Chris Mercer

The beverage business blog from Chris Mercer

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StarBev: CVC under pressure to find funds?

28 Feb 2012 15:29

Is CVC Capital testing the waters for a StarBev exit because it needs the funds to service debt elsewhere?

It remains extremely unclear whether anything will come of the initial interest shown in StarBev.

However, could CVC be a forced seller? I point you towards a Reuters article out of Australia, which discusses CVC's debt issues regarding its Nine Entertainment business there. 

This makes interesting reading and raises the possibility that CVC might be seeking to extract cash from elsewhere in its business. Something to watch, perhaps.

 

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Vinisud 2012 - How are the French using the internet for wine?

23 Feb 2012 14:54

More and more French people are using the internet to research wine before going out to buy it, a new survey shows. Might this open up opportunities for foreign wines?

Alcohol and the internet have had a troubled relationship in France. At one stage, it looked as if the Government might ban sales and promotion via the web, mainly because its law on drinks promotion - the Loi Evin - couldn't cope with the idea of cyberspace. It was a typically French affair.

Since resolved, there is growing consumer interest in wine online, but it remains limited, according to a survey published at Vinisud 2012 this week. Of the 1,200 18-65-year-olds questioned by Sowine/SSI, 12% said that they buy wine online.

This is up two percentage points from the same survey completed in early 2011. Typically, those doing so are male, city dwellers and above 36 years of age. 

In France, it is currently much more popular to research wine on the web, rather than to buy it online. Around one fifth of those questioned use the internet to research wines before going out to buy.

Of those, 85% look for price promotions. In contrast, though, those who actually buy their wines online are likely to buy more and spend more per bottle. 

The numbers will send you dizzy after a while, but it seems that the internet is generally growing in importance to France's wine sector - which, in case you hadn't noticed, tends to be pretty conservative.

It's possible that, in time, the internet's power to disseminate information may help foreign producers to squeeze into a market that is notoriously patriotic when it comes to wine - often down to a regional level within France itself.

Younger French winemakers are better-travelled than their predecessors, and so, too, are young French consumers. The next problem, though, I suppose, is that young French people would rather be drinking beer and Scotch than wine.

 

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Vinisud 2012 - An emerging concern about wine in China

21 Feb 2012 07:17

Here's the thing about China: is anyone actually drinking the wine? 

I'm here in Montpellier at Vinisud 2012 and the eary morning sky is full of promise for the day ahead. You can probably see where I'm going with this; yes, it's just like wine sales in China. 

No one doubts that China's wine market is going to grow. Per capita consumption is still less than one litre. Meanwhile, most of the world's big wine producer nations are reporting strong export growth to the country.

But, from conversations I've had with people in some of those producer nations, I'm hearing more and more concern about what's actually happening in China. There is a suspicion that a lot of bottled wine is fetching a high price but is, in the end, providing ornamental value on the mantelpiece rather than enjoyment at the dinner table.

This fits with the Chinese penchant for French wines with old labels, preferably with the word 'chateau' plastered across the front. Status and Western memorabilia are big in China. At Vinisud, as at the Australia Day tasting I attended recently, the message is increasingly that vintners should approach China with caution, despite its exciting prospects. 

Back here in Montpellier, last night was a bit special for me. I've wanted to attend the Michelin-starred 'le jardin des sens' here for some time and, finally, I have achieved it, thanks largely to Vignobles Foncalieu, who are kindly paying for my trip and subsistence while here. The food really is exquisite. If you're down this way, just go. 

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Cameron leaps aboard the (alcohol) wagon

16 Feb 2012 12:27

Ever the self-publicist, prime minister David Cameron is frightened of losing moral ground over excess drinking.

Adopting his paternal, creased-brow-'concerned' demeanor, Cameron this week stood inside a National Health Service hospital (yes, we still have them) to tell the UK that he is taking all this alcohol stuff very seriously.

From Cameron's voicemail (joke), I understand that there has been some consternation within Government about the Department of Health's hands-off approach, particularly on pricing. Banning sales below the cost of duty and VAT isn't going to do much to prices and Cameron knows it.

Therefore, the Government had better be seen to be at least thinking about doing something else. Maybe it will go further, maybe it won't. What matters right now is that everyone in Government is very concerned, very concerned indeed. 

You could read more into it, of course. For one, if higher pricing can be achieved via higher tax, who do you think will get the money? 

Second, in this week's speech, Cameron is tackling alcohol from a public order perspective. The insinuation is: 'get as pissed as a lord in your own garden, but chuck the beer cans over the fence and we'll nail you.' Or, lock you in a "drunk tank".  

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Champagne shocker: The glass matters

10 Feb 2012 17:07

Do you drink Champagne out of: a) a flute; b) a shallow 'coupe'; or c) the bottle? 

If you answered a), you are doing it right, according to researchers salaried to examine such things at Reims University in the heart of France's Champagne country. 

Amazingly, it has been revealed that Champagne goes flat less quickly in a flute than a wide-topped coupe. Hard-hitting science, huh? Well, scoff as we may, there is some method to the madness. 

This study adds to evidence that Champagne's flavour is more intense in a flute. Some studies have shown that the bubbles may be key to carrying flavours through the drink. 

Obviously, the only way to assess this properly is to sample a lot of Champagne, preferably vintage. Speaking of which, isn't it Friday? 

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Truman's moving back to London

27 Jan 2012 17:11

It's become pretty common to dislocate beers from their geographic homeland in the present era of brewing industry consolidation, which is why the Truman's story caught my eye this week. 

Provenance is a buzzword in marketing circles, yet it receives homage only intermittently in the world of big brewing. Partly, of course, global distribution needs mean that brands often have to be brewed at scale and close towhere they are sold.

Proponents of the 'nothing is sacred' attitude would argue that things cannot simply stay the same, to be preserved as some memorial to the past at the expense of the present. There is probably some truth there, but one suspects, at the same time, that such change is often made under the watchful gaze of corporate bean counters.

The history of brewing is littered with brands lost, but also those moved from their place of origin. Take Newcastle Brown Ale, which is no longer brewed in Newcastle, or Boddingtons, which has long since lost its namesake Manchester brewery.

This week, however, the new owners of the Truman's beer label offered us the reverse. 

In 1989, Grand Met shut down the 'Old Truman Brewery' in East London. It has since become the epicentre for quirky cool in London, surrounded by stalls that some would describe as 'vintage' and others 'jumble sale'. 

In 2010, the Truman's beer label was refounded by James Morgan and Michael-George Hemus. Until now, they've been brewing at Everards in the East Midlands of England, Morgan told me this week. But, they want to bring Truman's back to East London in 2012, albeit a little off its original scale.

"Our plan is to build a 40-barrel plant, which we hope will be operational by the end of the year," said Morgan, who, alongside other microbrewers in the UK, is enjoying resurgent consumer interest in local beers. 

If you're in London, seek out Truman's Runner and have a session. Alternatively, find the guys a brewing site and you'll be in-line for 500 bottles of the stuff. No, really. 

 

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They shall drink beer, says FIFA

19 Jan 2012 17:15

Just imagine a football World Cup without beer? Go on, imagine it. You can't, can you? Well, neither can FIFA.

The world football body has told its next World Cup host, Brazil, to forget about continuing to ban alcoholic drinks at the nation's stadiums. It's an issue causing some political problems in Brazil, which, like other host nations before it, will have to subjugate its laws and customs to those of the Democratic People's Republic of FIFA for the duration of the four-week tournament in 2014.   

Brazil banned alcohol from stadiums in 2003, but FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke is standing tall. He told a press conference today (19 January): "Alcoholic drinks are part of the FIFA World Cup, so we're going to have them. The fact that we have the right to sell beer has to be a part of the Law."

Are you getting that, Brazil? It's a FACT that Fifa has the right to sell beer. 

Of course, Brazil's biggest brewer, AmBev, is owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, which counts Budweiser as the official beer of the FIFA World Cup. 

Honestly, though, I think Valcke's got a point. Has anyone tried watching England without beer? It's horrific...

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Suck & Blow - the worst idea for an alcoholic drink of all time?

19 Jan 2012 15:27

The UK's Portman Group has clattered US-based SAB Enterprises over its Suck & Blow alcoholic jelly tubes. 

I mean, really, what were they thinking? Portman basically said today (19 January) that Suck & Blow breaks nearly every rule in its book. It criticised the product for potentially attracting children with its "childish font", linking alcohol to sex (I'm not sure I understand that one...), and for encouraging "rapid drinking".

According to Portman, the product is a tube that opens at both ends and is designed for one person to blow half the contents into another person’s mouth and vice versa.

REALLY?

 

 

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Coors Light unseats King Bud

11 Jan 2012 18:23

Coors Light has achieved its expected coup in the US by knocking Budweiser off its perch as the second biggest selling beer in the country.

SABMiller's CEO, Graham Mackay, confirmed to just-drinks last year that this was on the cards. It has now come to pass, according to Beer Marketer's Insights, which this week put Coors Light 0.5m barrels ahead of Budweiser for calendar 2011.

No doubt there will be a few celebratory beers at MillerCoors HQ. Beer Marketer's Insights estimates that Budweiser - self-styled the King of Beers - lost 4.6% of volume last year. Coors Light, meanwhile, picked up 0.8% of volume.

Not exactly stellar figures, and reflective of weak mainstream beer sales in the US. It would be understandable to compare the tussle to a boxing match on a sinking boat. Anheuser-Busch InBev's Bud Light, meanwhile, remains, ahem, light years ahead of its nearest rival.

But, there is a certain amount of symbolism and prestige at stake for MillerCoors, not to mention bragger's rights with distributors. 

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Australia's ex-PM sinks a beer "for the country"

06 Jan 2012 12:16

Australia's ex-prime minister, Bob Hawke, shows how it's done. 

Challenged to down a beer "for the country" at the cricket this week, Hawke took the full pint in his stride and polished it off as if merely signing an autograph.

Only in Australia.

 

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