Ricardo Migueláñez. Agricultural Engineer.
The Brewers of Spain, an association which represents the main brewers in Spain and currently has 18 breweries nationwide, aims to ensure product quality and to maintain its commitment to society by promoting responsible consumption, in cooperation with hospitality sector institutions and associations. Wikispanishfood.com interviews Jacobo Olalla, general director of the Brewers of Spain, who talks about the current situation in the sector.
Ricardo Miguelañez.- What are the main challenges facing Spain's beer industry?
Jacobo Olalla: The main challenge is to confirm the economic performance of the last few months. We saw the first signs of a slight recovery in consumption in 2013, which we expect to gain traction in the last few months of 2014 and early 2015.
- R.M.- What are the main threats?
J.O.- One of the sector's primary concerns is that the tepid recovery we started to see last year will grind to a halt. In the third quarter of 2013, beer sales expanded for the first time in the last five years. We have to work side by side with the hospitality sector and support consumption through that channel.
Maintaining the special tax rate for beer has avoided the destruction of over 1,300 jobs, most of them in bars and restaurants, a sector which is currently the biggest job creator. In the case of VAT, maintaining the reduced rate for consumption in the hospitality segment preserved 15,000 jobs and avoided a decline in beer consumption of more than 163 million liters.
- R.M.- The current economic situation is leaving its mark on industry as a whole. How has this affected your sector?
- J.O.- Beer is an excellent indicator of the economic situation, as consumption is very ingrained among the middle and lower classes. Since the crisis began, beer consumption in the hospitality sector has tumbled by 24%. As consumption slipped in that channel, it increased in the home, but with a smaller impact on the economy as a whole.
Fortunately, last year the trend started to reverse and the number of times beer was ordered at bars increased by 12%.
- R.M.- How important is innovation for the companies you represent, at present and in the future, and especially in terms of new product launches?
- J.O.- The beer sector has incorporated innovation in every part of the process, from improving the varieties of barley to the way the product is sold. Premium varieties, beer with lemon and apple and gluten-free and organic options are the result of innovation and a desire to meet the needs of increasingly demanding consumers.
The Brewers of Spain has also turned to innovation as part of its commitment to protecting the environment.
- R.M.- Exports are a basic component for some segments of the agri-food sector. How important are they and what percentage do they represent for your segment?
- J.O.- Last year, more than one million hectoliters of beer produced in Spain was sold abroad, which reflects an increase in exports of 10% with respect to 2012. Product quality and tourism are two factors that have boosted Spanish brand recognition in other countries.
- R.M.- Craft beer is a trend that's somewhat on the rise, especially in regional terms. Do you view it as significant competition for large brands that compete at national level?
- J.O.- Beer has always been deeply ingrained in Mediterranean culture and in the Spanish lifestyle. On top of that, there has been growing interest in other varieties of beer in recent years. The boom in microbreweries may be beneficial for Spain's beer culture, and we believe it's a positive phenomenon. It's worth noting that the same basic, natural ingredients are used to brew beer, regardless of the size of the producer.
- R.M.- This year has been a bit unstable in terms of weather. Do you have data that reflects how that situation is affecting consumption?
- J.O.- Once again, the most positive aspect of summer was tourism numbers: almost 7 million people visited Spain in June, 4.5% more than last year, most of them from the UK and Germany, countries where beer consumption is high.