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What are you having?

Monday 03-11-2014 - 13:31

If you think of a beer-drinking student, you might assume that they’d be sipping on a pint of the cheapest lager they can get their hands on. But the latest research suggests that the student palate is becoming more sophisticated. We look at the options between premium and standard beers.

It’s the age old question at the bar: ‘What are you having?’

It’s not as easy a choice for student drinkers anymore, who have told us they appreciate having a diverse selection to choose from. All across the UK in city centres and towns, specialist beer venues and off-licences are cropping up, to cater for our ever-expanding taste buds. And that creates a number of opportunities for students’ union outlets to take advantage.

We spoke to a number of students from across the country to find out what they thought of beer, which brands they preferred and how they rated them. They told us that they primarily chose pints of beer and lager because they enjoy the taste and flavour.

Another key factor in choosing beer is its low alcohol content. Students told us that they enjoyed having a social drink that didn’t get them drunk too quickly. We also heard from a number of participants in the research that they welcomed the influx of real ales to student bars, giving them an alternate option to lager.

We asked students for the average price they’d be prepared to pay for a pint or bottle of beer. They told us they’d be prepared to pay, on average, £3.01 for a pint of standard lager, rising to £3.71 for a pint of premium lager.

There’s a similar difference between standard bottled lager (£2.86) and premium bottles (£3.59). Meanwhile, 44 per cent of respondents said that the price they pay in their students’ union bar for beer or lager is less than they would expect to pay in another venue.

When asked for their preferred drink, students told us they would nearly always choose a pint of beer or lager over a bottle of the same drink, but that taste and price were the most important factors when they were making their decision at the bar.

It appears that premium lager has become as important as standard, and this is a significant development to suggest that ‘premiumisation’ has reached the student market.

Interestingly, whereas there has always been a perception that speedy bar service was a priority in student outlets, the people we spoke to said that the quality of the drink serve was a key factor in determining what price they’d be willing to pay.

Over key factors include the atmosphere of the venue, bar environment, the range of brands available and the actual location of the bar itself.

According to our survey, Desperados, Guinness, Cobra, San Miguel and Staropramen are considered ‘high-end’ lagers, and are associated with being the most expensive and of highest quality. Conversely, Fosters, Carlsberg and Carling are thought of as the lowest cost and quality brands.

Delving a little deeper into the statistics, 38 per cent of those aged 31 and over think Heineken is a low cost brand, but 58 per cent of daily drinkers consider it to be high cost. Meanwhile 91 per cent of respondents who define themselves as daily drinkers think Fosters is low cost and 30 per cent of first years consider Staropramen to be a low cost drink, despite it’s perceived positioning as a premium offering.

The most commonly preferred brands to enjoy on a night out are Guinness, Budweiser and Carlsberg, with Budweiser and Carlsberg also chosen regularly as a take-home option, alongside Stella Artois.

So what have we learned from this? First of all, the appetite for beer at students’ union venues is still very much alive and kicking.

Perhaps more surprisingly though, students are willing to pay a little bit more for their pints for a brand they perceive to be of a higher cost and quality and if they get a better standard of serve.

So the days of churning out cheap pints may be coming to an end. Variety and quality could well be the keys to strong beer sales in students’ unions.

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