Geordies who want to ‘take the dog for a walk' - a local euphemism for going to the pub, and the origin of one of Newcastle Brown Ale's affectionate nicknames - will soon need to venture a bit further to get their hands on a bottle at source.
Scottish and Newcastle (S&N), owner of the iconic bottled ale, is to shift production of the 80-year-old brand from Tyneside to Tadcaster in Yorkshire to save an estimated £13m-£14m a year.
The news will come as yet another blow to Geordie pride following the ejection of Newcastle United from the top flight of English football. During brighter days in the 90s, the club's strip was sponsored by Newcastle Brown and, at one point, featured only the brand's distinctive blue star logo.
S&N, which, in a further sign of the effects of globalisation, will itself shortly be renamed Heineken UK, has said that it has no plans to make any labelling or marketing changes.
However, ‘Newky Brown', or ‘the Dog', or just plain ‘Broon' has been in decline in the UK for some years and is performing worse than the beer market as a whole. Indeed, sales in the US now eclipse those in the UK. It seems likely, therefore, that the gradual removal of the brand's heritage could further jeopardise its future.
Will Newcastle Brown ever be reet canny again? We asked Oliver Lewis-Barclay, managing director of Hooper Galton, who has worked on beer brand Sapporo, and Simon Davies, an ex-marketing director at Coors and managing director of MMIXX, for their views.
Oliver Lewis-Barclay managing director, Hooper Galton
They used to say that every pint contained one of Gazza's tears. Not any more. ‘Newky Brown' is leaving ‘Newky' to move 100 miles down the road, and the world is not happy.
The media have pounced hysterically on the story. Even quite sensible marketing folk I know have said this signals the end of the brand.
Nonsense. As The Wire's Stringer Bell might say: ‘It jus' bidness.' Times are tough, beer sales are down, the brewery at Dunston is running at 60% capacity. This situation cannot be sustained.
It therefore makes unarguable sense to use the Tadcaster brewery instead, which has spare capacity and already brews the ale for export (which, significantly, accounts for nearly double the volume of UK sales).
Scottish & Newcastle/Heineken is lucky to own a brand that evokes such an emotional response. Those who love it will make a great big fuss, but carry on drinking it as soon as they realise it still tastes as great as it ever did.
What is their suggested alternative? It is not like Champagne or Melton Mowbray pies. No one else makes ‘the Broon', and export drinkers won't know where Tadcaster is anyway.
- Don't ignore the issue - man up to it, like a true Geordie.
- Sign up Jimmy Nail to spearhead the campaign. Get him to say: ‘So the Broon has moved. Get over it, man.'
- If you can't afford ‘wor Jimmy', build a fully integrated campaign on this proposition: ‘You can take the Broon out the Toon, but you can't take the Toon out the Broon.'
- Do a stonking price promotion in the North East when the Tadcaster product first appears.
Simon Davies managing director, MMIXX
They say a principle's only a principle when it costs you money.
In 2000, Newcastle provenance was such a key principle of this brand that its owners applied successfully for it to be granted European Union Protected Geographical Indication Status.
Less than a decade later, its famous blue star has apparently fallen so far
that it is being moved to a brewery that is closer to Newcastle-under-Lyme than it is to Tyneside.
Beers are pretty similar things really: water, cereal, hops and yeast are all you need to make any one of the thousands found in every corner of the world.
Oh, and some magic - the ethereal things that differentiate one beer brand from another and create a sense of loyalty that can be almost tribal.
In an increasingly homogenised world, Newky Broon has magic in spades, but only if its principles are protected. The brand may not have the value it once did. However, if, in the pursuit of cost- savings Scottish & Newcastle/Heineken ends up losing its magic, it will soon be worthless.
- Decide whether this brand is important to Heineken. If not, then milk it but be prepared to live with the consequences, or, better still, sell it off.
- If yes, then find a way to at least keep brewing it in the North East. This may be inconvenient, but this brand's truth is ‘Newcastle'. The rather obvious clue is in the title.
- Ignore the Nielsen definition of ‘ale' - a mass-market category in chronic decline. Focus instead on growing domestic and international opportunities for craft beers - highly differentiated and with established provenance, these brands are the future of premium beer.