Beer offers a ray of sunshine

Following the recent cold snap, I’ve decided to focus on what is just around the corner – summer, which brings thoughts of longer days, warm weather and enjoying a nice, cold beer in the sun. 

Over the past year, beer sales have grown by 4.6% to reach just under £4 billion. This comes as total alcohol sales increased by 4.1% over the same period – so beer is performing comparatively well. The amount of beer sold in the off-trade has fallen by 0.7%, so what is selling well is also selling at a higher price.

There are a lot of factors at play here. If I had written this column a few years ago, it would have been about how premium bottled ales – real ales” – were in growth, and how shoppers were spending more on this type of drink. However, sales of premium bottled ales have stalled now, with value just holding on at -0.4% and volume down by 4.1%.

The growth in the category is coming from two main areas: craft beer and world beer. Beers here tend to be more expensive, so they are fuelling the value growth in the category.

There’s no fixed industry definition of what craft beer is, so at Nielsen we define it as a collection of niche brands which aren’t mass-produced and which differentiate themselves from mainstream and world beers through their taste, brewing style and marketing. Great examples are those from Brewdog.

Craft beers only account for about 3.6% of the value of beer, but this is up from 2.2% last year – and they’re showing rapid growth, increasing sales by more than 65% year on year. A lot of this comes from a rapid increase in the number of people buying craft ales. These new buyers tend to be younger, though craft beer is pulling in new consumers from all age groups. With an average price nearly double that of beer overall – £4.49 per litre – it’s not altogether surprising that craft beer drinkers are more affluent, but households across all income bands are spending more on this type of beer.

We also look at world” as a segment of beer. These are brands perceived to have a heritage outside the UK, and which also have an above-average price. They account for just over a fifth of expenditure on total beer, and sales are up by more than 11% compared with last year. As with craft beers, a lot of the growth we’re seeing here is coming from new buyers, but we’re also seeing that those who were already buying world beer are starting to purchase more. While craft and world beers are showing strong performances, at the same time mainstream brands are just about stable in value but losing volume,
down 3.2%, as shoppers are swapping into more premium products.

This year we expect to see craft and world beers continue to grow in importance, so shops need to be stocking a good mix of products as this will be key to growing beer sales. Summer will be on us before we know it, and stocking these in the chiller will be crucial to securing unplanned purchases. 2018 is a World Cup year, and we traditionally see sales of beer grow during major tournaments. Ensure shelves are well stocked in advance of key matches – and be prepared for sales to take a tumble if England are knocked out.

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