There has been some interesting shifts taking place in the supermarket sector in Britain.

Established names who have long held the upper hand over smaller chains have seen their dominance challenged in recent years. So why has this occurred, and what do these retailers have to offer the beer enthusiast.

The downturn in the economy in recent times and wage restraints have been cited as the main reason why people have started to shop elsewhere. Many have felt the squeeze, and their money has simply being buying less in traditional supermarkets, and noticeably so. 

But apart from purely price are these chains offering something the big boys aren't ?

Retailers such as Lidl (of German origin) are an interesting case in point. Originally judged with a certain amount of suspicion when they entered the UK supermarket scene (although long established in Europe) they were subject to 'retail snobbery', especially amongst the middle classes. 

As with most ignorance this had little to do with fact as many who held those opinions had never actually visited the stores...

The concept they were offering was different, stripped back of excessive marketing in store and with a reduced range compared to the larger retailers, they did hit upon a  a concept that the larger concerns could not follow - flexibility. 

This coupled with targeting particular promotions toward either region (ie: West Country) or nationality (Greek, Italian or Polish for example) over short periods has paid dividends, attracting the wide cultural mix that now live in Britain.

Outmanoeuvring the larger supermarkets too they begun to offer more eclectic exotic fare considered more delicatessen in style and specialist. Hardly the traditional offerings normally associated with the supermarket sector... 

On the bottled beer front things have been slower to materialise at Lidl. 

A strong tie in with Shepherd Neame brewery has seen their range sold at competitive prices, which has included a constant flow of  'badged'  beers brewed by them for Lidl around the 3.8%Alc/vol. mark, which appear worryingly similar.

Given their German origin a strange turn of events has also recently occurred. Perlenbacher, their flagship premium lager proudly proclaimed it was brewed to the German 'Reinheitsgebot'  purity law of 1516...now it is brewed in France.

Interestingly the 330ml bottle still mentions the 'Reinheitsgebot ' on the back label, but I suspect that this too is also brewed in France.

Given the Premium Bottled Beer sector has been on the increase for some years now Lidl have been slow to respond, but in the last three months they have begun to increase their Premium range.

Compared to the larger supermarkets the range still remains relatively small, and space is always at a premium in their stores, however it is a step in the right direction.

The important thing is to keep the range fresh and innovative (something they have successfully achieved in their food sector) and avoid the obvious regional brewed UK choices offered by the other supermarket chains, and source more craft orientated brews.

After all they have the whole of Europe to source classic brews also, unlike the other major UK supermarket chains who have a natural obligation to support home brewed products.

They could follow a whole new trajectory! 

Lets hope they remain offbeat - and imaginative...


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