Cask Ale After Lockdown: Opportunities and Challenges

The pandemic has badly damaged the cask ale market over the last 12 months, but suppliers and operators have a great chance to bounce back as consumers start to drink out again.

CGA’s On Premise Measurement research shows that cask ale volumes were down by nearly two thirds (61.5%) in the second half of 2020—and with pubs, bars and restaurants closed for so long, the Off Trade increased its share of all alcoholic drinks sales as a result.


But there is huge latent demand for cask ale. Prior to COVID, its sales were worth nearly £1.4 bn a year, and accounted for one in every nine pints sold. Cask ale was stocked in more than 48,000 outlets, and CGA’s consumer research shows Britain has more than five million regular cask ale drinkers.


Previous lockdowns have shown that these drinkers are eager to return to the On Premise, where they get a cask ale experience that can’t be replicated at home. More than two thirds (70%) of cask drinkers had returned to the market within a month of hospitality’s last big reopening in July 2020—five percentage points above the all-consumer average of 65%. These also tend to be high-value consumers, with 61% likely to pay more for a better quality drink than other drinkers.


With drinks dominating sales in the early days of hospitality’s reopening for outdoor service in April, cask ale will have had a useful kickstart to On Premise sales. Media reports suggest some pubs are facing beer shortages because of high demand, and a cross-industry campaign is promoting cask as the market returns.


However, the category may be impacted by the decisions of some operators to reduce choice as trade picks up again. CGA’s Business Leaders’ Survey showed that nearly half (47%) of operators were planning to rationalise range, with one in five indicating this will be done in draught beer.


Moving to a smaller permanent range with less rotation may reduce spend from cask ale drinkers. The absence of service at the bar, where drinkers can inspect range and taste beers, might also dent sales, and draw drinkers away from cask and towards categories like world lager, which has enjoyed a strong return in April.


“Cask ale drinkers have badly missed their time in pubs and bars this year, and they can be a powerful driver of the On Premise’s reopening,” says Jonathan Jones, Managing Director: GB & Ireland. “But this is a category where range is crucial, and operators and suppliers will have to work together to get that right in the weeks ahead. Cask brewers, suppliers and pubs have all been hit hard by COVID, and they now deserve support from government to smooth their recovery.”


To learn more about how CGA’s unrivalled insights can help all drinks brands and operators succeed in the On Premise’s reopening period, click here.

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