Sunday, 10 September 2017

Face the facts

In response to my last post about the link between supermarket pricing and the decline of pubs, I was sent a link to a fascinating document from the Brewers of Europe showing European Beer Statistics. It relates to 2015, but as it was published in November 2016 it represents the most recent figures available.

Particularly relevant to that post is Table 6 referring to on versus off-trade beer consumption. While we may bewail the decline of UK on-trade consumption to below 50%, we are in fact well above the European average. The highest is Ireland, which despite geographical proximity has a distinctly different drinking culture from the UK, and all the other major countries above us are in the Mediterranean. To summarise some of the main results for on-trade consumption:

Ireland 67%
Spain 64%
Greece 57%
UK 49%
Belgium 44%
Italy 42%
Czech Republic 40%
Netherlands 35%
Denmark 23%
Sweden 21%
France 20%
Germany 19%
Poland 15%

It’s interesting that Germany, one of the world’s great brewing nations, and famous for its big-city beer halls, has one of the lowest figures of all. And Sweden has a 79% market share for the off-trade, despite alcohol sales being restricted to state-controlled Systembolaget shops with limited hours. (I think some low-strength beers may be sold through normal shops)

Amongst other salient figures are:

  • UK receipts from beer duty were €4.4 billion. No other country apart from Turkey exceeded €1 billion. Germany, which brews twice as much as we do, was €676 million.

  • The UK has the highest number of breweries, at 1,880. Next was Germany at 1,388, then France at 793 and Italy at 688. Belgium, known for its small breweries, is only 199. But how many of those 1,880 produce any significant volume?

  • The UK is well down the league of per capita beer consumption. At 67 litres per person per year, we are only 18th in the table. Top are the Czech Republic with 143 litres and Germany with 106 litres. Our Irish neighbours manage 80 litres. I’d guess the average strength in the Czech Republic and Germany is higher too.

  • Not surprisingly, Germany has the biggest annual production at 95.6 million hectolitres. The UK is second at 44 million (equivalent to 26.9 million barrels), but Poland, despite having only 59% of our population, is third at 40.9 million. France, despite its large population, is down at 20.3 million, behind the much smaller Netherlands at 24 million and only just ahead of Belgium at 19.8 million.


  1. Very surprising, the numbers for Germany. Whilst there are the gigantic beer halls here and there, there aren't *that* many of them AFAIK. Only a few cities have them. OTOH, there is no equivalent to the cavernous Wetherspoons here.

    These people do drink a lot of beer out though, at smaller places. At lunch and supper. But then there are the enormous off-licence shops everywhere with quality lager at 12€ for twenty half-litre bottles. So they must REALLY drink a lot at home.

    And they drink off-trade from bottles standing around outside petrol stations and the Getränkeläden (offies), especially late afternoons. And early afternoon, after school. The drinking age for beer & wine is 16, and I wonder how much the teens' buying cheap bottles and drinking them on the way home from school contributes to the number.

    But in any case, a startlingly low number.

  2. Do some maths Mudge and tell us how many pubs will go down the pan as the UK on-trade declines to European levels. If we are now at around 50k then a decline to 30k must be on the cards over the next decade.

  3. " But then there are the enormous off-licence shops everywhere with quality lager at 12€ for twenty half-litre bottles. "-Nick

    Nick is right. Germans go to the 'Drinks Shop' (or the supermarket)once a week or so and buy a crate of fizzy water (because despite German tap water being so pure and virginal that it could give birth to the next Messiah, no one drinks it)and ein crate or zwei or drei of bier. Probably a crate of apple/Orange or *spit* 'Multi Vitamin' juice as well. It's a legal requirement of a Saturday morning that after having showered using a whole bottle of Lynx German Dads put on their shorts and birkenstocks and go queue at the bakery for the bread rolls for breakfast. After breakfast they drive the the few metres to the Drinks Super Store with the empties from that week in their respective crates and swap them for fresh ones.

    Some places there are still 'Drinks Lorries' which do the 'round' once a week, during the week, and swap those crates of bier, juice and water for you without you needing to 'waste' a part of your precious Saturday morning....because Saturday morning is also legally the time to have sex with your Frau....after you polished off the remains of the crate the night before.

    1. Ironically, Mrs & I got so spoiled by our years in suburban Portland OR with its truly pure water supply (run-off from Mt Hood, mostly) that the tap water here in Franconia is undrinkably hard and chalky in comparison, so we buy bottled water as well.

      I don't drive with my Birkenstocks on though, as they don't have heel straps.


    2. I don't drive with my Birkenstocks on though, as they don't have heel straps.

      A point my Fahrlehrer (driving instructor) had to make a point of mentioning every single group theory lesson! That was back when everyone but everyone-Herr, Frau or Kind, seemed to wear Birkenstock Bostons/Mules (ie no heel strap). Even,to my great surprise, nurses in hospitals.

  4. I can believe Poland, at least outside of the cities and major tourist areas.

    I've visited some friends near Tuchola in Western Poland and at least anecdotally there didn't really seem to be that many places in the countryside we'd call pubs or bars.

    And a lot of the places you perhaps could pop into for a half litre of bottled or draft Zywiec seemed to be primarily causal restaurants or café type places.

    About £1 a half litre in countryside which is good :)

    1. Yes, I think Martin Taylor reported from a recent visit to Poland that there didn't seem to be much of a bar culture. But there certainly is in Germany. Mind you, if they drink half as much beer again as we do, that 19% still gives room for plenty of bars to flourish. From observation, I'd say that British-style multiple pint drinking doesn't seem all that common in German bars, or indeed those in other Continental countries - although it certainly is in Ireland :-)

  5. Seeing as he lives in Germany, I'm sure Nick is correct in saying "They must REALLY drink a lot at home." As a regular visitor to the country, I would also agree with his observation about the widespread availability of quality bottled beers. Small shops, food stalls and even kiosks all seem to offer bottles, often chilled and ready to drink.

    Supermarkets stock beer by the crate (20 x 0.5l), and whilst some of these beers will inevitably be well-known national brands, the more local brewers still seem to get a look in. You can also take the car along to your local brewery and pick up a few crates, for a bargain price – as Nick says.

    Beer is obviously still consumed widely in the on-trade and thinking for a moment of all the beer gardens I've been to over the years, sure they have their quiet times, but I've also seen them packed out. I've also visited quite a few country pubs, most of which seem to do well out of the dining trade.

    Quality bottled beer is also widely in Belgium. I have just taken delivery of selection of 12 bottles from the St Bernardus Brewery in Watou, which were brought over by a friend of one of my work colleagues. An absolute bargain at €16 for a dozen high-strength, quality beers. My colleague who has visited his friend’s home village in Belgium, says there is a shop there which is a real Aladdin’s Cave for anyone who loves decent beer.

  6. Also you can freely see tobacco on show in supermarkets unlike nanny state Britain where everything has to be hidden away in case the childreeen see it.

  7. That supermarkets will always be able to undercut on-trade sales is a given, and that applies anywhere in the world. The real wonder is that anyone drinks any beer at all, if those figures are right. UK beer duty receipts of €4.4bn on 44m hectolitres is a rate of €100 per hectolitre. German receipts of €676m on 95.6m hectolitres works out at a rate of €7.07 per hectolitre. Which means UK levies fourteen times as much duty on beer as Germany. That's one hell of a difference.

    And we wonder why beer sales are falling.

  8. I wonder if these figures are for volume, cost or value? Generally the further East in Europe you go, the less the price differential between drinking out or drinking at home (with a few exceptions in bleedingly fashionable nightspots).

  9. Which would mean that a 49-51 split here is actually more like an 83-17 win in favour of the on-trade in terms of consumer spend? And probably 95-5 in Ireland. Which almost seems unbelievable.

    1. Probably not that extreme, because I'd suggest the differential between *actual* average prices paid is more like 2.5 or 3:1 than 5:1. Don't have any figures to back that up - I have a BBPA statistical handbook, but it doesn't give values, only volumes.


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