The Czech Republic has long been world famous for its plentiful choice of quality beer. Indeed, beer is famously often cheaper than mineral water. However, Czechs may be surprised to find that one of their most popular beers can actually be bought for less in neighbouring Germany.
There is a centuries old Czech adage – any government that raises the price of beer, is destined to fall. But what if Czech beer can be bought cheaper in neighbouring Germany, than in its country of origin? New figures suggest that one of the Czech Republic’s most famous beer brands, Pilsner Urquell, or Plzeň, is being sold in German supermarkets for less than it costs to buy in the Czech Republic – around 16.50 crowns there compared to 19.90 here. Thus, the irony is that Pilsner is more expensive in the town of Plzeň than it is in the town of Neuweid, for example. According to Czech media reports, this has led many Czechs in towns bordering Germany, to duck abroad to buy their favourite beer. I asked Jiří Mareček, the spokesman for Pilsner Urquell to explain the justification for this price discrepancy.
“Well, first of all, the market in Germany is completely different from the Czech one. Compared to the average price of a beer on the German market, Pilsner Urquell price is more expensive by more than one half. Unfortunately, we as a producer, do not have measures to affect the price in that way. There are differences in the Czech and German beer market and the final consumer price, is a result of many pressures and the many interests of the various players in the market – so that’s just the way it is.”
Following the Velvet Revolution, all of the major Czech breweries were sold to foreign breweries. Since 1999, Pilsner has been owned by the British and South African SAB Miller concern. As a result of heavy investment by SAB, the Plzeň brand has become a worldwide success. Evan Rail is the American author of “The Good Beer Guide - Prague and the Czech Republic.” I asked him if he thought Czechs were being short changed by the Pilsner company:
“This is a fairly standard practice when breweries want to gain market share. My local supermarket here in Prague sells Heineken, which is a Dutch beer for 19 Crowns – that is about 70 cents in Euro terms. I’m not sure of the exact price in Holland, but my impression is that Heineken is selling their beer at a steep discount here in order to gain market share. So by selling it for 19 Crowns here – approximately 72 Euro cents, they are hoping to attract interest. The only problem is that Czech consumers are fairly savvy when it comes to how beers should taste, and Heineken is not likely to impress them.”
So is Czech beer and Pilsner Urquell in particular, popular in Germany?
“Well, while Germany has a really great, wonderful, rich brewing culture, and beer culture, their large-scale industrial lagers are pretty mundane. And Pilsner Urquell, while it is a large mass-produced lager, still has a lot of character that’s missing in German beers. So in Germany as a nation, in terms of its brewing culture, has an enormous amount of respect for Pilsner Urquell.”
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