Over the last few months the supermarkets have been making aggressive cuts to the price of real ales. Beer blogger the Ormskirk Baron is reporting ASDA’s latest stupendous offer: real ale for £1 a bottle. Earlier this year The Publican reported on suspicions that the supermarkets were using beer as a loss leader and warned that it was an accelerating trend. The latest ASDA deal seems to show their prediction coming true. With around half of the price being taken up in alcohol duty and VAT I wonder where the profit is. It is certainly not going to help the pubs and seems likely to bring on a minimum pricing law that nobody really wants.
I speculated this afternoon that these supermarket deals may well be aimed at women. Cheap ales are often positioned at the end of the aisle and as every Mad Men aficionado knows, that’s where women find special treats for their families. In a time of recession cheap beer to drink at home makes a lot of sense, but there may be something deeper here. With pubs apparently unable to reduce their prices the supermarkets are making a play for another market they don’t yet own, damaging competition and once again changing our behaviour for their benefit. These extraordinary promotions are a lot of fun for beer drinkers, including me, but if they result in more pubs closing, or worse, becoming bland, price-driven outlets for cheap booze, then nobody benefits in the long run. If more people are forced to retreat to their living rooms for lack of a decent nearby pub, Britain will be a sadder, less interesting, and less healthy place.
The Ormskirk Baron blogs about beer here.