As one of the leading cask brewers in the industry, Greene King believes that the future of real ale lies in focusing less on fighting the past, but on building the new in several areas: by engaging outlets and team members and driving experimentation with consumers.
As the industry looks to celebrate this traditional beer with its annual Cask Ale Week, Greene King is highlighting the key areas it continues to invest in to drive cask for today’s market.
It’s no surprise that quality is a key focus for a brewer passionate about driving cask ale and it’s clear that the relationship between pub and brewer has evolved since the times of taverns and alehouses.
We know that just like any other artisanal product, cask beer is best served at its freshest, however due to various circumstances not all pubs can still get through the same volumes of cask that they once did. This has led to pubs either taking cask off the bar, losing on sales with waste or selling beer that’s quality has deteriorated, and this is something we really need to change as brewers.
Greene King, focusing on driving cask for today’s pubs, has launched a way to tackle the above in the 4.5-gallon pin, so pubs can manage a lower throughput at quieter times. This investment means that by offering a smaller unit for operators, cask can have its rightful place on the bar even at quieter drinking periods.
To further support free trade customers, the Suffolk brewer last year introduced a support pledge, the Cask Iron Guarantee, that gives free-trade customers the ability to claim a refund or credit for expired cask ale. For pubs it’s a risk-free opportunity to include cask in its portfolio.
When you look at caring for cask, with rotating staff, ensuring top food quality and service, as well as trying to increase spend per head, cellar management can feel like another job on the list, so brewers need to make this as easy for the pub as possible.
Greene King’s approach to this has always been to provide expert cellar training to its customers, in person and with useful 24/7 information through its Beer Genuis online portal, tapping into the more modern support channels. In 2024, the brewer will also be launching its Advance Cellar Management Course for free-trade customers to really upskill on their knowledge.
By providing pubs with the support and training to offer a quality pint, and with the security of no risk to their sales, it’s hard for pubs to find that reason not to have cask on the bar.
Engagement with Operators
Taking that education piece a step further, we need to make selling cask to drinkers as easy as possible for team members in pubs, and we need to get them excited about it as an interesting product that has stood the test of time, but also has so much to offer a drinker today.
Taking into consideration that teams need short and memorable information, Greene King now provides knowledge packs for each seasonal cask beer, including tasting notes, so team members have the top line information they need to show off their knowledge, and provide that elevated experience that guests are now looking for when they visit a pub.
When the fundamentals are there, you can then look to use incentives, such as Greene King’s staff reward programme, which provides pubs with the chance to request mystery visits, so pubs can get the most out of their cask and team members reap the rewards.
If you can get team members to engage and get excited about cask, then persuading a drinker to try a pint becomes that little bit easier.
Driving Experimentation with Consumers
At the end of the day the aim is to get cask in drinkers’ hands, so how can brewers reach drinkers directly to get them choosing cask and battle the well-known misconception with drinkers, especially the younger demographic?
Some people aren’t aware that cask beer has so many styles and flavours to offer a drinker today and showing them that range is a sure way to break down that barrier. Making it easier for pubs, creating a portfolio of rotating styles allows them to introduce something new and different on the bar every few months that drives interest and awareness too.
This year, Greene King launched its Fresh Cask Releases calendar, a portfolio of 18 different cask beers available at specific times of the year. The calendar has been filled with a combination of returning favourites, key calendar creations linked to sporting occasions and national celebrations, collaborations, and new ales, inspired by legendary stories of the people and places associated with beer.
For September and October, Fresh Legs, the golden 4% ale will be available to celebrate the international rugby tournament and offer the perfect pint to enjoy while watching the sport. Making its return, Bonkers Conkers, brewed with over five different hop varieties, will also be available with a refreshed pump clip for September only.
Bonkers Conkers and Fresh Legs are only two of the large selection of exciting flavours, tastes and styles created to give pubs fun and innovative cask beers that can be introduced or expand their range and offer, but also encourage drinkers to explore the possibilities of cask beer.
As you can do with team members, rewarding the loyalty of drinkers is also a way to encourage trial and for Cask Ale Week Greene King is offering free trade customers the chance to receive point of sale that enables drinkers to get their 7th pint free with a Three Cheers loyalty card and encourage them to explore more styles.
Matt Starbuck, Managing Director for the Greene King Brewery, said: “When you consider how challenging it has been to re-establish connections with pubgoers coming out of Covid, now layered with additional inflationary pressures, it’s all too easy to mix up opinions on consumer sentiment and get to a negative view of the future trading potential of cask beers.
“Our view is that in order for cask conditioned beers to remain relevant we must attend to both the needs of the trade as well as the consumer. This isn’t a wholesale restoration plan but rather ensuring that drinker’s interest is captured and magnified at a time when overall volume occasions may be subdued. That means optimising choice, as well as developing to new taste preferences, delivered in the right sized containers that sustain great dispense quality and taste for the drinker and lower wastage for operators.
“At Greene King, our heritage is embedded in the craft of cask beers, but we understand that it isn’t just one thing that will drive the category forward. We’re certainly not shirking away here, as evidenced by our significant investment plans that back a number of avenues that tap into the pressures faced by pubs to maintain an exciting line up of quality cask beer styles. It’s mission critical to ensure that we have something we can continue to celebrate and take pride in as our nations unique and treasured drink for years to come.”
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About Greene King
Greene King is the country’s leading pub company and brewer with c.2,600 pubs, restaurants and hotels across England, Wales and Scotland.
At Greene King we are passionate about delivering our purpose to ‘pour happiness into lives’. That’s for our customers, our team, our pub partners, our suppliers and the communities in which we live, operate and serve. Founded in 1799 with offices in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk and Burton on Trent in Staffordshire we employ around 39,000 people across the group with four divisions: Greene King pubs, Destination Brands, Partnership and Ventures, and Brewing & Brands.
- Greene King pubs are located where people and communities come together; pubs enjoyed in cities, towns and villages throughout the country
- Destination Brands is a mixture of food and drink-led brands including Hungry Horse, Farmhouse Inns, Chef & Brewer, Wacky Warehouse, and Pub & Carvery, Pub & Dining and Pub & Grill
- Partnerships & Ventures includes Pub Partners, which runs our tenanted and leased pubs business and Hive Franchise pubs, and our Ventures Brands which is made up of Metropolitan Pub Company, Hickory’s, Hotels Group and Crafted Pubs
Brewing & Brands covers the brewing sides of the business. Quality ales are brewed at the Westgate brewery in Bury St Edmunds and the Belhaven Brewery in Dunbar. Our industry-leading portfolio includes Greene King IPA, Old Speckled Hen, Abbot Ale, Ice Breaker and Belhaven Best and our premium beers, Level Head and Flint Eye, brewed for the modern-day drinker.
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