Is quality beer still important to the supermarkets

Bottled beer was regarded as a super-premium category by the supermarkets a couple of years back and they seemed to like it. Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda each held annual competitions to find the best new ales from UK brewers to help promote the category.

What happened to it?

As a beer drinker it is sad to see that they appear to have lost some interest in bottled beers as all three of the major grocers have gone very quiet on their competitions.

Maybe their attention is too firmly focused on pushing through cheap booze in packs of 24 bottles. We’ve all seen Stella, Carling and Budwieser knocked out at dangerously low prices.

This seems a surprise because in the US one of the few areas of very strong growth is in super premium beers and selected imported ales – the category has been growing at 15% this year. Contrast that with the falling or flat sales of the mega brands.

One person helping to keep bottled beers in supermarkets interesting is Steve Holt, managing director of Vertical Drinks, who made a name for himself importing the renowned US beer Sierra Nevada Pale Ale into the UK’s bars, bars and major grocers.

He is also on a mission to do the same with the German Pilsner Veltins. It is currently in around 300 pubs throughout the UK including All Bar One and off licence Oddbins. The next step is to get it listed in the supermarkets as Holt reckons German beer has been under-represented in our big grocers.

Veltins: on a supermarket shelf near you soon

He suggests a beer like Veltins with its strong provenance should  hit the spot with UK drinkers – for afficionados (like Alan Giles at Fat Face) it is produced to the German purity laws of 1516 using spring water from alongside the brewery in the Sauerland region of the country.

It will almost certainly be in the supermarkets by next summer – with Waitrose possibly interested because of its premium positioning and Morrisons a contender if the price is right. The latter recently struck a deal to get Brewdog beers on its shelves.

This innovative Scotland-based brewery is also producing a beer for the Tesco Finest range called American Double IPA (aka Brewdog Hardcore IPA) at a chunky 9.2%.

This suggests the supermarkets are far from having lost interest in the bottled beer category but it would be good to see them re-introduce their competitions to really show that they are just as enthused by quality beer as before and are not just focused on doling out cheap tasteless fizz from the big global brewers.


  1. MusicRab on November 2, 2010 at 11:30 am

    I think the title of the article is wrong. It should be “Will quality beer ever be important to the supermarkets” And, to be honest, I don’t care because you now have a very good choice of quality bottled beers online. Generally I’d say stuff the supermarkets. They only have profit in mind; they are (again generally) very nasty organisations feeding sh1t to the masses.

  2. Lesley on November 3, 2010 at 7:06 am

    Hi Glynn, like your blog very much thanks for the alert. Will tweet your link today 🙂 Are you going to add Twitter as it’s a handy way to track your content as well as RSS.

    best of luck

  3. Glynn Davis on November 3, 2010 at 9:05 am

    Agree, the profit motive is fundamental to most businesses activities – and the supermarkets are at the vanguard of that for sure.
    Although you can get a great selection of beers online today I think what the supermarkets stock is very important as that (whether we like it or not) is where the majority of people are exposed to food and drink. If they have a decent selection then this creates a point of interest for drinkers who might then experiment with unusual beers – whether that be at the supermarket or elsewhere.

  4. Glynn Davis on November 3, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Thanks Lesley. I will get Twitter added to the blog. I do however, always put out a Tweet when I’ve posted a new piece. You can of course RSS it or subscribe for free by sticking your email in the box on the left hand-side of the top of the home page.

  5. Alan Giles on November 3, 2010 at 10:34 am

    Hi Glynn

    Thanks for the name-check! I am surprised supermarket interest is waning, as it seems to me that there is growing consumer interest in premium beers and, more broadly, locally sourced food and drink. Premium bottled beers from local breweries seems a very commercial and easy way to introduce “local flavour” to the shelves.

  6. Glynn Davis on November 4, 2010 at 9:34 am

    Thanks Alan. I agree entirely that sourcing premium local products is a great way to add local flavour and the individual supermarkets do have their quotas for shelf space that can be given over to ‘local’ products. Some of these stretch the definition of local and since it is very much at the discretion of the individual managers it can often be easier for them to go with the big recognisable local-ish brands. The beer competitions gave even tiny brewers a chance to get on the shelves and this was dictated by head office – so they had to be stocked in the stores.