By Claire West

UK drinkers are continuing to reduce their alcohol consumption, with 2009 seeing the sharpest year-on-year decline since 1948, according to newly published figures from the British Beer & Pub Association, This, and other major changes affecting the UK beer market, are revealed in the newly published BBPA Statistical Handbook 2010.

There was a sharp, six per cent decline in total alcohol consumption in 2009, making it the fourth annual decline in five years. UK drinkers are now consuming 13 per cent less alcohol than in 2004. UK consumption remains below the average for the EU.

The new figures are one of many highlights among thousands of updated statistics on consumption, taxation, and consumer trends in this vital UK industry:

• UK taxes on beer remain among the highest compared with other countries, with the second highest duty rate in EU — ten times higher than in Germany, and, seven times higher than in France.

• Ale market share up: The UK ale market increased its market share of all beers in 2009 for the first time since the 1960s. Ale’s success is also reflected in the number of UK brewers, which is now at its highest since 1940.

• Beer vital to pub sales: Beer is by far the pubgoers favourite tipple, making up 60 per cent of all alcohol sales in pubs, hotels, and restaurants (the on-trade), compared to second-placed wine at 17 per cent.

• Total beer spend is £17 billion per year — 41 per cent of all spending on alcohol. Of this £13.5 billion is spent in the on-trade (pubs, clubs and restaurants) and £3.5 billion in the off-trade (shops and supermarkets)

• £26.5 billion is spent on alcohol in the on-trade (pubs, clubs and restaurants)

• The average price of a pint of bitter is £2.58 and lager £2.95. London is the most expensive region to buy a pint, with prices 35 per cent higher than in the north east.

• Beer is a vital contributor to the Treasury, with £5.5 billion paid in duty and VAT. In total, alcohol contributes £14.6 billion to UK tax revenues.

• Beer exports up sharply: Around one billion pints of British beer are now exported, a UK success story worth over £460 million to the UK economy.

BBPA Chief Executive Brigid Simmonds comments:

“These figures will confound many pundits, as yet again they confirm that as a nation, we are not drinking more. Those who suggest otherwise need to focus on the hard facts.

“This handbook also reminds us of just how vital a role beer and pubs play in the UK economy, in terms of turnover, jobs, and tax revenues. The new numbers show just how closely linked beer is to Britain’s struggling pubs, with beer accounting for around 60 per cent of on-trade sales. Policy-makers should take note.”