The company this week announced that in the 36 weeks to 9 January, total beer sales by volume were up 2 per cent, a figure driven by the performance of its real ale brands. Sales of Greene King IPA and Abbot Ale were both up by 5 per cent and Old Speckled Hen by 6 per cent.
Datamonitor analyst John Band told BeverageDaily.com that "these results show that it is possible to market real ale as a premium drink. Young people are beginning to see these brands as upstream and innovative, in the same way as they do Belgium beers."
The continued growth for Greene King's real ales is particularly significant in light of an overall slowdown in the UK beer market. And, the news follows the announcement by London Pride brewer, Fuller Smith & Turner, that has spent £2 million upgrading kegging capacity at is Chiswick plant - an indication that it too expects demand for ale, at least keg conditioned ale, to grow.
Greene King is one of the few real ale producers to use clear glass bottles for its beers - including its most successful brand, Old Speckled Hen. Ale is traditionally bottled in a dark glass in order to prevent light from damaging the product and interfering with the yeast - but for Greene King, allowing consumers to see the rich amber colour of the beer is an important part of its brand strategy.
British brewers traditionally also operate licensed premises, although many of the larger players have ceased to do so in recent years. Greene King has been one of the few to continue operating both businesses. In fact, the pubs division dwarfs the brewery division, with a turnover more than twice as big. In August 2004, the company acquired 432 pubs from the Laurel group.
The managed house division like-for-like sales grew 2.2 per cent in the 36-week period, compared with 3.4 per cent in the same period last year.