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Established Suffolk brewer becomes victim of “saturated” beer market - but will relaunch with vegan and gluten free offering

PUBLISHED: 14:02 17 August 2018 | UPDATED: 14:02 17 August 2018

One of Bartrams Brewery's beers, 'Comrade Bill Bartrams Egalitarian Anti Imperialist Soviet Stout' was given 2 awards at the national winter beer festival in Manchester. Pictured is Marc Bartram.

One of Bartrams Brewery's beers, 'Comrade Bill Bartrams Egalitarian Anti Imperialist Soviet Stout' was given 2 awards at the national winter beer festival in Manchester. Pictured is Marc Bartram.

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The owner of a long-standing Suffolk brewery claims the market for real ales is “saturated”, and has decided to restructure his business to focus instead on vegan and gluten free beers and events.

Marc Bartram of Bartrams Brewery, right, with Jose Richart from the Department for International Trade.Marc Bartram of Bartrams Brewery, right, with Jose Richart from the Department for International Trade.

The owner of a long-standing Suffolk brewery claims the market for real ales is “saturated”, and has decided to restructure the business to focus instead on vegan and gluten free beers and events.

Bartrams Brewery started life in Thurston in 1999 and moved to Rougham in 2004, producing 115 beers in all, the most successful of which was the award-winning Imperial Russian stout, Comrade Bill Bartram’s Egalitarian Anti-Imperialist Soviet Stout.

Mr Bartram had been trying to break into the export market, and last April visited Germany with the Department for International Trade to showcase his beer to the German market.

Now Mr Bartram is currently no longer looking to export overseas, and is not producing any beer. “There are about 42 breweries in Suffolk - when I started 18 years ago, there were just five,” he said. “There is a lot more competition. The market is saturated, it’s ridiculous.”

Vintage fire engine bought by old empire events. Picture: Tony WoolnoughVintage fire engine bought by old empire events. Picture: Tony Woolnough

Another Suffolk brewer, who declined to be named, claims overcrowding in the marketplace is true of the cask ale industry that Mr Bartram is part of, but not the key keg ale market.

The findings of the Cask Report 2018 indicate that this is the case throughout the UK. Sales of cask beer are down 5% over the last six years and down 3.8% from in 2017, while the craft beer sector as a whole grew by 18.8%.

In his recent half-yearly report, Adnams chairman Jonathan Adnams explained that while the Southwold brewer’s beer sales had increased by 4.8%, the cask beer market was 8.4% down in the first half of 2018 and volumes were also lower.

Suffolk micro brewer Adrian Smith of the Dove Street Inn brewery in Ipswich, claims it is a “shrinking marketplace” for small brewers like himself. “There are fewer outlets for beer to be consumed in,” he says, adding that the cask ale market is particularly vulnerable because it is designed to be drunk in pubs, clubs and restaurants, rather than bottled beers that can be sold in supermarkets.

“People’s habits are changing, and more people are drinking at home. There is also the problem of more continental beers adding to competition in the UK market.”

Mr Smith added that he was “not surprised” to hear about Mr Bartram’s shift in strategy, because “more and more people are turning vegan and becoming gluten intolerant.”

Bartrams will not be the only Suffolk brewer to offer vegan beer – St Judes in Ipswich produces two bottle-conditioned beers, Pagan Path (4%) wheat beer and St Francis (4%) bitter, that are not fined and thus suitable for vegans and vegetarians, and Burnt Mill Brewery in Chelmondiston also have vegan offerings.

The UK market for vegan and gluten-free beers is still relatively small, but is expected to grow as millennials become increasingly concerned about what they eat and drink. Last year, Guinness became vegan-friendly as the Diageo brand eliminated isinglass, a product made from fish bladders, from the brewing process.

And according to recent research from GlobalData, 8% of the consumers in the UK aged 18-34 associate ‘gluten-free’ with ‘healthy’, compared with 5% of the overall population.

When Mr Bartram relaunches his company, he says he will do so with a minor tweak to the company name.

“What’s irritated me over the years is that when I started up, my printers initially printed our name as ‘Bartrams’ without the apostrophe, so I am relaunching with it with the apostrophe in as was originally intended - as Bartram’s Brewery,” he explained.

Bartram’s Brewery will function under the mantle of its parent company, Old Empire Events, which will concentrate on providing events. Managing director Tony Woolnough has just purchased an antique fire engine, which he plans to transform into a bar and catering facility for events and special occasions, with Mr Bartram assisting in an advisory capacity.

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