Beermunch, McCain Foods’ hot snacking concept for its sub-brand Brew City, is absolutely everywhere. Backed by a £6m marketing campaign, it has already appeared in a TV advert (which dropped mid-October), billboards in major cities from London to Edinburgh, social media mania and even a flock of airborne banners flown over recent major sporting events.
For those who haven’t seen the flurry of promotional activity, Beermunch is used to describe the pairing of craft beer with premium, hot pub snacks. Targeting both the retail and foodservice sectors, Brew City has prepared a guide for operators outlining the premise, providing beer-pairing solutions to go with the eight-strong range of products. It claims that this approach can help both independents and chains increase revenue.
McCain has been selling Brew City hot snacks in America for almost two decades, with the craft beer scene across the pond ripe long before the UK got on board with the widespread trend. So why roll the dice with the British pub market now?
“The UK drinking scene has changed enormously over the past five years and it’s coincided with the rise of craft beer,” explains Robin Norton, McCain Foodservice Solutions category manage. “In terms of volume, we’re drinking 25% less than 20 years ago but pubs are seeing spend levels stay up.
“Consumers are now paying more for craft beer, but in less volume. But while social drinking has changed massively, there’s been little evolution in terms of bar snacks.”
Mind the gap
According to Norton, there’s still not really anything beyond crisps, nuts and general ambient bar snack fodder available.
“When we looked at our global portfolio and the success of Brew City in the US, where consumers are well accustomed to the craft beer scene, we saw an opportunity to bring it here, where there is a clear gap in the market between the ambient snack and hot food.”
Norton says that while chicken wings have become more widespread as a pub snack product, they are not on trend in terms of vegan/flexitarian diets, are very messy to eat and aren’t attractive to consumers who don’t like bones. McCain’s heritage in terms of potatoes and decades of experience with cheese appetisers for quick-service restaurants provided initial direction for the Brew City range.
“It’s a very unusual launch as we launched into pubs and supermarkets all at the same time,” continues Norton. “And we did this now because it syncs up with both sets of channel’s calendars. “Both the retail and foodservice sectors are changing their menus for the winter, which gave us the opportunity to launch.”
The accessible eight
The Brew City foodservice range is comprised of eight separate products, all designed to be as accessible as possible in terms of cooking preparation across the sector. All are also available in supermarkets (along with a ninth, halloumi fries, which is limited edition and exclusively for retail).
“We decided that, because they are so common in foodservice already (many actually make their own), halloumi fries wasn’t something we wanted to offer pubs and bars. They’re largely about texture, anyway, as you get the majority of the flavour from accompanying dips.”
In terms of their potato offerings, Norton says McCain wanted to lift the humble fry from being a side dish to being more centre of plate, leading to both the IPA Fries and Salt and Pepper Potato Pops.
“We have an IPA batter for these skin-on fries which keeps the fries crisp and hot from kitchen to table. It’s thin, gluten-free and practically invisible. It also helps with aesthetics and texture. The Potato Pops, meanwhile, are essentially tater tots. They’re very common in the States and British consumers would identify it as a ‘snack hash brown.’”
The Mac ‘N’ Jack – macaroni meets Monterey Jack cheese – “has been a big thing in the street food world for a while,” according to Norton, which is why the company wanted to reproduce it for the finger-snacking scene. Other options include a version arancini, drawing on Mediterranean influences, and the Gouda and mozzarella bites.
“Beyond that – partly in recognition of the fact that not everyone wants cheese or potato and partly to offer something for vegans – we have the onion straws and the jalapeno slices,” adds Norton. “The frickles [fried pickles in a mustard coating] are, meanwhile, vegetarian.”
Norton says that the onion straws, which are deliberately differentiated from onion ring and have a strong black pepper crumb, along with the Mac ‘N’ Jack are currently the most popular with operators.
“The intention was to produce a range of products that would meet a variety of tastes and, looking to the future, we have the advantage of McCain’s global use of Brew City as a brand to import ideas from other parts of the world that we think British consumers would like.”