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UK: SABMiller débuts ‘fresh lager’ to bolster falling sales

SABMiller has started selling Pilsner Urquell, the 171-year-old Czech lager, in Britain in an unfiltered “tanked” form, reports The Telegraph.

Fresh beer is delivered direct to pubs and bars in a tanker from the brewery, a development that has reportedly proved popular in other European countries such as the Czech Republic, Germany and Slovakia for its smoother, less bitter taste.

As fresh beer doesn’t have to go through the same pasteurisation it, theoretically, should have a different, and better, flavour than bottled and barrelled beer.

Despite the logistical challenges of transporting it in the 24-hour window required to keep it fresh, SABMiller has rolled out the innovation to Britain, where speciality and craft beers are bucking a prolonged decline in the wider market.

After introducing it at food and drink festivals, SABMiller has signed up its first pub in London, the White Horse in Parsons Green, west London, which is famous for its extensive choice of beers, and which stores the unpasteurised beer in large copper tanks to retain its freshness. It is now looking to sign up further pubs.

“Consumers are looking for things that are different, more considered, they are looking for things they can discover, different styles,” says Sue Clark, MD for SABMiller Europe. “Per capita consumption in some of our markets has declined, so you have to work harder to keep what you are producing interesting and exciting for people.”

Beer sales in Britain have been shrinking since 2004, when 10.2m pints were sold against 7.8m last year, according to the British Beer and Pub Association.

The slump, fuelled by factors including high beer duties, recession and competition from other forms of alcohol, has also had a severe effect on the pub sector, with 26 inns closing every week in the UK.

Despite the wider trend, there has been a growing interest in craft, speciality and more expensive “premium” beers, as drinkers spend more discerningly.

SABMiller, which imports premium global beers to Britain, saw lager volumes grow 4pc in the UK in the 12 months to March 31 against a 5.1pc decline in the wider beer market during the same period. Independent micro-breweries have also been flourishing.

According to the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), there are now more than 1,000 breweries in Britain producing more than 8,000 different beers.

Global drinks companies have been looking at ways in which they can tap into the growing enthusiasm for speciality and craft beers, including buying up small breweries.

Such moves have been met with dissent in the US, where some small, craft brewers have accused the global giants of being “crafty” by presenting some of their labels as independent when they are part of large multi-nationals.

But Julian Grocock, chief executive of the Society of Independent Brewers welcomed initiatives by companies such as SABMiller. “It enriches the overall category of beer. Our mission is to persuade consumers to drink beer in all of its styles,” he said.

Source: The Telegraph