One aspect of Marston’s rebranding brainfart last week that seemed to get lost in the noise was the news that Pedigree was going to become an entirely bottle-conditioned beer. This was welcomed by many in CAMRA, but to my mind it represents another error of judgment.
For a start, the actual demand for bottle-conditioned beers is pretty limited. Look at the premium bottled ale shelves in Tesco, and how many are bottle-conditioned? Two or three out of a hundred, if you’re lucky. It’s not that the supermarkets are deliberately holding the category back, but that they’ve tried it in the past and found that buyers actively shun it. There have been experiments with selling Shepherd Neame Spitfire and Courage Directors in bottle-conditioned form, both of which rapidly died the death, and more recently HopBack Brewery have switched their popular Summer Lightning to be brewery-conditioned.
And will the change make the minority who seek out bottle-conditioned beers any more likely to buy Pedigree? It’s currently a fairly unadventurous, mainstream product, and those basic characteristics aren’t going to change. I can’t say I’ve drunk much bottled Pedigree recently except when it’s been on offer at £1 a bottle in Morrisons. It’s OK, but there are many better and more distinctive bottled beers out there.
On the other hand, unless a very “sticky” yeast is used, the average drinker is likely to reject it on the grounds that it has bits in it, while if the yeast is sticky they won’t notice much difference. And, either way, you’re likely to get a less consistent product. I’d say it will win few new customers while potentially alienating many existing ones. I’ll certainly try it when I see it, though, and report back on my findings.
Surely a better approach would have been to leave the existing product as it was, but introduce a new and possibly slightly stronger variant called “Pedigree Extra” or suchlike, which made a virtue of being bottle-conditioned, and could be promoted on the basis of a greater appeal to the connoisseur.
I can’t see the container-conditioning being extended to the canned version, though, so, if you want a consistent drop of Pedigree to enjoy at home, I’d advise going for the cans instead.