In my post about Falling out of love with alcohol, I mentioned the British Beer & Pub Association’s detailed table of beer sales statistics, which for a long time had not been updated beyond the end of 2018. In fact, they had not been updated for so long that I had given up checking. However, on taking a look at their website, I found they had produced some newer figures, albeit only going up to the end of 2020, so still two years out of date. These can be downloaded from their website as an Excel spreadsheet.
In 2019, the last full year BC (Before Covid) they show the on-trade holding up pretty well. Total sales were 12.658 million barrels, accounting for 45% of the total beer market. This was only 0.6% down on the previous year, and indeed over the five years since 2014 they had only declined by 6.5%, an average of 1.3% a year. This is a much slower rate of decline than, say, print newspapers. In contrast, in the five years from 2006 to 2011, they fell by 25.2%, an average of 5.0% a year. Is that the sound of trumpeting I hear in the distance?
However, 2020 shows a very different story. Total sales saw a catastrophic fall of 55.1% to a mere 5.689 million barrels, representing a mere 23.6% of the total market. Indeed total beer sales fell by 14.2%. While there undoubtedly will have been some switching to wine and spirits, this rather gives the lie to the widespread claim that lockdowns led to an increase in alcohol consumption.
In the first quarter, on-trade sales were down by 18.3%, reflecting the fact that pubs were completely closed down in mid-March, and for a couple of weeks before that trade was increasingly depressed by the lengthening shadow of Covid. Then in the second quarter, which was entirely during lockdown, they fell to a mere 150,000 barrels, all of which would have been take-home sales from pubs.
In the third quarter, when pubs were finally allowed to trade with a reasonable degree of normality, sales showed a good recovery, although they were still 25% below 2019. Then in the fourth quarter they slumped to 795,000 barrels, affected by a month of full lockdown, the hopeless confusion of the tier system and the ludicrous substantial meal and mask rules. In the first quarter of 2021, when there was a full lockdown throughout, and pubs weren’t even allowed to do takeaway sales, they must have fallen to virtually zero.
It would be very interesting if and when these statistics are updated to the end of 2022 to see just how well the on-trade has been able to recover and how close it has been able to regain the pre-Covid position.