Tesco’s Christmas surge defies flat beer sales

By Mike Stones and Freddie Dawson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Alcoholic beverage

Beer drinkers are increasingly deserting the bar for the lounge - at home.
Beer drinkers are increasingly deserting the bar for the lounge - at home.
The UK’s biggest off licence, Tesco, has sold a record 500,000 bottles of ale in the past two days, the largest amount it has ever sold just before Christmas, despite a recent Mintel report revealing a sharp decline in beer sales over the past five years.

The retail giant reported ale sales up 65% on the same period of last year, (between December 20 and December 21) as more thirsty consumers choose the drink to accompany food.

Tesco ale buyer Kathryn Clarke said: “More people than ever before now drink ale with their meals and the trend has helped drive sales to their highest level since the pre-lager days of the 1950s.

“Sales of bottled ales have been growing steadily for the last few years but this is by far the highest demand we have ever seen in Christmas week which would indicate that people will be drinking it with their roast turkey.

Popular tipple

Ale has now become as acceptable to drink along with a good meal as wine and is a particularly popular tipple in gastro pubs along with a good Sunday roast.”

The quality of ales has improved greatly, offering the same degree of sophistication and regional taste as provided by a fine wine, she added.

Despite the festive fillip for ale, British beer sales are in long term decline, according to data monitor firm Mintel. The 2011 market is forecast to be worth about £15.5bn to brewers, down from revenues of £17.7bn in 2006.

Sales by volume have contributed to the decrease in revenue, dropping almost a quarter (23%) from 2.38bnl in 2006 to a projected 2.25bnl in 2011.

Lager, holding the greatest market share, has been the hardest hit category in the beer sector. It saw a 10% fall in sales from £12.7M in 2006 to £11.4M this in 2011.

The loss in revenue can be directly linked to the change in UK drinking habits, said Jonny Forsyth, senior drinks analyst at Mintel.

Occasional luxury

Drinkers have shifted from consuming beverages in pubs to drinking at home. Of those who drink outside the home, 44% now view a night out as an occasional luxury compared with a regular occurrence, said Forsyth. Beer has been more affected by this than wine and spirits, he added.

Forsyth explained: “Beers’ male user bias makes it less of a compromise choice for couples than wine or spirits. Also, it is less associated with food matching or relaxing occasions than either of those drinks categories.”

Molson Coors chief executive, Peter Swinburn said the firm was surprised by the “degree of softness” ​in the UK when it reported its third-quarter results in November. The company’s pre-tax income decreased by 25.3% to £17.5M ($27.4M).

Also, a general drop in the consumption of alcohol has not helped beer sales. Although 89% of the adult UK population claimed to have consumed beer in 2004, only 82% claimed to have done so in 2011, Forsyth said.

Related topics: Drinks

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