Local ranges help Co-op to lead real ale category

Joe Turner, the Co-operative’s real ale buyer, said the company is growing real ale sales faster than any other UK retailer thanks to its new focus on local brews.

Co-op real ale buyer Joe Turner has seen a 21% rise in real ale sales since its local ranges were introduced (Photo: Co-op)

Real ale buyer Joe Turner has driven a 22% rise in real ale sales at the Co-op in the last 16 weeks (Photo: Co-op)

The UK’s fifth-largest retailer, which has around 2,800 stores across the country, has overhauled its beer range in the past six months increasing its number of real ale brews from just 25 to around 150.

The group’s ale range includes nine mutually exclusive local ranges around the country. Shoppers in these regions can find up to 14 ales sourced from nearby breweries, along with up to 11 “national” British ales, including the Co-operative’s own-brand offering, Turner said.

Turner added that the decision to focus on introducing ales from local breweries was based on compelling recent market research into shoppers’ ale drinking habits.

“I did a bit of consumer research prior to the ranging decisions,” he explained. “What is revealed was that 71% of people who drink ale feel it’s important that it’s local. You can’t really ignore a fact like that.

“We’ve been tracking the results now for the best part of 16 weeks. From a sale perspective it’s just phenomenal. Sales are up by 22% – about 18 consecutive weeks of growth.”

Turner, who has been in the role of real ale buyer for the Co-op for the past 12 months having started working as a shelf-stacker six years ago, said the guiding principle of his buying strategy has been “real ale from really close to home”.

“You can only get [local ale] in the local pub – why shouldn’t they be able to get it from the Co-op next door?” he said. “Our ambition is to become that destination as a convenience retailer.”

Breweries that benefit

Two of the local breweries Turner has contracted to supply ales for the Co-op’s local range are Batemans, in Wainfleet, Lincolnshire, and Robinsons Brewery in Stockport.  

Batemans has signed up to supply the community retailer with around 15,000 pints of its Victory Ale. 

Of the deal Batemans’ Nathan Wride said: “It is tremendous news. It opens up new markets for us and we have seen an overnight uplift in volumes. We are delighted that the Co-operative shares our passion for local real ales.”

Robinsons brewery is to supply around 30,000 pints of ale, with its Dizzy Blonde golden ale and Trooper – created with rock band Iron Maiden – joining the Co-op’s local range.

David Carter of Robinsons said: “It is a real coup to get two of our brands listed at the Co-operative and a bigger deal than we dared to anticipate.”

The ale market is worth an estimated £490m last year and sales are expected to reach £1bn by 2020, according to Marstons

Research conducted by the Co-op in April this year showed that a third of the UK population now drinks beer. The research also showed that around three million women were now more likely to choose real ale than ever before, while 20% of 18 to 24-year-olds had switched from lager towards real ale as their drink of choice.

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