to have very little characteristics at all – beyond its smooth, inoffensive drinkability.
Brains Black won hands down in terms of the flavour it provided. The same can be said of the recently introduced stout Ink from Camden Town Brewery in London that has plenty more flavourful aspects (including espresso, chocolate and a touch of hoppiness) than the incumbent Guinness.
This is very good news for these new beers, but lacking in the taste department will have certainly contributed heavily to Guinness’s success over the years. It arguably does not have any features that will likely offend the mainstream drinker.
But whether this will continue to provide it with a safe harbour in the future is debatable. The willingness of drinkers to embrace fuller flavoured beers and look for less ubiquitious products is growing – especially among younger consumers who find little appeal drinking the same beers as their fathers and grandfathers. And in the case of Guinness, their great, great, great, great grandfathers probably.
While it’s this very history that provides the iconic stout brewery with much of its appeal, a rich history – as shown by Woolworths, HMV and Kodak – gives little indication of a brand’s future prosperity.