Supermarket beer sales surge

Sales of beer increased for the first time in a decade. Picture: Sean Bell

Sales of beer increased for the first time in a decade. Picture: Sean Bell

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MORE beer is now sold in supermarkets and off-licences than in pubs for the first time on record.

Beer sales saw an increase of 1.3 per cent in the UK last year – the first time in a decade – driven by growth outside of pubs.

British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) Figures showed beer sales in pubs falling by 0.8 per cent. And the body said there should be further cuts in beer duty beyond those announced in the last two UK budgets.

Off-licence sales have risen by 19 per cent since 2000 while on-licence beer volumes have plummeted by 42 per cent. Volumes in the fourth quarter of 2014 stood at 13,660,000 barrels from on-licence sales compared to 13,784,000 barrels from off-licences.

Jennifer Curran, programme lead with charity Alcohol Focus Scotland, said cheap prices in supermarkets were driving drinking habits and the focus needed to be on raising those costs at the till to cut alcohol consumption.

She said: “We have seen an increasing gap between the cost of alcohol in the on and off trade, driven largely by cheap alcohol sold in the large supermarkets. This has very much shaped where and how people drink.

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“Thirty years ago, drinking in Britain primarily took place in pubs and clubs, whereas now, with the exception of those aged 16-24, the most common place to drink is at home.

“However, drinking at home is also popular with younger people before a night out in the form of ‘pre-loading’ on cheap alcohol. These changes in drinking patterns have been blamed for exacerbating the problems caused by binge drinking and social disorder in town centres.”

She added: “To begin to redress the balance we must take action to increase the price of the cheapest, strongest drinks, which are predominantly sold in the off trade.”

The Scottish Government also raised its concerns about the off-licence growth. A spokesman said: “In Scotland we drink nearly a fifth more alcohol than our counterparts in England and Wales. On average there are around 700 hospital admissions and 20 deaths a week in Scotland due to alcohol misuse.

“Alcohol is around 60 per cent more affordable now than it was in 1980 and it is the off-trade that is driving this trend. We believe that affordability remains a core issue and that is why we are committed to introducing minimum unit pricing as part of a concerted package of measures to tackle alcohol misuse in Scottish communities.”

The BBPA focused on the tax on beer and repeated calls for cuts to boost consumption. The two cuts of 1p in beer duty announced needed to be followed by another reduction in the final budget in March before the general election, it said. It claimed tax rising by 42 per cent between 2008 and 2013 was connected to 7,000 pubs closing and 58,000 jobs being lost.

The BBPA said that under the “disastrous” beer tax escalator, abolished two years ago, duty, including VAT, increased from 42p to 65p on a typical pint.

BBPA Chief Executive Brigid Simmonds said: “British beer is back in growth – and we want to keep it that way. But with 70 per cent of pub drink sales being beer, the picture for our much-loved pubs is still fragile. That is why another duty cut from the Chancellor is vital. It will build on the success of two very popular tax cuts in the past two years, and boost jobs in an industry that employs 900,000 people.”

A Campaign for Real Ale spokesman added: “The 0.8 per cent drop in pub beer sales is the smallest decline since 1996, but if we want to see fewer pubs closing, it is vital that number is pushed into positive growth. A third duty cut in next month’s budget will help ensure 2015 is the year pub beer grows again.”

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