13 Sep 2013

Friday observations


I like it when I see criticism. I see it as something positive and necessary in the beer discourse, I'd even go as far as to say that it's key if we expect to get the respect we deserve as consumers. However, in order to serve that purpose, criticism, even more than praise, must be well argued and informed, and, above all, it must be fair and clear. And that's why I believe that the other day, Jardín del Lúpulo had a bit of a cock-up in their criticism of a beer festival they attended.

On the one hand, they mentioned a few shortcomings, a couple of which turned out to be not such. And on the other, they made what in my opinion is the grave error of putting everyone in the same sack when they said that at the festival they had found:
duff kegs that were not changed when pointed out, beers that were sold even though they needed another month of aging, beers that had not met the expectation of the producers themselves, infected beers, “experimental” beers...
Later, the author also mentions that they had come across some good stuff, but the damage had already been done. If you are going to make such hard criticism after being specific on the event, you are unnecessarily hurting all the breweries that were there and perverting the very debate you want to start. Perhaps the author could have refrained from mentioning any specific event as an example, after all, the post was meant to trigger discussion and not so much as a review.

But regardless of that, there is a complaint, from the author, as well as from several other commenters, which is in fact almost perennial when discussing beer festivals “beers that the producers themselves sell at higher prices than at stores”.

Is there anyone who can give me a reasonable explanation of what the problem is? Because, frankly, I don't see anything reproachable here.

At events of this type, a producer can't take advantage or abuse a condition of exclusivity to set prices that could be considered abusive, as it can happen, for instance at concerts. Here the consumer has plenty to choose from and the prices are another one of the variables.

So, what's the problem? That the producer has set a higher profit margin than what they usually get when selling to retailers?

Assuming for a second that that is a fact; that, even after factoring all the other costs specific to their participation in a festival, producers still earn more for every beer than they earn selling it to a shop or bar, since when is it wrong that a producer wants to earn a bit more, especially since we are speaking about an environment where competition couldn't be any freer?

So, what's the problem? That you went to that event to taste that beer and you found it more expensive than at a shop?

Let's forget for a second that A: if you can find that beer cheaper elsewhere, you are free to buy it there and B: that bottled beer isn't the same as draft beer. If you considered that the chance to drink one or several specific beers was good enough reason to invest the time and money necessary to attend a given festival, then a few coins more in the price shouldn't make any difference (needless to say, we're speaking here about beers that are at least well made. Beers that aren't well made will be expensive, regardless of their price).

So, what's the problem? That producers refuse to understand that festivals are an opportunity to promote their companies?

Let's be serious. We, the consumers, have the right to demand from producers quality and value, but not to dictate how they should manage their companies or determine their strategies. If a producer sees festivals mostly as a good source of turnover, it's their choice, they know why they do it, and if they don't, the risks and eventual problems are purely theirs.

That said, and to be honest, if I were a producer I'd take festivals mostly as a chance to promote my products and brand, as I see it as very reasonable. However, and since I'm not a producer, I can't avoid wondering if these events are any effective as promotional tools.

At first sight, the answer would be yes. The public that attend festivals tends to be of a much wider spectrum that those who go to specialised shops or bars. However, the sad truth is that the attention span of the general public is not particularly long and, therefore, it's quite likely that, unless they can come across the beers soon, many, if not most, won't take long to forget what they drank that Saturday at that festival; and still fewer are those who will run a day later to their favourite pub to urge the owner to start stocking that beer they liked so much at that festival.

So, if a producer wants to get a return for their investment of time, work and money, counting on the memory of the people who bought beers from them isn't enough. For that, a festival would need to be a medium where producers can get in touch with retailers, pub owners or distributors, i.e. those that do the heaviest part of the work of convincing the consumer.

Festivals do become useful for producers if we speak about PR, as well as exchange of information and experiences with their peers (and competitors). Whether that is good enough reason for a producer to set “promotional” prices is another thing.

On the other hand, could it be that these events are very effective when it comes to promoting the brand “Craft Beer” and not so much for individual brands? I'd like to hear about the experiences producers have with all this. I'm just speculating and thinking out loud.

Regardless of all this, and even if festivals happened to be perfect marketing tools, this should not be seen as a limit to the right of producers to set any price they see fit for the fruit of their labour. Nobody is under any obligation to buy a beer they consider too expensive, and anyone who might believe so, should perhaps start reviewing their priorities in life.

Na Zdraví!

6 comments:

  1. Nobody is under any obligation to buy a beer they consider too expensive

    True, but so what? If I think a beer is too expensive, I probably won't buy it, but not having bought it won't stop me talking (or blogging) about it. Nobody is under any obligation to remain silent when they consider a beer to be too expensive.

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    1. But how do you know if a beer is too expensive?
      You will need to try it first. If after you try it you feel its quality is not up to the price, then the problem is not so much about price as it is about value

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    2. Two answers, one absolute & one relative. Some prices are just too high for any beer, however good it is; if anyone asked me to pay £10 for a pint of session bitter - or £100 for a pint of anything - I wouldn't waste time wondering whether it might really be worth it. (Just to complicate things, these particular figures are only an absolute rule for me - but I think everyone has some absolute cut-off points, even if they're a lot higher than mine.)

      As for the relative answer, the line you were objecting to was, in so many words, "they shouldn't be selling this beer at this price when I can get it cheaper somewhere else". The question of whether it's worth the price doesn't really arise - if the brewer is letting it be sold for €4 somewhere else, they obviously don't really think it's worth €5, so why should we?

      I completely agree with the first point you made, incidentally - as unpleasant as it is to name names, if you're going to criticise people you need to be specific: you owe it to everyone you're not criticising.

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    3. Good points.

      I agree completely on the first one. I also have a point where the price is a deal breaker, regardless of how good the beer might or may not be.

      As for the second point. There's also the issue of convenience. Not everybody has a specialised shop at hand. They could always buy on the internet, but transport costs might end up making the beer even more expensive. So it's up to the consumer, I'm at a festival, I've just had a beer that I liked, and would like to drink again at home. Even if I knew I could get it elsewhere, a small difference in price might be worth it for the convenience, and if the brewer is making a bit more out of it, good for them!

      But back to the first point. I still believe it is unfair to criticise a beer (or any product for that matter) because of the price. Now, you can comment on it, and explain your fairly and reasonably why you wouldn't pay that much for a given beer, as I've done here, without passing judgement on either price or beer.

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  2. I've always wondered how much a "marketing" opportunity festivals really are. Especially since a lot of festivals (at least here in MA, USA) the beer is "donated" to the festival by the brewery, b/c it is a "marketing" opportunity. I don't go to many festivals (and the one's I do go to tend to have beers not actually sold at stores) but I don't remember ever being at a store and saying "oh I had that at a festival and really enjoyed it". Maybe it is just for general name recognition? "Oh I had one of their beers at a festival and enjoyed it, so maybe their other beers are good too."

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    1. It'd be nice to hear what brewers have to say about that, really.

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