Monday, 24 February 2020

You can lead a horse to water

The latest imposition on business from the public health lobby has surfaced in Bristol, where the city’s health and wellbeing board has proposed requiring pubs to stock a non-alcoholic beer on draught. This would initially only apply to city-centre venues with a large number of taps, but presumably would eventually be rolled out to cover the rest. They claim that the idea “would increase consumption of the healthier drinks by making them more visible and socially acceptable because they would look the same in a pint glass as an ordinary beer.”

This really is an unprecedented step, not simply to prevent businesses from selling a particular product, but to force them to sell one. And, of course, while you can make pubs stock alcohol-free beer, you can’t make customers buy it. The risk is that pubs will be left with stocks of unsaleable beer that they end up having to pour down the drain, at their own cost, of course. There’s a very good reason why low-volume products are sold in bottles or cans rather than on draught.

In any case, in the past few years there has been a huge expansion in the availability and choice of alcohol-free beers in pubs, so the market is already providing a solution to the problem. I’ve recently spotted draught Heineken Zero in a couple of pubs. If the demand is there, pubs will meet it.

It brings back memories of suggestions in Glasgow a few years ago to require pubs and other eating places to offer “healthy” salads on their menus. This fortunately never came to anything, but you can see the public health lobby’s eyes lighting up at the thought of all kind of things they could mandate businesses to do, without having any responsibility for the potentially adverse effect on profitability.

It’s worth noting that the proposals also involve further ostracism of smokers by reclassifying part of outdoor smoking areas for vaping only. Given that indoor vaping remains a legal activity, wouldn’t it make more sense to encourage pubs to provide vaping rooms or sections inside their premises?

11 comments:

  1. Until recently I lived in Bristol, opposite a pub. Said pub put in a draught non-alcoholic lager. A few weeks later, it had disappeared from the bar. I asked the landlord why it had gone and he said they'd sold about three pints of it and had to chuck the rest away. Luckily, the first barrel was a freebie from the brewery. We're talking about a middle-class "family-friendly" foodie establishment here (you'd hate it, Mudgie) not a wet-led boozer (like the one down the road which I used)

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  2. “... while you can make pubs stock alcohol-free beer, you can’t make customers buy it”

    Oh yes you can. Not in so many (lawful) words, of course, but you can make it so difficult for people to enjoy the real thing that some of them – not being keen fizzy-drinks, fruit juices, plain water or endless coffee – will eventually end up buying a few more pints of the stuff than they’d ordinarily do. And of course you can make it significantly cheaper. And reduce the drink-driving limit. There are all sorts of “nudges” that our Great Leaders, guided by all those “experts” in public health, can invoke, cheered on by all the usual mouthpieces who will spout on endlessly about how much nicer their local is now that “it’s not full of beer-swilling drunks every Saturday night.” No matter that it never was full of beer-swilling drunks, that’ll be what they’ll say, and that’ll be what the powers-that-be will listen to, the gullible fools – which will encourage them on to the “next logical step,” whatever that might be, because they feel that “public opinion” is on their side. Temperance-style totally alcohol-free “pubs,” perhaps? Starbucks, like restaurants across the country will tell them, should watch with caution. There may well be rather a lot of competition coming into the “non-alcoholic beverage” retail outlet market rather sooner than anyone realises, if this lot get the bit between their teeth.

    Of course, publicans’ representative organisations could fight this now, at the outset, if they really wanted to, by making precisely the points that you make, Mudge, at the highest levels, and by offering to take action on their members’ behalf for lost business or chucked-out stock the moment either of these materialise (and by making it clear to anyone in authority that they will do so), but will they? The publicans’ organisations’ record for standing up for their own members’ interests isn’t actually that great, is it? They’re much more likely to capitulate, agree and enthusiastically endorse all and any “health initiatives” spewed out by the authorities, thus paving the way for even more pub closures. Sad.

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    1. Indeed. Endless appeasement will get you nowhere, as there is never an end point. It just goes on and on.

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  3. Bristol is basically Shoreditch upon Avon so this is hardly surprising. It's also pretty much impossible to buy a pint at any of the Harbourside bars. Everything is 2/3rds. Only the traditional pubs still do pints. I would, however, like to see alcohol free beers on tap, but only if it was commercially viable. I can't stand little 330ml bottles. I'll go to Spoons occasionally just because they have the large bottles of AF Ghost Ship.

    Still, its very pretty and worth a visit, despite the hipsters, the bat**** crazy Greens and public health nannies.

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  4. This could be counterproductive, though. If the turnover is so low that the "beer" goes off in the barrel it could start a widespread "alcohol free beer tastes foul" opinion.

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  5. Fairly typical behaviour from local authority busybodies who have absolutely no knowledge or interest in the realities of running a business.

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    1. It starts at the top - Boris Johnson, "f*ck business!"

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    2. And Bristol City Council is, of course, Labour-controlled.

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  6. While I'm not a fan of enforcing the sale of AF beers, one possible solution to the shelf life is what one of my locals has adopted- the so-called Blade Machine. This suburban pub seems to be able to shift the stuff at a rate quick enough to avoid spoilage- the kegs are quite small. Cheaper than by the bottle, too.

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    1. If a pub has sufficient turnover, that's fine, but not all will. I saw this in the Olde Vic in Preston last year, but don't think I've spotted it since.

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  7. I think that was the gizmo the pub opposite me had.

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