Sunday, 28 February 2010

Paris Hilton at it again..........

Awhile ago I wrote about the Brazilian beer Devassa  and their choice to hire Paris Hilton as an 'ambassador' for their brand. 

 Devassa, which means sexy in Portuguese,  features a scantily clad lady with come to bed eyes on all of it's packaging so it's no surprise that they have produced an advert that features the aforementioned Ms Hilton writhing provocatively against a window whilst rubbing herself all over with a can of beer.   

Now I'm no prude but it does really bother me that beer ads continue to treat women as sex objects, which in turn stops women choosing to drink beer. And this time it seems I'm not alone as the advert has created a lot of conroversy in Brazil with a government official for women's affairs calling for the ad to be taken off air due to its sexist undertones.

"It's an ad that devalues women - in particular, blonde women. The problem with the ad isn't a lack of clothing, but its sensual nature," said a spokesperson.
So what do you think, are people being over sensitive or should the ad be banned?

What's in a price

Yesterday I Spotted on Twitter this comment about the difference in pub and supermarket beer pricing which was apparently quoted in a Parliamentary debate on the Future of the Pub...................
"When Labour came to power beer in pubs was priced 2 times the price in supermarkets. Now it is 7 times the price. #ukpubs"
According to My Supermarket  Carling is currently an average of £1.05* per pint in the supermarket, for @arfurd to be right then pubs must be punting out pints of Carling at £7.37 a pint!! Actually the truth is that the average price of a pint of Carling (according to Nielsen) is £2.54 and even in fancy London town only reaches a peak of £2.79, so either @arfurd is drinking in very posh pubs or maybe things aren't actually that bad.

This week I presented at a BII forum on how to attract more women into pubs and over lunch sampled some Kasteel Cru which went down very well until one licensee asked me if it was available in supermarkets. When I sad yes he put the bottle down in disgust and said "well I'll never be able to sell it in the pub then" which to me seems short sighted - do we honestly believe that on and off trade prices should be the same? I do think that supermarket pricing needs to be addressed, using alcohol as a loss leader should be stamped out and a minimum pricing policy be enforced to build the right level of respect for alcohol but to suggest on and off trade pricing should be the same undermines the pub service offer.

At home I drink Sainsburys Italian Coffee at £1.95 which is about 13p a cup and it's very nice, I've experimented with other coffees and this one's my favourite. But, almost every day I stop at my local Starbucks and part with, by comparison, a whopping £3.20 for a Grande Skinny Caramel Macchiato (with full fat syrup of course, credits and debits after all). Now I could recreate this at home, Starbucks sell all the things I need to do that, but I wont because what I'm paying the extra for is the service that comes with it - the fact that a barista they've taken the time and expense to train makes it for me, that they use their electricity instead of mine and they offer me a muffin to go with it.

And the same goes for pubs, if I went into my local Sainsburys and they asked me what beer I wanted, offered me a seat at a table their staff had cleaned, went out the back and got a bottle they had chilled for me, poured it into a glass they had washed and allowed me sit there and enjoy it whilst using their heating and lighting then I'd be prepared to pay a lot more for it. A good pub with a good service offer must be able to command a significantly greater price than the supermarket for the same product, if they cant and customers wont spend the money they need to look at their offer and make sure they are offering value for their drinkers and a reason to be drinking in their pub, not at home on the sofa.

But, said the BII man, the reason that supermarket beer is so cheap is not the difference in offer but because the brewers sell it to them for them for next to nothing. But is that really the case or are the supermarkets prepared to lose money on beer to drive punters into store in the hope that they'll also buy toilet rolls and milk and a whole host of other things they can off set the loss against.

Using the average selling prices above what is the actual difference in cost price to retailers........

So why the difference I hear you cry - well firstly the VAT, obviously the higher the retail price the more the government want to grapple off retailers. The biggest difference is the retail margin £1.11 of the £1.49 difference because pubs need to charge much higher margins as they have to cover all their costs (cost of beer, staff, cleaning, rent, rates, electricity etc) from this margin. The supermarkets obviously have similar costs but spread over a huge range of products - beer makes up a fraction of their total sales.

That leaves about 15p difference on average on the price of beer sold by brewers between pubs and supermarkets - not such a great difference after all eh? Especially when you consider how much more it costs a brewer to service a pub versus a supermarket - extra distribution costs (delivering to lots of individual pubs is more expensive than one supermarket distribution centre), the cost of dispense equipment, engineers and that 15p difference is very quickly spent.

So the brewers are making the same amount of money from pubs and supermarkets, if we want supermarkets to charge more for beer we need to be lobbying the government not the producers.

And if pubs really believe they cant charge any more than supermarkets for beer then it's time they reviewed their service - that's what should set them apart not having completely different products.

*at the time I wrote this, it changes all the time as they pick up new offers.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Beer, the choice of women in comfortable shoes...............

This week The Ormskirk Baron kindly brought to my attention that  Black Sheep Brewery are hosting a Ladies Food and Beer evening as part of National Cask Ale Week. The idea of a ladies beer tasting event is a great one and one I'm fully behind, with so few women drinking beer anything that makes more try a beer is a great idea in my book but the poster they have pulled together to advertise it is quite simply, dreadful.

There are a lot of reasons that women don't drink beer but one of the biggest rejection factors is beer advertising. Historically we've come to expect juvenile humour, girls in bikinis and adverts that do one of two things when it comes to women, objectify them (this Heineken ad is possibly one of the most sexist ever) or, like this completely patronize them like this ad.

But this is a good activity, according to Pete Brown's Cask Report more women than ever are enjoying cask beer with  30% of women now claim to have tried  cask ale - up from 16% a year ago and the number of women who now claim to drink cask ale has doubled - but my worry is with this approach to the advertising it will turn off women who never drink beer. For me it perpetuates the myth that beer is the preserve of women in comfortable shoes and not a serious consideration for today's modern woman.

CAMRA are also planning a FemAle Day (see what they did there) as part of National Cask Ale Week and often use the oh so attractive image of a woman with a pint for a head in their Beer magazine - is this really going to appeal to a potential new generation of consumers???

The biggest challenge the beer category faces is attracting women under 35 because they think beer is an old fashioned, unstylish, blokey drink enjoyed by their dads and so are downing Pinot Grigio by the bucket load and if these two images are anything to go by we're not doing anything to convince them otherwise.
What we need to do is position beer as a stylish, credible drink alternative and break down the myth that it's only for fat, chav lesbians if we want to see serious growth in women drinking beer. The interest in cask ale is fantastic but the fact is that 60% of women still don't drink beer ever, so lets see more events like the Black Sheep Brewery tasting but lets see them advertised in a way that makes women want to go and makes them see beer as a great choice.


Gone Bananas.......

Bananas are a fruit I struggle with. I know they're good for me, packed full of vitamins b and c and, as a highly toned athlete, I obviously welcome a rich source of potassium. But bananas present me with a very short window of opportunity, too hard and I gag, too soft, ewwwwwwww, and I really gag. I buy them every week but rarely eat them so unless you can inhale the health benefits through the skin as you throw the rotten bananas in the recycling bin I'm missing out.

But this week I decided to try and use up the soft bananas and a quick google search found me a banana cake recipe courtesy of  nibb'lous which has to be one of the easiest and yummiest cake recipes I've ever tried. It's this.........

4oz butter (I always use Lurpak for baking, it's the best)
6oz sugar (granulated, caster, or mix in some demerara, whatever you have to hand)
8oz self raising flour
2 eggs
2 large or 3 medium, very ripe bananas (I used 2, any more and I reckon the cake would be a bit wet)
(I also added 100g of dark chocolate chips after the daughter turned Peter Kay at the thought of the original cake - banana cake? cake with banana.....dirty b*st*rds....)

Heat the oven to gas mark 4; 180C and grease a 2lb loaf tin.
Mash the bananas with a sturdy fork.
Cream the butter and sugar together and mix in the eggs
Mix together the two yellow sludges you now have and mix in the flour.
Scrape into the loaf tin and bake for 40 minutes then lower the temperature to gas mark 2; 150C and cook for a further 30 minutes.

Cake baked, domestic goddess bit over and it's time for a beer, but what beer to match such a scrummy cake. I went for a complimentary beer, Grolsch Weizen.  If you haven't had the joy of a Grolsch Weizen yet it is yum, somewhere between a spicy, lemony Belgian wheat beer and the heady banoffee character of a German Weissbeer, with a rich caramel aroma that made it a perfect match for the sweetness of the banana cake. The beer has a lovely refreshing mouthfeel that you don't often get in a wheat beer that lifts and cleanses the palate in between mouthfuls of cake that stops any sweetness being too much.

And there's still bananas left over (I obviously buy too many in the hope that I'll become a health freak) so next is a Banoffee Cheesecake that I tried at our national conference and was just divine. The mix of sweet banana and caramel making it difficult to tell where the pudding stopped and the beer started - divine.

Butter Shortbread
125g butter
63g sugar
250g flour

Mix butter with the sugar and add flour, mix until combined
Roll out onto floured surface, place on baking tray and chill for 10 minutes in the fridge
Cook in oven for 15 - 20 minutes at 160 degrees

Vanilla Cheesecake
240g milk
216g sugar
drop of vanilla essence
100g patis mousse
400g cream cheese
600g whipped cream
4 sliced bananas
1 tin of condensed milk
Put the can of milk, unopened, in a large pan, cover with water, bring to the boil and boil for 4 hours, topping up with boiling water from the kettle as needed. Remove and leave to cool and it will have turned to toffee
Heat milk, vanilla essence and sugar, add patis mousse and whisk until thickened slightly
Add milk mixture to the soft cheese and mix until smooth
Beat in a third of the whipped cream
Fold in remaining cream
Layer up in a dish, ring or flan case - shortbread, toffee, cheesecake cream and bananas

Am not sure I have the culinary skills to match the professionals that whipped it up on the day but if I get it even half right it'll be divine, I think I need to buy bananas more often!!

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The Grauniad Dibnukeng Bree Mthys

It's been a little while since I've blogged so apologies if you've been waiting on tenterhooks for my latest musings - you can now breathe again.

Inspiration was brought to me today by Felicity Cloake  who is debunking beer myths over at The Guardian. Obviously not as big news as Cheryl Cole finally seeing sense and dumping the awful Ashley but still caught my eye nevertheless as a lot of it is things I spend my whole days talking about.

The first thing that Felicity challenges is that all beers are the same, and for me this is a key education point for women if we want to encourage more of them to drink beer. When women say that "I don't like beer", I think what they really mean is that "I don't like the beers that I've tried" which in the main will probably be Becks, Bud, Carling, Fosters and Corona, probably all badly served warm in an ugly glass and this has shaped their view of the whole category. 

Challenge is that how do you say to women "well have you tried ALL beers" without sounding like an arse but I'd love women to realise the wealth of beer styles and flavours on the market, there's over 2,500 beer brands available in the UK, you'll find one you like if you're prepared to try a few and experiment. And trust your own instincts, if you like something that's ok, whatever the pongy ale drinkers might tell you, or as Felicity puts it;
Don't be fooled into believing that ale is always better either: whatever the folks at the Campaign for Real Ale say, handcrafted lagers are making some headway in this country.)
Something tells me that she's not making a case for Carling drinking but I do love the fact that she's recommending all beer styles - a lady after my own heart!! Interesting to read one of the commenters taking umbrage at the suggestion that lager is a beer, somewhat proves the point and as I've mentioned more than once before I'd love to see that kind of attitude leave the beer market. 

One thing I see on a regular basis is that there just  isn't enough information about beer on offer in bars which puts people off ordering it, especially women, and doesn't help break the myth that all beers are the same. I would love to see beer menus in pubs and descriptors on the shelves in the beer aisle. Or maybe just make the beer aisle a nice place to be - the wine aisle in your supermarket is a nice place to shop, it's interesting, the wine is stocked in a way that helps you make informed choices, and there's recommendations - wine of the week, what goes with food. But you swing your trolley round into the beer aisle and suddenly you're in a dirty warehouse packed high with big boxes of beer - no wonder you don't see many people browsing there, it's hardly an inviting place to spend time. 

But it could be, it's not rocket science, it happens all the time in the wine aisle, if we just invested a little more care and time in showing beers in their best light, highlighting different flavours and styles seems like a really simple way to get more people trying more beers.

I guess there's a real learning for beer marketeers, wine didn't become so popular by chance, as an industry they've worked hard at it, maybe we should steal a few things..............

Monday, 15 February 2010

I'm Backing Beer (obviously!)

An unashamed corporate plug that I feel very passionate about - if you feel the same then join in.

For too long, beer has been competing with major cider brands with one arm tied behind its back – a tax legacy of a bygone era when most cider was produced in small craft presses in the West Country; a very different picture to the highly efficient, brand led industry of today.

It’s time to level the playing field to ensure beer can compete fairly.  The Chancellor indicated his willingness to address this question when he announced a review of cider duty ahead of the next budget, in March 2010.  There are no foregone conclusions, however, and we need to ensure that a clear case for beer stands out in the duty debate.

We want our local MPs to understand the issues around duty and have the opportunity to lend their weight to the case for a level playing field for beer.  All you need to do to send a letter to your local MP is click on the link below, follow the simple instructions and an MP letter will be automatically generated for you…..

A simple action that could make an enormous difference. Am not sure that the link will work for people outside of Molson Coors. If it doesn't here's the letter, why not send a copy to your MP. 

Dear ,


As one of your constituents, I am contacting you to ask for your support of Britain's brewing industry which is being threatened by daily pub closures and an uneven duty playing field for beer.

As a brewing employee, I also wanted to make you aware of some of the anomalies which prevent fair competition between beer and cider brands in the UK.

Brewers are willing to compete on a level playing field, but cider's 29p per pint tax advantage over beer (at 5% ABV, which is the average of all cider sold in the UK) has subsidised an unfair marketing advantage for too long, encouraging beer drinkers to switch brands and exacerbating the decline in beer sales. In fact, 70% of new cider volume in 2009 came as a direct switch from lager, yet the major cider brands pay less than half the duty rate paid by lower ABV major lager brand competitors.

Indeed, if cider brands paid duty at the same rate as beer, Government duty revenue from the 8m hectolitres of cider sold in 2008 would have increased by more than £400 million.

I understand the low rate of cider duty was justified to support small apple growers and cider makers in the West Country and I appreciate the need to create a workable way to protect craft producers. We believe that small cider makers should benefit from a relief mechanism similar to the Progressive Beer Duty system which has provided a welcome stimulus to microbrewers across the UK, since 2002.

However, this requires us to recognise that the structure of the modern cider industry is very different - with the vast majority of UK cider sales now being efficiently manufactured by two multinational drinks companies, accounting for more than 8 in every 10 pints of cider sold in Britain's pubs. Surely it is not the intention to subsidise these large scale manufacturers at the expense of Britain's brewing sector?

As you will be aware, beer duty increases in line with ABV, whereas cider has a flat rate to 7.5% ABV. In practice, this means that 4% beer pays over 37p per pint versus cider at 18p and a 5% beer pays 47p per pint versus cider, still at 18p per pint. I find it especially alarming that a 7.5% alcohol cider should pay only 18p per pint duty when the equivalent ABV beer attracts a duty rate of 70 pence per pint.

I want to see beer and cider duty rates aligned at the next budget to ensure fair competition between beer and cider brands and to help to promote a sensible drinking culture.

This would provide a much needed boost to UK brewers and barley farmers, close the loop hole that allows the sale of extremely cheap white ciders and substantially increase duty revenues to the Treasury over the coming years.

I am aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is reviewing cider duty ahead of the next budget and wanted to ensure you understood a brewing employee point of view so that you can contribute fully to the debate and lend your weight to the argument for a fair and level playing field for beer.

Yours Sincerely,

Not all coverage is good coverage..................

Paris Hilton
It's a long proven marketing strategy that celebrity endorsement is a great way of raising awareness for your brand launch (look what George Foreman did for healthy grills) but this latest tie up is proof that you need to pick your celebs very carefully - not all coverage is good coverage afterall. 

The always stylish, Paris Hilton has been spotted out in Rio de Janeiro cavorting on all fours as the face of a new brand of beer she is supposed to be an ambassador for. Heatworld went with the delightful headline "Look how PISSED Paris Hilton is" The beer in question that Paris has been paid far too much to promote is a Brazillian beer called Devassa,  which means sexy in Portuguese (how classy), and features a scantily clad lady with come to bed eyes on all of it's packaging so no doubt they are delighted with the thong baring antics of Ms Hilton and the coverage it's generated for them. 

My hunch is that I'm not target market for this particular brand of beer, good job since the antics of Paris have left me cold. The Devassa website and packaging is just another perfect example of the sexist way women can be portrayed in beer adverts and it's shocking in this day and age. Why any alcohol brand would choose as it's figurehead someone with a jail term for drink driving under their belt (not to mention the sex tapes) is beyond me but it strikes me that their marketing team is a lot of long haired, paunchy men in too tight jeans fast approaching a midlife crisis if they think this celebrity endorsment is a good idea.

I may have mentioned (once or twice) my work for BitterSweet Partnership, launched because the beer industry is renowned for ignoring (or patronizing completely) women. Whilst there are a lot of women that do love beer, our research showed that 8 out of 10 women seldom or rarely drink beer. 42% of the women polled said that changing beer advertising (and for me that means cheap marketing stunts like this too) is one of the biggest things that could be done to make it more appealing to them, looking at something like this makes it obvious that's a change that can't come soon enough!!!

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Boys and butterflies...............

When I have a night out with the girls there's nothing I like more than lounging about on pink scatter cushions, glass of chardonnay in hand whilst gossiping about boys and butterflies and how to be the perfect housewife but finding the right pub to go to is often so tricky. Lucky for little ol' me Greene King are set to come to the rescue by giving their pubs a 'Sex and The City' makeover  and introducing free toiletries, great big glasses of wine and complimentary copies of Cosmo.

Please - could this sexist tripe be any more patronizing?? I am a firm believer that pubs need to do a lot more to be a comfortable environment for a lot of women and over on my Good Pub Guide Blog have suggested a lot of simple changes that would make the drinking environment better for women from offering table service to free wifi but hot pink toilets and free Heat Magazine...........seriously???

I shouldn't be too hard on Greene King, they have at least, rightly identified the importance of making pubs more attractive to women. In this latest initiative they are targeting a group of ladies they call SWAGs - sassy, wise and grown up ladies who are 35+ and  have money burning a hole in their pockets it seems. Now I'm a little way off 35 so you could argue that maybe I'm not target market but somehow when I'm asked what I want to do for my 35th birthday going to the 'Lippy & Eyeliner' is not going to be top of my list!!

Whilst they should be applauded for trying to appeal more to women their current ideas sound like the sort that were suggested by men, amid lots of sniggers, when they thought no one from HR was listening. I think Claire Eyles from The George Inn in Daventry, who is similarly sceptical,  sums it up well, 
"The issue of attracting more women to public houses is one that most pub companies have tried to address, but the type of lady we are attracting is not overly concerned as to whether she can get a 250ml serving of wine, or read a glossy magazine.
It is purely and simply because Chris and I have created the right atmosphere that makes those females feel comfortable in coming in for that evening"
Personally I would much rather spend a night with Claire or in any pub that focusses on offering women great service and quality rather than trying to cash in on short term gimics!

A light surprise................

This week saw me play a wine drinking, man eating lush (it took a long time to get into character) at our national conference and after a fantastic day we were treated to a 9 course beer and food matching extravaganza. Not only has it given me 9 things to blog about, it also uncovered some interesting surprises - the first with Coors Light.

For me Coors Light is my Pinot Grigrio of beers, it's deliciously refreshing, bright and crisp with a completely clean finish. Perfect for a lunch with the girls, a summer afternoon bbq or that quick after work drink when you want a non challenging taste that you know you'll enjoy but when the occasion is more important than the drink so you just need to know it's a good choice without too much thinking when you get to the bar.

So I enjoy a Coors Light but when it comes to food matching it's quite a way down in the list of beers I'd pick so I was more than pleasantly surprised when one of the big hits of the night was Sweet & Sour Coors Light Battered Tiger Prawns. What you often don't realise about Coors Light is that hiding under the crisp refreshment is a lot of fruit character that the sweetness of the Ketcap Manis brings to life. And the beer does a superb job of cleansing the palate inbetween each mouthfull so that you can really taste the subtle combination of seafood and freshly popped corn in the batter - om nom nom.

A real surprise for me this one and a lesson that it's not just great big hoppy beers that are a perfect food match. Coors Light is great for enhancing the flavour of light foods, fish, chicken maybe even some fruit, give it a try.

Sweet & Sour Coors Light Battered Tiger Prawns


10 Large Tiger Prawns
1 Bottle Coors Light
300g Plain Flour
Salt & Pepper


Butterfly the prawns. Add flour to the beer to make a batter and season with salt and pepper. Toss prawns in some flour and then batter and deep fry in hot oil for 2 - 3 minutes until golden. Serve on a bed of crisp salad leaves and drizzle with a ketcap manis. Accompany with a sweet and sour sauce.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Product Placement, right or wrong?

Unsurprisingly, with an election imminent, Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw has had another rethink on the TV product placement ban and decided to ban product placement of alcoholic drinks, HFSS [high in fat, sugar or salt] food, gambling, smoking accessories, over-the-counter medicines and baby food as advertising these products could increase problems such as obesity and alcohol-related harm. 

What nonsense. As a parent I clearly don't want to see Tracy Beaker  smashed on White Lightning at breakfast time but seeing beer (or any alcohol) responsibly consumed on appropriate television programmes should be seen as a key part of alcohol education, a way to normalise the consumption of alcohol and reduce alcohol harm in the long term. 

Obviously as a society we have a duty to protect our children from inappropriate advertising  (actually as a parent that responsibility lies solely with me but it would seem that not everyone feels the same) but by making alcohol more of a taboo and  hiding it out of view in TV programmes that are a reflection of real life is not the answer. All that will do is drive more teenagers to their local park with bottles of cheap cider. Blanket prohibition is never going to solve the problem, what we need is a targeted, properly funded, long term government-led campaign to address binge drinking that ministers are as equally vocal about post the election

And we should be doing more to support UK broadcasters, the reason for the review in the first place. According to Ofcom lifting the ban on product placement could lead to UK broadcasters making annual revenues in the region of £25m to £35m per year after five years, which would lead to better programming and reduce the reliance on dreadful reality TV shows. Without this only Sky, with the income from subscriptions, will be able carry on with decent programming losing us something that I believe should be free.