The boss of Molson Coors is an idiot

I’m basing that headline solely on the report in the Morning Advertiser, but if the pub trade paper’s summary of what Mark Hunter, UK chief executive of Molson Coors, just said to the International Brewing Convention 2010 in Manchester is correct, Mr Hunter needs to step down straight away and let someone who actually understands the UK beer business take his place.

According to Mr Hunter, the answer to all the problems the beer market faces in Britain is – fanfare please – beer menus in pubs! Yes, the reason why beer’s share of the alcohol drinks market has fallen from 70 per cent in 1970 to under 40 per cent now, with beer being replaced for many by (I quote Mr Hunter) “more relevant, unisex, innovative, exciting categories” is because you don’t get handed a list of the beers available that night by the landlord as soon as you pop your head round the door at the Duck and Dive.

You’ll have spotted, of course, that the rise in sales of wine, spirits, alcopops and the like over the decades is solely because even the meanest backstreet boozer puts a lengthy winelist on every table, chalks up its wide range of whiskies and vodkas on a board prominently positioned behind the bar and features a floodlight cabinet right inside the entrance containing every flavour and colour of RTD beverage known to marketing science.

Mr Hunter also called for “greater innovation” in the industry, and apparently, according to the MA, declared that “not much” new has been offered since flat-top beer cans were introduced in the mid-1950s. Right. So the rise of keg beer, the explosion in sales of lager, nitrokeg “smooth” beers, the whole cask ale/Camra thing, the massive boom in new small breweries, the introduction of new styles such as golden ales and whisky-cask-aged beers, the big expansion in beer choice in supermarkets, the arrival in the UK of previously unknown beer styles from continental Europe such as wheat beer and lambic, the flood of innovative new brews such as DIPA from the US, the recent envelope-pushing efforts of British brewers from Brewdog to Sharps, that was all a figment of my beer-sodden imagination. I can go back to sleep, and wake up again in a time when every pub had at least two draught milds and Watney’s Red Barrel was a well-respected bottled pale ale.

The Molson Coors boss also, apparently, urged “a ‘re-think’ on beer to attract more women” – oh god, shoot me, I’m getting too old, I’ve been listening to idiot marketers prattle on about getting more women to drink beer for the past four decades, with every new generation of the dozy pollocks failing to realise that trying to force more women to like beer is like trying to get more men to go down the pub and have a glass of chardonnay or sauvignon blanc. Or, come to that, pinot noir. For a roomful of reasons, it ain’t going to happen. Come back in 10 or 20 years and a new twat in a suit will be talking about how all the brewing industry’s Christmases will come at once if it can only get more women to plump for hops.

It would be too easy to declare that as far as the UK beer scene is concerned, Molson Coors isn’t part of the solution, it’s part of the problem. and that it shows a remarkable lack of self-awareness for Mr Hunter to call on the brewing industry in the UK to “unite and educate by celebrating the diversity of beers available” when his own company’s website showcases just one style of beer, pale lager.

To help boost beer sales, Mr Hunter apparently wants the Beer Academy “to lay down a clear and consistent set of beer descriptors with universal appeal, and which talk to drinkers in an engaging, motivating way.” Right. If the academy – nice bunch of people, btw, I’m not getting at them here – can come up with a set of descriptors that meaningfully distinguishes between Carling, Fosters, Stella and Heineken in a way that motivates me to drink any one of them, it will be job well done.

Mr Hunter, according to the MA, “gave an impassioned plea for ‘beer champions’ to breathe new life into a sector that has declined by 18 per cent between 2005 and 2010.” If he looked around he might notice there are thousands of “beer champions” doing their best to promote British beer, even ignoring the efforts of Camra, from the writers like Mark Dredge in the Guardian and Adrian Tierney-Jones in the Telegraph (nice piece on the Gunmakers, there, Adrian) to the huge numbers who work closer to the front line, in the 700-plus independent small breweries around the UK, and in the many hundreds – thousands – of pubs and bars dedicated to serving good beer in excellent condition.

Mr Hunter, still waving his beer menu in the air, promised the International Brewing Convention that once the Beer Academy came up with its “motivating” set of beer descriptors – you know, like the ones the wine industry used, and the alcopops industry used to get people to drink their products – then “at Molson Coors we will adopt these and I would challenge everyone here today to commit to the use of consistent language and the introduction of beer menus into every on-premise outlet across the UK.” And I would challenge Mr Hunter to fahk off, drop “beer menus” – the brewing industry equivalent of John Major’s cones hotline – and come up with a proper, workable meaningful strategy to encourage people to recognise the truly wonderful diversity of flavours and experiences available in a beerglass in Britain today, instead of stupid “beer menus” whose only use will be to stuff under the lounge bar door to stop it closing, and to slip under a wobbly table leg so the pints on top don’t spill.

0 thoughts on “The boss of Molson Coors is an idiot

  1. It sounds like Mark Hunter is clearly in white tower somewhere not really grasping the intricacies of the industry, but I do think that beer menus would be a positive thing in certain establishments. What are pump clips other than a form of menu and advertising? I’d certainly like to see more restaurants and particularly gastro pubs making more of how they advertise beer. Lovely pictures of wine all over the menu versus fancy bottles and proud hand pulls hidden at the bar.

    This isn’t about beer trying to be like wine, and I know lots of pubs sell beer well and lots of restaurants, particularly in London, are starting too. But across a wider canvas, couldn’t a beer menu be a good thing?

    • The most important thing Mark Hunter could do for the pub would be to seek to obtain some pushing back of the ridiculous smoking ban of 2007.
      Trilling on about beer menus reminds me of all the pious prigs (many from CAMRA) who prattled on about the legions of customers who would be able to start going to pubs once the smoking ban was brought in, having been ‘excluded’ by the nasty smoky atmosphere hitherto. Well, three years on, what remains of the trade is still waiting for them to turn up.
      The spineless manner in which the licensed trade rolled over and accepted a law which forced a large proportion of its customers to go and stand outside its premises, was disgraceful.

    • “A positive thing in certain establishments” – Yes. “The answer to all the UK beer trade’s problems” – misses the point by such an enormous distance it’s somewhere out near Alpha Centauri.

  2. “I’ve been listening to idiot marketers prattle on about getting more women to drink beer for the past four decades, […]. For a roomful of reasons, it ain’t going to happen. ”

    Well it *is* happening, a long last, but not because of marketing. Many women, out there in the real world are returning to beer, notably because there is a wider range of tastes available from craft beers than ever before. The more widespread use of US hop varieties is a factor too, bringing spectacualrly armoatic bitterness. Just like the fact that decent dark beers appealing for all of them ladies who like black coffee, very dark chocolate and licorice sweets, are widely available, not just the black watery nitrodraught stuff.

    Beer marketing people have failed miserably because they went for the “obvious majority, and targeted all women with beer-based pink sweet bubbly drinks that did the utmost not to taste like beer.
    They failed to see the minority of women who would actually have liked tasty, balanced, fragrant beer, and do go for intense 6% IPAs or stouts if you just give them the chance to. They rightly feel insulted by the pink fluffy stuff being flogged as theirs. Indeed that’s not that huge a market, but in the long run, it’s going to make inroads. That particular change is happening. It would just help if the industry and male drinkers did let go of the patronising attitude…

  3. Great rant Martyn and thanks for the mention, the next half is on me 😉 — reading about this chap just makes me despair about certain sectors of the entertainment industry that we call brewing.

  4. I suspect that the innovation he’s calling for is something like this: the “microcarbonated” Molson M that was released in these parts a few months ago (http://www.molsonm.com/). I’m curious–haven’t tried it yet because there are always better beers to drink–though from what I’ve heard, it’s like any other pale yellow (are there other kinds?) Molson beer, only blander.

    You’d think that the R&D money spent on developing this gimmick would have been better spent on, oh, I don’t know, more malt and hops to actually make their beers taste like something, but apparently not.

  5. Just a word in support of pious prigs. I think, if I recall correctly, that CAMRA was in favour of separate smoking areas.

    Still, no point of letting facts get in the way of your prejudices.

  6. Pingback: On the intellectual capacities of the UK chief executive of Molson Coors « Knut Albert’s beer blog

  7. It’s almost as if he had no knowledge of Different World Drinks, a division of the company that he that runs, which against all expectations actually has some decent beer in its portfolio.

  8. I agree with most of what you say although Im with Laurent. Women are drinking good beer in increasing numbers, I see that on the ground down here in the antipodes and I hear of it happening in the motherland. In fact men are also increasingly ordering glasses of chardonnay or sauvignon blanc to!

    As Laurent says its a greater diversity of flavours and aromas on offer that is attracting female drinkers not patronizing fruit beers and beer cocktails.

    I ran a beer tasting as part of the international Pinot Noir conference in Wellington this year. There were many women in attendance and the women were all very taken with Epic Pale Ale a very aromatic and relativly bitter American style pale ale. The fruit beer at the tasting didnt go down nearly as well.

    • It’s interesting to hear that, but – and this is going to come across as terribly rude, and I don’t mean it to be at all, to either you or Laurent – the plural of anecdote is not data. Some women are getting turned on to beer – of course, absolutely. Large numbers of women are going to get turned onto beer if only we [insert speaker’s favourite idea here] – I’ve been hearing that since the 1980s.

      • I think you may possibly have misread me a bit, Martyn. My point was that beer marketing is *not* going to make much of a difference anyway, despite whta people involved in it may believe.

        Change is to be determined by other factors, notably social and cultural ones, as well as economical ones, in that the widespread availability of a broad range of different beers with varied taste profiles is no doubt influencing consumer habits as well, men and women.
        The typical case of such deep changes not linked to marketing could be the way the mad cow scare has radically and durably changed consumer expectations. “Traceability” was an unknown notion ten or fifteen years ago, yet it is clear this demand for reassurance about where food and drink comes from, is one of the factors that lead drinkers back to local beers in many European countries in the past few years.

        Indeed, the declarations of intention about bringing women to beer have been around for a long time, and have in themselveschanged nothing, zilch, nada.
        Yet I’m not aware of any of those declarations of intention, in the past or right now, having been ever followed by actual change in the product range available to the average female consumer. Be it minor or as massive as what’s happened in the past five years – due to completely different factors. (You may have absolute power and promise all sorts of things to people, if you don’t deliver, you’ll hit the wall eventually…)

        Here, my own perception is that things are going the other way around to the way marketing people see it, that a number of women – which is indeed very hard to assess accurately – are reinvesting the beer field regardless of marketing being targeted at them. Because they find something interesting in the beer field which they could not find even five years ago.

        But then you may indeed see it differently. And I’m aware the current situation may not last and be gone and forgotten within two decades.

        When I mention dropping the patronising attitude, it’s not as a solution to bringing women to beer.
        It would IMHO help in that many women who like beer would possibly come out in the open more easily about it. And may actually nurture further awareness on the marketing side that they collectively effed up completely over that one – for decades. ;o)

  9. It’s really quite ridiculous. The answer, for these huge beer corporations, is always marketing and never the BEER ITSELF. Make the beer taste like beer, and maybe more people would drink it.

  10. There’s a longer interview with him and his new head of marketing in one of the PR trade rags which is equally irritating. Apparently, they reckon it’s time to show that a good brand is important to drinkers, and they’re going to have a think about Carling’s branding. My bet is that, instead of being a beer which is “about” what they call “British sociability” (their current concept) it will become a beer which is served super, super cold.

  11. Okay, I’m certainly no expert on the subject but I will make several points here. Firstly, I have just spent the weekend with a Bass-drinking friend who has been on a trip ’round the Coor’s brewery and reports that it is simply a place that ships in alcohol and orange juice etc and ships out alcopops. No piss-up there then.

    So, we’ll all listen attentively to the aforementioned twat, then. What cares he for beer?

    On possibly a more contentious note: I have known many women who have enjoyed beer as an occasional tipple but it seems they often only choose beer on a whim. This weekend, for instance, we were in Hilton (close to Burton-On Trent) and my wife opted for Marston’s Pedigree and will, indeed often opt for a bitter. But just as often will opt for a lager/glass of wine/g&t etc etc. My middle daughter will usually opt for Guinness or bitter (and, at 21 will match me pint for pint) such as earlier this week in Southampton, Ringwood Bitter was the beer of choice. However, in a few year’s time? I guess that won’t happen.

    Ladies tend to change their allegiances over time much more than us poor mortal males. I’m not making a sexist point here, just an observation.

    On the subject of Bass – a few years ago I went to “The Bitter End” in Greenwich Village, NY. They still sold Bass there. More than most pubs I’ve been to in Blighty for many a year.

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  13. as someone who analyses how people shop for beer for a living, I think the key message being made in the speech is the importance of prompting the purchase decision at the point that decision is being made.

    I love Swedish Post Rock music. However its taken me 43 years to discover this fact, as up to a year ago I never knew what Post Rock music is. I consider myself Mr Average – 5’8 3/4″, family, mortgage, semi-detached etc etc but yet no-one I meet even knows of such a genre, yet alone whether they like it. Now assuming I am Mr Average, statistically even if only 0.1% of the world’s population share my musical taste that makes (extracts statistics out of mid air) 50 million people on the planet who equally would love Swedish Post Rock if only they knew about it. And yet I attend a gig from the superb band Ef in Sheffield, who have made the effort to come all the way over from Sweden (thanks boys) and there’s only 50 people in the pub…

    My point ? marketing. My guess is that Beer will appeal to somewhat more than my 0.1% figure above, which gives a lot more than my 50 million estimate. Yet they do not know they like beer ‘cos they are not prompted to make the purchase at the key moment. Sure, the other 99.9% of the population will ‘use the menu to stop the table rocking’ but some will think ‘yeah, why not, just what is a lambic beer’ and will make a purchase. 90% will then leave most of it in the glass, but 10% may say ‘hey, I like this’ – that’s 10% of 0.1% of the world’s population – a lot of new beer enthusiasts boosting the category and providing the value required for the innovative yet highly expensive new beer types we all like to see.

    And remember, when suggesting ‘what we like’, avoid the trap of stereotyping. Not my area of expertise, but I’m assured there are a wide range of women with differing tastes and values… hence we cannot say “women like this and women like that”. My job requires me to categorise the various different types of beer consumers, be them male, female, rich, poor, old, young, beer lovers or haters, northerners, southerners, ales or lagers (some even drink stout urggh…) and amazingly even within their category groups they demonstrate different buying behaviours – some ale drinkers even buy 4% lagers…So yes – getting a step change in the number of women regularly drinking beer is a challenge. But if say currently 15% of the female population do indeed enjoy the occasional beer, increasing that to 20% equates to 2.5% of the adult population – not to be sniffed at… 80% of women will still scoff, some to more extent than others, but we mustn’t dismiss the opportunity.

    Did love the stats quote “the plural of anecdote is not data” mind – though only 1% of the population would get the joke, and I made that figure up…

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