We were honoured to be asked to speak at the Morning Advertiser’s MA500 event in Liverpool last week. MA500 is aimed at all the small and medium-sized pub chains in the UK. These are some of the most forward-thinking venues around, and exactly the kind of places we’d like to see on the Guide too.
The morning session included a discussion of the main problems facing pubs today. And it won’t come as a surprise that there are many. The most commonly mentioned topics were staffing and recruitment, Brexit, business rates, and changing customer tastes, new food “fads” and diet trends. Which leads nicely into the first afternoon session after a very tasty lunch, which Laura kicked off by talking about the Club Soda Guide – how we got started, the Hackney and City pilot, and how we are now open to all UK venues. There was a lot of interest in the room about the Guide, how it works, and how pubs can be better for mindful drinkers.
And the organisers had made sure that the slot after Laura’s talk addressed one of those ways, when beer writer Pete Brown talked about low and no alcohol beers and ciders. He explained a bit about how these drinks are made, their history, and how the best of them are now seen as part of the craft beer movement. Pete acknowledged that their price (compared to mass-produced alcoholic beer) can be an issue, but was pretty confident that they are about to make a breakthrough in the next year or two.
Pete then led a small tasting of three of the better alcohol-free drinks: Stowford Press cider, Brewdog’s Nanny State ale, and Big Drop Brewing Co’s Chocolate Milk Stout. Stowford and Big Drop were the favourites, and it was good to see that there was only one person in the whole room who claimed they didn’t like any of the three. We’ve found that most people are very positive about low and no alcohol beers as soon as they are given an opportunity to try them (see this story of a pub beer and wine tasting).
The audience discussion afterwards considered some of the potential barriers for wider availability and popularity of low and no alcohol beers in pubs. The list included cost, value for money, perceptions (“why not just drink apple juice?”), competition from other venues that do non-alcoholic drinks better, peer pressure, customer awareness, lack of point of sale materials and marketing, lack of fridge space, and people’s tastes and habits. These points are already familiar to us, and some are easier to fix than others – but it’s good to know that at least some of the pubs are already aware of them.
MA500 was a great event to attend, and for us it was particularly good to meet some of the owners and managers of venues already listed on the Guide, and many more who were interested in what we are doing. We are looking forward to welcoming them to the Guide very soon (click here to add your venue).
The pictures on this post are from the “study tour” that ended this MA500 event – basically a pub crawl of five interesting Liverpool venues.