ALE Autumn 2000 No. 299

Real Ale: £2 a Pint - or is it?

Earlier this year a band of CAMRA members volunteered to visit a thousand pubs around the country. Not to enjoy themselves, oh no, but purely for the purposes of research only - to take part in the largest survey of beer prices there is.

The results showed that the average price of a pint of real ale across the country is £1.82, up by an inflation-equal 3.28% on last year's price of £1.76 a pint. Of course, prices vary around the country. The North West at £1.55 a pint offers better value for the customer than London's average of £1.95, which included the country's most expensive reported pint at £2.50!

East Anglia isn't quite as bad as London, with a typical price of £1.86 for a pint of real ale, but, within our region, some areas have cheaper beer than others. One sector of East Anglia which decidedly isn't cheap is Cambridge and District. Our local survey of comparable pubs showed that a typical pint of real ale cost you, the customer, on average £2.025, up 5% on last year's price of £1.9275. So we're forced to suffer an expensive pint, or do we have to?

The £2.025 price was calculated when we compared comparable pubs - those which were open in early 1999 and are still open. However, there have been some major changes in the pub scene in Cambridge since we conducted our survey last year. A number of large beer barns have opened in the middle of Cambridge. One of them, which premiered last September in a converted cinema, is operated by a company which does believe in putting its customers first. Because they are a large chain, they can, and do, negotiate mighty bulk discounts with brewers. Then, instead of using such discounts to please only their shareholders, they pass on a large proportion of their savings to drinkers in the form of lower prices (they were offering a range of real ales at £1.49, which is a bit less than the others at their £2.02!). They've learned the up side of the Law of Diminishing Returns.

Most pub operating companies make their dosh by charging their pub tenants the top wholesale rate for the beer they buy and keeping any bulk discount at Head Office. The poor pub tenant then has to adjust their retail price upwards to account not just for the purchase price for the beer, but also the rent on their pub (many tens of £Ks); business rates (horrendously higher than the Council tax on the house next door) and other costs. The Regal however is run on the basis that giving customers value for money will lead to added turnover and that a slightly lower net profit on two `value' pints is grossly more profitable than the bit more of a rip-off profit on a single pint - when the customer goes somewhere else for their second one.

When we recalculated the results of the survey to include this extra, new, outlet for real ale, Wetherspoon's value prices reduced the average price of a pint of real ale within the Cambridge and District area to just below the £2 level at £1.995.

Even with this new, cheap pub, real ale prices have gone up by `just' 3.45% over the year - a period when the Government used an inflation rate of 3.3% for their increases in the duties on beer and petrol (but only 1.7% inflation for the increase in pensions!)

It wasn't just Real Ale prices which we surveyed. Not everyone drinks only real ale in pubs, so on your behalf, we looked at the prices of some other drinks as well, with interesting results. Real cider around Cambridge came out at an average of £2.26 a pint, up 8.2% on last year, including the most expensive pint of any in the national survey: £2.50 for a pint of Cassels at The Salisbury Arms. Nitrokegs - brilliantly lit on the bar as smooth or creamflow etc. beers - were £2.15 a pint, 5.5% above last year's prices and 13p more than a pint of real ale. Lagers were £2.22, up 3.5% at 20p more than a real ale. The keg stouts came out at £2.27, up a mere 2.8%. But this is not just 24 pence more than a pint of real ale, because a `classic' brim-measure pint glass `full' of stout contains 10mm of deep `nice creamy head' instead of being a full glass with a pint of liquid.

Well somebody has to pay for all the newspaper and telly advertising that's used to try to convince people to buy a manufacturer's own brand of nitrokeg, lager or stout! Real ales, with their less excessive marketing budgets can sell themselves by word of mouth - and by the mouthful - on their value, quality and taste.

There was one difficulty we had in conducting our survey. Not all the pubs checked were noted as having a price list on display and only in half of those that did was one actually noted as being visible - either one which our experienced pub users could spot, or if they could, the position and the print size were suitable for a customer to read.

Wherever you drink around Cambridge, we're sure that you'll find a pint of Real Ale to be the best value, not just for money, but also for taste.

Prices Survey 2000

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Cambridge & District CAMRA