Health concern given as reason for John Smith’s ABV reduction
Heineken is cutting the ABV of its John Smith’s Extra Smooth ale from 3.6 to 3.4% in a move the global brewer claims is due to consumers’ health preferences.
Although the brewer has claimed the move to lower the ABV of the Tadcaster-brewed product is due to consumer choices for less alcohol, the 0.2% reduction will see Extra Smooth move into a new tax bracket for those beers below 3.5%.
As a result, it reduces the duty paid by 23p per pint and would reduce a multi-pack of 18 cans by £7.94, taking it from £13.61 to just £5.67.
But the cost saving isn’t being passed onto consumers for one of the UK’s best selling keg ale brands, and in additional Heineken has increased its keg prices across its range by 1.7% for the on-trade.
Using current rates, the saving on the production on off-trade sales alone of John Smith’s, based on 2022 levels, would be £14.5m for the brewer.
Although db asked Heineken whether the duty rates change last summer was a factor behind the ABV cut, a spokesperson re-iterated its comment that it was due to drinkers wanting a “balanced lifestyle” and the change would not impact the “same classic taste”.
They said: “We know consumers are increasingly choosing lower ABV products as part of a balanced lifestyle. Acknowledging this trend, we have made the decision to brew John Smith’s Extra Smooth ale at a slightly lower ABV, reducing it from 3.6% to 3.4% which will take effect in February 2024.
“Reducing the alcohol content of the UK’s number one keg ale brand removes millions of alcohol units across the UK, aligned to our long-held position of promoting moderation.
“John Smiths Extra Smooth’s is a much-loved beer across the country, which is why we spent many months perfecting the brew and extensively testing it with consumers to ensure the same classic taste.”
The comment is similar to Carlsberg’s when it also reduced its flagship lager from 3.8 to 3.4%, also citing health concerns as the reason for the reduction rather than costs.
It claimed that the reduction would be “supporting public health through the removal of around 56 million units of alcohol for the UK market”.
The news follows other brands, including another Heineken beer, Foster’s, as well as Greene King’s Old Speckled Hen, and Shepherd Neame’s Bishop Finger and Spitfire, all reducing their ABV recently, in order to save on the cost of alcohol duty, and subsequently offset the cost of rising prices of production.
Foster’s has reduced from 4 to 3.7% ABV, saving 3p per bottle on duty, Old Speckled Hen had reduced from 5 to 4.8%, saving 2p, Bishops Finger from 5.4% to 5.2%, saving 2p, and Spitfire was reduced from 4.5% to 4.2%, saving 3p per bottle.
Research fellow at the University of Sheffield, Colin Angus, has previously stated that if every brewery cut alcohol by just 0.3%, they would collectively save around £250 m on duty payments to the Government.
The news comes as the rising costs to brewers could force prices up even further.
There was some relief from HM Treasury last year when the Chancellor of the Exchequer froze alcohol duty in his Autumn Statement, following lobbying from the industry to avoid a second hike within the space of six months.