If you enter the words “beer sales UK” into Google News right now you might feel in need of a strong ale or six, with headlines saying: “Beer sales slump to Great Depression levels” and “Decline in sales of beer in the UK accelerating”.
(Actually, that last headline really reads: “Decline in sales of bee in the UK …“, another powerful blow for those of us who insist web news needs copy editors just as much as dead tree news does, but that’s a debate for another forum.)
So: all gloom and doom from the tomb in Britain’s breweries? Well, no.
Read the British Beer and Pub Association’s UK Quarterly Beer Barometer, and it doesn’t look good: total beer sales are down 4.5 per cent compared with the same quarter last year, with sales in pubs down 10.6 per cent, equal to 5,500 barrels a day.
Now, you can probably work out that if pub sales have fallen, percentagewise, more than twice as much as total beer sales are down, then sales elsewhere must be up: and indeed, supermarkets and off-licences have seen a 3.8 per cent increase in beer sales on the same quarter last year. This is not in the slightest surprising: in the past 10 years the price of a pint in British pubs has more than doubled, while in supermarkets the cost of premium lager has actually fallen by eight per cent.
But that’s the total beer market. If you look at the cask beer market, and the premium ales market in the off-sales trade, the picture is very different.