Sunday, 22 January 2012

Yet more beer watering

H/t to Tyson for pointing out the news that AB InBev are planning to cut the strength of Stella, Becks and Budweiser from 5% to 4.8% ABV. While this won’t affect me personally to any great extent, it’s yet another example of the growing trend to water down beer. It has the double advantage of saving duty and also gaining brownie points from the government and the anti-drink lobby. Given that 4.8% is the typical strength of German Pilseners, it’s not really taking Stella outside the category norm, either.

But surely they are being disingenuous when they say “The reduction might put a few punters off but the majority probably won't bat an eyelid as long as the 4.8 per cent brews deliver on taste.” Let’s face it, the main reason people buy 5% Stella rather than 4% Carling is not the taste, but the fact it has more alcohol content. There must come a point where customers start seeing through such moves and the brewers find they have suddenly destroyed their product’s cachet. And, over the years, InBev have been experts at eroding Stella’s brand equity.


  1. The only surprise I have is that Beck’s is included. Stella was never a premium product in Belgium so its decline was always inevitable. Budweiser is an old mans beer in America where Lite beer is the standard beer in the market (and whose story is never mentioned by beer writers despite being more interesting and significant than craft beer). Beck’s retains brand equity in its domestic market, though in the UK has become another supermarket discount brand. In Hamburg people ask for it by brand in bars and are amazed if you tell them it is 30p a bottle in a UK supermarket.

    The one aspect of your post worthy of disagreeing with is the statement strong lager is bought for the alcohol. There is a demand in the UK for authentic strength and taste continental lager beer, and will be for as long as there is foreign travel. What we have is a changing of the guard, brand wise, as these brands become supermarket discount brands customers would not pay full price for in a bar. Selling lots of it to young males inevitably means the next “wifebeater” will be Peroni.

    Whether changes to the core brands damages the 4% variants will be interesting. Lower strength Bud failed, Stella 4% is already declining; though Beck’s Vier still appears popular. That Vier is brewed in the EU rather than Germany was never its cachet. Beer purity, clarity of ingredients will always find a market whilst boozing causes hangovers.

  2. I'm not saying that people buy premium lagers solely for the alcoholic strength, but it's certainly a significant factor in the purchase decision.

    Beck's Vier seems to have gained a lot of penetration in the on-trade and now seems to be the 4% brand with most cachet. Stella 4 was always predominantly an off-trade brand.

  3. With the exception of the usual suspects, the public do associate strength with quality to a large extent. Meanwhile, strength reduction is just next in a long line of AB Inbev cost-cutting/profiteering. Budweiser down to 4.3% in keg and reducing bottle size from 330ml to 300 among them. I agree with Cooking Lager about Bud's history, someone should write a book and probably already have.
    Inbev were not good for AB and are not good for the beer industry.

  4. From the original article, it appears the reason is that the likes of Tesco have declined a price hike and rather than remove the product from Tesco they have decided to produce it to a cost.

    This suggests the brands are now off trade supermarket discount brands and things like brand equity and on trade sales irrelevant.

    The only brand in the list that surprises me is Becks, as it has brand equity in its domestic market. The other 2 have declining equity in their domestic market.

    You rarely these days see an american TV show or movie where they drink Bud. It's usually lite beer, and every so often craft beer is used to denote the class of the character (See Dexter). The UK brand equity was always a taste of americana, which is no longer culturally reinforced.

    As for Stella, the game was up in the early 90's when punters saw the price of the grog in Calais hypermarkets.

  5. When Cookie speaks on these matters, we do well to listen.


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