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Interview with SIBA’s Mike Benner

Mike Benner has been SIBA’s Managing Director since June 2014, find out what he thinks the political parties have to offer the beer industry, his advice to new breweries, beer quality, SIBA membership and being part of SIBA.

mike benner SIBA MD

1. Are there any election promises being made by the main political parties which would benefit the brewing sector that you would like to draw attention to?

All the main parties are committed to pubs as an important part of the community and they recognise the role that beer plays a role in leisure time for many people. David Cameron and Ed Miliband have both made positive statements about pubs.

The Liberal Democrats have made commitments regarding planning and pubs and UKIP have made clear their commitment to tax relief for small brewers which, of course, is already in place. There’s a general recognition amongst the parties that cuts in beer duty and support for pubs have been beneficial.

2. What piece of advice would you give to someone thinking of setting up a new brewery?

First to make sure that they get a qualification in brewing, as quality is everything.

It’s also important to make sure that there is sufficient free trade in their area and that there is the potential for regular trade accounts so that they can sell their beer.

Thirdly of course they should join SIBA; as a family we are much stronger and new breweries can make new friends and contacts to help their business. SIBA has a category for individuals not yet brewing so members can make use of this when they are thinking of setting up.

3. How can you represent a tiny microbrewery and a large regional such Fuller’s or Everards?

We have a very diverse membership, with many of our members producing under 1000 hls as well as some large family brewers. It’s important therefore to have campaigns that they can all sign up to, and we now have a strategic plan with clear strategic aims to help our decision making.

Whilst we can’t please everyone all the time, it’s now clear what SIBA is and that our key issues are aligned.

4. Focusing on the promotion of quality beer and the development of a quality accreditation scheme is one of your objectives– will this be for internal use or made public?

Everyone who joins SIBA signs up to our rules and an important one of these is around product quality.

We believe that it’s important to show a lead and go beyond the basic requirements. Retailers are demanding good quality and it’s therefore important to help our members, some of whom are very small, by introducing our own quality scheme. SIBA is putting in place an accreditation scheme and we expect to start accrediting breweries using independent assessors later this year although we haven’t yet set ourselves targets as to how many breweries we expect to sign up in the first year.

We would expect accredited breweries to display this accreditation and to promote it to their customers as we know that retailers need assurances about quality.

5. What has surprised you most about SIBA since you joined in the summer?

The fact that it’s a trade organisation that represents competitors who are remarkably friendly with each other;  it is like a big friendly club.

SIBA was at the stage where it recognised that it needed to develop and take a more strategic approach and this is a new phase in the development of the organisation and there has been a lot of change in the last few months.

I have to say that I knew quite a lot about SIBA already having worked at CAMRA for such a long time so there were no big surprises!

6. How long do you think it will take you to achieve your recently announced goal of an extension to the upper threshold of Small Brewers’ Relief (SBR) to 200,000hl?

We are talking now about enhancing SBR and defending its current levels should there be a review by government in the future. We believe that it works well and we want more breweries to benefit. According to the European Excise Directive and Structures Directive the upper level of benefit is 50% and we would like to see this increased as well as the 200,000 hl level increased to benefit a larger number of breweries when it comes to a European review.

7. Are there plans to increase the cost of membership to pay for your new structure and increasing number of aims and objectives?

I believe that SIBA is central to creating a future environment for British beer and we want more breweries to join so that we can speak with one voice. We want to communicate our strong suite of benefits and also to enhance these. Some of our current benefits include the Export Club to enable smaller breweries to take advantage of export opportunities and our SIBA Training Academy for members.

SIBA has a diverse membership and needs to cater for their needs. We need to build our benefits to help our members compete and allow a flexible approach with different categories so some members can pay more to benefit from a particular service.

8. There are currently around 1400 breweries in the UK, at what stage do we reach saturation point?

There has been an explosion in new breweries and this has fuelled a consumer interest in beer which is no longer just about the global brands. There has to come a point at which there won’t be so many opportunities for new breweries but it’s encouraging that the beer market is coming back into positive growth recently although we still need to see some genuine growth in the market. Pubs are obviously a vital part of this and we’re looking at a period of uncertainty whilst the statutory code is developed as we need the right amount of investment to come into the market.

I think it’s really difficult to predict if we will reach saturation point and it obviously varies across the country however in some areas it is already very challenging for new breweries.

9. Do you think the current trend in craft beer will lead to a decline in cask ale production?

The proportion is falling but it’s still the largest category; craft keg production has doubled and, given the expansion in the off trade, the opportunities for members to move into bottling and canning is obviously an exciting development. So yes, cask may well fall but it will remain a very significant part of the market.

10. What can SIBA do to encourage SIBA members to avoid sexism in their point of sale material and beer names?

There’s been quite a lot of news about this recently but I don’t feel that it’s for us to tell members what to do. We promote quality and best practice and believe that beer is for everyone and therefore I don’t believe that any groups should be patronised.

11. What’s the best thing about working for SIBA?

It’s a brilliant challenge and it was the vision that had been set out to deliver the future of British beer that really drew me to SIBA. There is such great enthusiasm within the industry which makes it a great place to work.