“standfirst”>London Pride has doubled its market share over the last decade, thanks mainly to a growing willingness among beer drinkers to experiment, says Patrick Schmitt
THERE’S nothing weedy about Fuller’s London Pride, despite the fact that it’s named after a flower. Launched in the 1950s, the beer took its name from a plant which thrived in bomb craters and became a symbol of resistance during the Blitz, notably after Noel Coward’s song "London Pride".
Here’s an extract: "Every Blitz your resistance toughening, From the Ritz to the Anchor and Crown, Nothing ever could override the pride of London Town." Nowadays, London Pride, the beer that is, has its own battle.
Certainly a symbol of resistance, the brand is bucking its own category trend – ale is shrinking, but London Pride is surging in sales. In fact, just like its weedy namesake, the ale seems to be thriving when times are toughest, and has doubled its market share in the last 10 years, currently selling some 160,000 barrels.
This is because, according to David Spencer, brands marketing manager at Fuller, Smith & Turner, "London Pride has the most secure of foundations – it is a truly exceptional product – and from those we’ve built a solid sales-support and marketing programme."
Since 1996 this has centred on the powerfully themed "Whatever you do, take Pride" campaign. The ale category’s plight, on the other hand, is connected to, "in the long term, the changing palate of the nation and in the medium term the extent to which brewers support particular brands," according to Spencer.
"Most of the big national brewers throw virtually all of their weight behind their lager brands, and have a tendency to let ale brands wither on the vine." Fuller’s on the other hand, doesn’t even brew lager.
But whatever the reason for the category decline, where are London Pride consumers coming from? "We’re picking up some existing ale drinkers who are switching brands, but also quite a lot of repertoire drinkers, who maybe for the most part drink lager or stout and occasionally feel they want a pint of ale, and when they want to have that pint of ale, London Pride is top of mind," says Spencer.
The high level of awareness for London Pride in particular stems from the advertising, but also "the fact that drinkers see London Pride in good distribution, and I don’t just mean widespread, but in the top-end pubs, so it is generally well looked after and presented, and that all adds up to a trust in the brand we are so keen to cultivate."
Abroad too the beer’s proving a success, especially in the US. "The US actually has a vibrant ale culture, and all over America you get people who are very interested in imported beers, especially those that come from the UK, Germany or the Czech Republic.
And some of the most exciting brewing in the world is coming out of American microbrewers who are taking traditional European styles of beer and really experimenting with them."
As for London Pride specifically, "I think the American market buys into the fact that London Pride is the leading premium ale in the UK and that it’s brewed by Fuller’s who’ve won more CAMRA awards than any other brewery.
London Pride also does well in Italy – its biggest European market – "because in the north of Italy there is a fondness for dark beers" – while Scandinavia is proving a strong and growing market, where they "have a similar palate [to the British], in that by and large people are happy o drink Pilsner style lagers but every now and again want to have something with a richer, more rounded flavour." Back in the UK, London Pride is up against the likes of Cask Bass, Marston’s Pedigree and Abbot Ale.
"But," as Spencer points out, "I think that we really consider our competitor set as slightly wider than that because if most drinkers are repertoire drinkers then, for them, it really is a choice between London Pride, Stella and Guinness, say, and we’re as concerned to be up there jostling alongside Guinness and Stella as we are alongside other ale brands, because we don’t think that choice of ‘Oh, I’ll have an ale tonight’ can be taken for granted."
Spencer is hopeful for the ale category as a whole because, "If you look at the rise of brands such as Hoegaarden or Leffe, they are ale brands, whether the customer realises it or not. Drinkers have moved out of Pilsner lager and are discovering more interesting, full-flavoured beer styles, and for that reason we are pretty hopeful that those sorts of customers will want to discover cask ale as well because of the flavour that is offered.
I think the fact that it doesn’t occur to them to think ‘Am I having a pint of ale or a pint of lager? I’m just having a pint of beer, but it happens to be a pretty interesting one’, gives rise to the hope that people are quite happy to experiment across lots of different styles."