Bottled ales in supermarkets – brilliant! OK, they have no idea whatsoever how to categorise and arrange beers, but they stock an incredibly diverse range at reasonable prices. Or at least, they did.
I don’t actually go to supermarkets very much. I’ve just got back from my nearest big Sainsburys at Angel, Islington, for the first time in a few months I’ve always been impressed by the range of stuff they stock – a full range of Taste the Difference beers (brewed by Meantime), 750ml bottles of Meantime Porter and IPA, comprehensive ranges from the likes of Fuller’s and Marston’s, plus loads of micros. As Angel is a pretty upmarket area, I’ve often used this store as an example of how affluent, curious people are clearly embracing ale.
And now, they’ve refurbished it, approximately doubling the floorspace. This could only be brilliant for beer, right? Right?
In a store that’s doubled in size, premium/speciality beers have been slashed from an entire aisle to two bays. Premium bottled ale has been cut from three bays to one. No Meantime. No Micros. No Taste the Difference. In fact nothing that isn’t made by Marstons, Fullers, Innis & Gunn or Hall & Woodhouse, save the odd exception.
So I went next door. One of the reasons for the refurb is that the old Woolies has now turned into a medium-sized Waitrose. Now they’re the best supermarket chain for bottled beer. They stock Deus and everything. Um, not here they don’t. The same ranges from the big regionals, plus one or two locals, and that’s it.
Nearer home, my corner shop has sold out and just reopened as a Sainsbury’s local. The Turks who used to run it knew nothing about beer, but they stocked a fine and constantly changing range. The new Sainsburys stocks three ales and about four lagers, in much greater quantities.
I’ve read that in most categories in grocery, supermarkets will only stock the top two or three brands – higher quantities, better terms for them, less hassle, less choice for the consumer. But until now beer has always been different.
Is this now changing or am I just unlucky with my choice of store? If this is typical of what’s happening across the country, it could be disastrous for smaller brewers, as supermarket chains don’t look at range and diversity, just who the top three or four brewers are, and maybe the odd concession to someone else local. No disrespect to Marston’s, Fullers and H&W – I frequently buy their beers – but if they are going to be the only ones available outside specialist beer shops in future the whole category will be poorer for it.
Please tell me this is not happening in your local supermarkets too.