Business can learn lesson from nation's brewing revolution, academics claim

ACADEMICS have called for business leaders to look to the nation's beer drinkers for inspiration on how the country can fight back from recession.

The country's real ale fans represent the perfect example of how greater consumer awareness can revitalise a struggling industry, the economists said.

Equally, the ever-growing number of microbreweries satisfying their demanding palates offers hope for the UK's small businesses.

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Experts at Nottingham University Business School came up with the findings after examining the history of brewing in England. They believe the industry's rebirth in the wake of the Campaign for Real Ale's founding in 1971 has wider implications.

Professor Peter Swann, the study's author, said: "The fact is that the business world can learn an enormous amount from our beer buffs.

"The range of products and the number of centres of production in brewing in England declined dramatically between 1900 and 1970. As is widely accepted, that process began to reverse with the formation of Camra and its fight against bland, mass-produced beers.

"This has led us to the position we're in now, with hundreds of small breweries spread all over the country and making thousands of different beers.

"In technical terms, this represents horizontal product differentiation and a reduction in the importance of the economies of scale.

"That's basically a clever way of saying variety is the spice of life and that more discerning tastes can be good for the economy."

At the start of the 20th century even many villages had breweries but their number and geographical spread went on to shrink alarmingly.

By 1970 the number of breweries in England was just 141 - compared to 1,324 in 1900 - with most located in a few cities and towns.

But Camra's arrival and the group's campaign for variety and quality raised consumer awareness and gradually ushered in a new era.

The result was the ongoing boom in microbreweries, which specialise in small production runs that make no economic sense for big breweries.