Imports of cheap, low-quality beers reach record levels


The Czech Republic’s fragile economic recovery has, among other things, affected Czechs’ beer drinking habits. After an 8-percent drop in beer production last year, data by the Czech Beer and Malt Association released on Tuesday now show that in 2009, imports of low-quality, cheap beers reached a record level of around one million hectolitres, three times more than the previous year. RP spoke to the association’s head, Jan Veselý about the changing beer market in the country.

“A vast majority of these beers come through retail chains; these are very low-price beers, sometimes they resemble beer-like beverages rather than the real thing, to be honest. Because of the economic crisis, people want to have their beer but they are pushed to switch to the cheapest beers possible. Some of the consumption therefore relies on imported beers and the retail chains meet that demand.”

Why are cheap beers imported, rather than produced by Czech brewers? Why don’t they meet the demand?

“Because beer producers generally don’t want to make beer under such conditions; it’s poor quality beer.”

Are brewers in the Czech Republic reacting to the trend in one way or another?

“They are trying to make relatively cheap beer but they cannot go that low with the prices and they want to comply with the regulations obligatory on the Czech market. For instance, if you mark the beer as lager, its original gravity must be 11 or 12 percent. But beer that comes from Poland through the big chains like Lidl, Kaufland and others, is labelled as lager but its original gravity is just 7 or 8 percent.

“And because of EU legislation, we cannot legally fight them. According to the Common Market Act, if beer or any product is made in compliance with the legislation of the country of origin, it must be accepted in other EU countries even if the importing country has tougher legislation.”

The Czech economy is expected to pick up a little this year and grow even more in 2012. Do you think Czech beer drinkers will return to their favourite brands?

“I’m very optimistic. I suppose that once things start to get better, consumers’ will return to their former habits. But an increase in GDP does not necessarily mean that habits in family consumption will immediately follow. Family budgets will increase much more slowly than the overall figures.”

Would you say that record imports of cheap beer bust the myth of Czechs as a nation of beer experts?

“No, people know. They usually say they know it’s of poor quality but argue they cannot afford anything better.”