Wychwood aims to bring Hobgoblin to the masses

The Wychwood Brewery team will visit eight cities across the UK in a purpose-built sample truck in the New Year in a bid to bring Hobgoblin to the masses.

The campaign is called Taste to the Nation and aims to reach more than 100,000 drinkers.

Marketing director Chris Keating said: “It’s building on the Lager Boy campaign, telling people, ‘if you drink lager, come and have the opportunity to try real beers’. It brings people to the category.

“The biggest challenge with Hobgoblin is that people think it’s a more challenging beer than it is, so we have been sampling it at 32 music festivals and we are now launching this campaign to give more people a chance to try it.”

Once in the sampling truck shoppers will be recorded drinking the beer and giving their verdict, and a 30-second video will appear on Wychwood’s Facebook page.

The brand’s fans will then vote for the best video, with the winner scooping a prize.

“I reckon we will get 3,500-4,000 videos, and up to 100,000 people voting,” said Keating. “We will use some of the videos of people that don’t like the beer too. It’s all good fun. We have a great laugh with lager drinkers.”

In previous years the brewery has campaigned for the end of the duty escalator.

Keating said: “A lot of people have taken credit for it [being scrapped] but it was Hobgoblin that started it.”

The e-petition Wychwood launched was only the ninth ever to reach 100,000 signatures, at which point the issue must be considered for a debate in the House of Commons.

“I think our campaign had a big effect on the decision to scrap it,” said Keating. “The end of the duty escalator saved £60 million for the industry. With that you can invest in jobs.”

Keating believes the next big challenge is reducing VAT. But because this is a wider political issue that goes far beyond the world of beer, the brewery has decided to use its resources to campaign about flavoursome beers instead. 

Wychwood has also released three new beers based on three new characters – Imperial Red, Dr Thirsty No. 4 Blonde and Black Wych – bringing its core range up from five to eight.

It is the first time the brewery has added to its permanent line-up in four years, and two more are planned next summer – another beer under the Dr Thirsty banner and a new character.

Hobgoblin, the third bestselling premium bottled ale in the UK, accounts for the bulk of Wychwood’s output, but the brewery knows it must keep its fans excited with other brews that ride on its shoulders.

Keating believes customers will be thrilled by the release of Black Wych, a 5% stout that has a cult following among hardcore Wychwood fans after previous limited-edition releases.

“We find that Wychwood has a loyal following and a diverse audience,” he said.

“We have a following among people with an alternative lifestyle but you don’t get to be the number three premium bottled ale without appealing to a broad audience.

“But we are lucky to have an alternative audience. We aim at 34 years and older for ale, but with Hobgoblin they start anywhere from students but really buy into it from 24-25 – much younger than your normal ale drinker.

“That has challenges but also opportunities. They are huge on social media. We have 60,000 followers out there on our Facebook page.

“If we post something about Black Wych we get 500 comments within a couple of hours.”

Imperial Red is a 4.7% abv ruby ale, while Dr Thirsty No. 4 Blonde is an easy-drinking 4.1% abv blonde ale.

Keating believes Dr Thirsty could recruit lager drinkers into the ale category.

“We have all talked about how to get lager drinkers to drinking ale,” he said. “This is supposed to be the first step to drinking ale. “

Ale has a penetration rate of just one in four in the off-trade and when asked if recruiting consumers from lager was the biggest opportunity for the category, Keating said: “I’m not sure. We can’t compete with lager on price. You can buy 18 cans of lager for £11.

“There are ale brands doing well on £1 a bottle but they can’t sustain that. What do you do with your brand at the end of that?”

He said that a mix of sponsorships, campaigns and NPD would continue to drive growth at Wychwood, rather than discounting.

“Wychwood brands are up around 7% in volume in the off-trade, according to the latest Nielsen figures,” said Keating.

“We have just had Halloween and we were up 3% on last Halloween – 17,000 barrels last year and we are up 3%.

“One-fifth of all Hobgoblin sales are in the eight-week Halloween period. Eight years ago it was a third of all production, so it’s becoming more of an all-year-round drink.

“It’s selling well. Eight years ago we talked about how to get Hobgoblin to 50,000 barrels. We won’t be far from 100,000 now.”

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