Beer sales up for the first time in a decade

Stephen Thurlow fills up a pint at the White Lion beer festival

Stephen Thurlow fills up a pint at the White Lion beer festival - Credit: Archant

The beer industry is today raising a glass to news of the first rise in sales for a decade.

But with more alcohol now sold in supermarkets and off-licences than in pubs for the first time on record, will our local landlords be as pleased as the big breweries?

Last year saw a 1.3% rise in beer sales across the UK. It was the first increase in a decade, driven by growth in supermarkets and off-licences following nine years of decline, which saw beer sales slide by 24%.

Meanwhile, beer sales in pubs also improved, but still fell by 0.8% – the smallest decline since 1996.

The sales boost followed two consecutive cuts in beer duty and Chancellor George Osborne’s scrapping of the alcohol tax escalator, which automatically increased rates by 2% above inflation every year.

The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) now wants the two 1p cuts followed by a further reduction in the final Budget before the General Election in March, to give a further boost to the industry.

BBPA chief executive, Brigid Simmonds said: “British beer is back in growth – and we want to keep it that way. But with 70% of pub drink sales being beer, the picture for our much-loved pubs is still fragile.

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“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, almost half of whom are 16-24.”

Tim Page, chief executive of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), said: “It is fantastic to see overall beer sales back in growth for the first time in 10 years, but it is vitally important that beer sales in pubs move back into growth too.

“The 0.8% drop in pub beer sales is the smallest decline in sales since 1996, but if we want to see less pubs closing it is vital that number is pushed into positive growth.

“A third beer duty cut in next month’s budget will help ensure that 2015 is the year when pub beer sales finally start growing again.”

The award-winning White Lion pub in Ufford, run by Stephen and Gaynor Thurlow, has been producing its own beers, 700 pints at a time, from an adjacent coach house since May 2011.

The Uffa brewery now turns out a range of ales available on tap, in bottles and in 10 or 20 litre boxes, with firkins and pins available to rent.

The brewery also offers a bespoke label design service for special occasions or corporate branding.

Mr Thurlow believes success can be achieved by continually adapting and diversifying in line with the market.

Brewery membership and loyalty cards are available at the pub, which also runs two beer festivals and a classic car rally each year.

This summer the pub will open a large alfresco dining area complete with pizza oven and rotisserie.

Mr Thurlow said: “Perhaps consumption in pubs has seen a decline, but we have to go by people’s social habits and try to adapt to the market.

“Although the majority of our sales are through the pub, we now sell bottles directly online and people can buy polypins to take home.

“Selling into the free trade is obviously very competitive, so it was our decision to go to those who want something unique.

“We all have different ways of viewing the market. As a microbrewery and a pub, its a case of getting both to work together.

“We are a brew pub with the smallest commercial brewing setup you can have, predominantly producing for ourselves but also doing a bespoke bottling range allowing people to have their own label for a minimum of 250 bottles.

“Beer duty has been second only to fuel in terms of increase. On top of that, the VAT for it being sold in pubs has increased. At the same time there are the very big costs of things like fuel and heating which we haven’t seen decrease in line with wholesale prices.”