Thursday, 25 March 2021

Turn of the tide?

Back in 2016, I reported on how the imminent introduction of the ill-considered “sugar tax” was likely to lead to some popular soft drinks brands being reformulated to bring them below the threshold. In a sense it is understandable, as otherwise the drinks would have had to suffer a price increase, but it was highly disingenuous of the manufacturers to pretend that it wouldn’t make any difference to the taste, and that they were even doing it in response to customer demand. This is similar to the weasel words of brewers who insist that the flavour will be unaffected when they reduce the strength of their products.

Christopher Snowdon was wrong in his prediction that Irn-Bru would be unaffected, as inevitably it was, with the accompanying guff from its makers A. G. Barr that nothing would change. However, this is a product that is regarded as something of a Scottish national icon, and its drinkers weren’t going to take it lying down. Whether or not the new version was actually better for you, there was no doubt that it didn’t taste the same.

So, after a long campaign, last year Barr’s released on a trial basis a product called Irn-Bru 1901, which claimed to follow the original recipe from when the drink was first introduced. This proved very successful, and so they have announced that it will become a permanent product. It will only be available in the classic glass bottle, not in slabs of cans, and I’d expect it will be sold at something of a premium, so it will remain a niche product. But there is clearly a demand there which the company have decided to meet. This shows that consumer pressure, if vocal and sustained enough, can change companies’ policies over moves like this.

The brand that really should now follow suit is, of course, Lucozade. This was specifically developed in the first place as a high-glucose drink and served a very specific purpose in helping Type 1 diabetics counter the effects of “hypos”, something that was lost when the sugar content was cut. Surely it would not harm them in the slightest to introduce a “Lucozade Classic” that met its original remit.

In recent years, a number of well-known beer and cider brands have had their alcoholic strength cut. In some cases, such as Stella Artois, the drinkers seem to have grudgingly accepted it, but I can think of others, mainly in the packaged sphere, which have lost their distinctive appeal and disappeared from the shelves. The only beer I can think of where a reduction in strength has been reversed is Bateman’s XXXB, which was cut, at least in the draught version, from 4.8% to 4.5%, but later put back up again. I can imagine a “Stella Classic” at 5.2% would find plenty of takers, even at a premium price, but somehow I can’t see AB InBev being keen to take that idea up.

5 comments:

  1. Carlsberg should give us Special Brew 1950, in a big can with the alcohol back up to 9%. Picture of Churchill on the can.

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  2. I have given up on Stella now that it has been reduced to a weasel state. I am sticking to 5% ABV lagers or stronger such as Asahi Superdry (5.2% ABV) or San Miguel which still is 5% ABV. I am looking forward to April 12th too. My local has very large tent erected all ready in its very large beer garden.

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    Replies
    1. PU at 4.4 and Paulaner Hell at just below 5 work for me.

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  3. Most drinkers of beers and lagers that have had their alcohol reduced are blissfully unaware. You still get folk going on about Stella being rocket fuel and the like. The only beers that are increasing in strength are niche craft beers where 8 or even 10% isn’t considered at all unusual. More for stouts and porters.

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    Replies
    1. I have grown so used to drinking strong craft beers that I fear that, after lock down, I will find my usual Pedigree or Abbot rather disappointing

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