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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 November 2007, 14:08 GMT
Five reasons beer sales have slumped
Beer sales are falling

By Alexis Akwagyiram
BBC News

Beer sales in pubs are at their lowest level since the 1930s, say brewers. But how has this happened?

The humble pint used to be the backbone of the local pub, it was what they were all about.

But seven million fewer pints per day are now being sold in Britain than in 1979 - the beer market's peak. It's a drop of 22%.

But why is it happening? The Magazine asks experts for their views.


Beer has an image problem and there is a "common misconception" that it is less healthy than other alcoholic drinks, says Adam Withrington, drinks editor of the Publican magazine.

It's what he refers to as the "beer-belly notion". People assume that drinking pints will lead to weight gain, making the drink less appealing at a time when people are increasingly health conscious.

But beer is about 96% water and made up of natural ingredients, unlike many other alternatives, says Mr Withrington. When comparing it to other alcoholic drinks, it's wrong to label it as unhealthy.

It's a view which is echoed by Dr Martin Bobak, an epidemiologist at University College London.

He conducted a study of 2,300 drinkers in the Czech Republic, where beer is the tipple of choice, and found they put on almost no more weight around the abdomen than non-drinkers.

Man drinking a pint of beer
Is this the end of the humble pint?
Dr Bobak agrees that beer has an image problem, an issue he says is essentially a lifestyle argument.

In the West, the better educated someone is, the less obese they are likely to be. Lower educated people tend to drink more beer while the higher educated tend to drink more wine, he says.

"People from higher socio-economic groups are more likely to be wine drinkers, so they are more likely to appear to be healthier, whereas people in lower groups are more likely to drink beer."

The fact that less educated people are more likely to be obese is largely related to diet and that they are less likely to exercise regularly.

Beer appears to be less fattening than wine, according to the British Beer and Pub Association. A glass of beer with a typical 4.6% alcoholic volume has fewer calories not only than a similar measure of wine, but also milk or fruit juice, it says.

Spirits, meanwhile, contain more than six times the calories of beer and when mixed with a soft drink, the calorie-count soars even higher.


The reputation of pub grub has been transformed in recent years. The rise of the gastro pub has resulted in an increasing number of drinking establishments considering themselves as much a restaurant as a place to get a pint.

While our stomachs are the winners, the traditional pint is not as most people drink wine with their meal.

There is no straight answer as to when and why emphasis shifted towards food, but experts say it goes hand in hand with slumping beer sales.

Ploughman's lunch
Pub food has moved on
"It's a bit of a chicken and egg thing as to what came first but as beer sales have declined publicans have had to look elsewhere to make up for the drop in revenue," says Mr Withrington.

"In the 1990s they started to realise food was where the money was."

The Michelin Guide now lists pubs with good food and talented chefs are choosing to run a pub kitchen rather than one in a restaurant.

Drinking is no longer the main reason people go to the pub.

"There are no pubs any more, they are restaurants with bars," Paula Greenway from Surrey told the BBC.


There was a time when the pub was not considered the "proper" place for a women to be seen - or a place she wanted to be. But times have changed, women are now earning more than ever before and publicans want them to spend that cash in their establishment.

As a result many pubs have been made more "female-friendly". Gone is the flock wallpaper in favour of more stylish decor, even fresh flowers on the bar in some cases.

But while the pub industry has managed to get more women through the doors, it's not beer that they're drinking. Industry figures show 36% of women in pubs drink wine but only 14% drink lager.

Women in a pub
Pubs are more 'female-friendly'
This is mainly down to cultural reasons, says the British Dietetic Association. There is no difference between men and women when to comes to taste detection, but there is when it comes to what they prefer to drink.

"One thing is a physiological thing and the other is a cultural thing," says a spokeswoman.

"What you prefer to drink comes down to what you have grown up drinking. There are clear cultural and psychological patterns when it comes to what we order down the pub."

In short beer has an image problem and is seen as a drink for men. Attempts have been made to repackage it for women, like the introduction of smaller glass sizes, with little success.

The increase in female trade has also had an impact on what men drink, says Mr Withrington. If a couple go to the pub for a night and the woman wants wine they are quite likely to get a bottle to share.


Generational shifts in the way people work and socialise mean they are less likely to drink beer.

The decline of manual labour in the UK is the "key point" in the decline of beer sales over the last 40 years, according to Mr Withrington.

"When we had a major industrial culture manual workers came out of factories and mines to drink eight pints, to replenish fluids and socialise. That culture died, which meant publicans lost customers who drank large amounts every night," he says.

He also highlights changing social habits, such as the drink driving campaign of the 1980s which made this practice "socially unacceptable" for drinkers.

A pub in the past
Changing social habits have hit beer sales
"In the 60s and 70s people were driving to the pub, drinking and driving home, but people aren't doing that anymore," he says. "That's had a big impact, particularly in country pubs which you need a car to reach.

"In the past going to the pub for a beer was a nice way to catch up with your mates. Now drink is cheaper in supermarkets and people have satellite TV, so staying in is more fun than it used to be."

Meanwhile, the rise in club culture in recent decades appears to have made the use of recreational drugs - such as ecstasy and cocaine - more widespread among young people.

This trend has seen some young people eschew the pub altogether, while those who go often drink non-alcoholic drinks.

Earlier this year the UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC) - set up to analyse drug policy in the UK - said about a quarter of people in the 26-to-30 age group had tried a Class A drug on at least one occasion.

The value of the illegal drugs market in the UK is put at 5bn a year and, in a report, the body stated: "Prices of the principal drugs in Britain have declined for most of the last 10 years."

While taking Class A drugs are still largely associated with the under-25 age group, it is rising most swiftly among the next age group up.

One theory is that people who grew up in the rave culture of the late 1980s and early 1990s have continued to use drugs.


The increasing amount of choice available to drinkers has played a large part in falling beer sales in pubs, with a heightened sense of adventure and the pursuit of the next fashionable drink informing many people's habits.

For example, the amount of wine drunk in pubs since 1979 has increased six-fold, as the quality and range available has improved.

Phil Tate, research manager at licensed trade research consultancy CGA Strategy, says the main spirits categories - such as vodka, gin and rum - are all "enjoying growth" because "spirit categories appeal to the younger audience".

According to trends identified by CGA, vodka is increasingly popular primarily at the expense of alcopops, but also beer. Meanwhile, cider has taken sales from standard lager, in both male and female drinkers in the last year.

Certain drinks are seen as 'fashionable'
"Packaged cider volume has increased 31% in the last 12 months," says Mr Tate.

"The research also points to trends which suggest people are moving away from mainstream cider brands, such as Magners, towards more niche brands," he adds.

But the increase in choice has also led to a wider variety of beers, which has seen the UK's real ale scene flourish in recent years.

"The major trend is premiumisation," says Mr Tate. "Although overall volumes are down, new categories such as the world lager categories and premium 4% lager brands are enjoying volume growth."

Some of the most successful new beers in recent years are those from Poland.

Tesco sales of Tyskie, Lech and Zywiec grew by 250% in six months this year. It's not good news for the humble pint.

Here is a selection of your comments.

There are no 'pubs' any more. They are restaurants with bars. You used to be able to nip in the local after work, have a quiet pint, chat to a neighbour. They were 'havens'. No kids screaming and shouting and throwing their bread rolls all over the place, as now. It should be an adult place. I love children, but they shouldn't be in a pub. A pub should feel comfortable, home from home for adults, but I can't smoke, can't sit at the bar, can't wear work clothes and have to watch my drink in case kids bang into the table, I might just as well go home, which is what I and many other people are doing. It's not the cost, It's the no 'pub' to go to.
Paula Greenway, Sutton, Surrey

The reason I rarely drink in a pub now is less to do with the price of beer but much more to do with the unpleasantly loud music that blares out in almost every pub on the highstreet. If pubs would lower the volume I think they might find 30 and 40 somethings would return.
Rachael Hamblin, Carlisle

The biggest killer of the pubs was the smoking ban. Yeah, it works in america and various other places, but it's been around 2.5 degrees outside this week, when did they last have that in California?
Gumbo Briggs, Sheffield, UK

Premium lagers are available in the supermarkets at an equivalent 70p a pint, less than a quarter of the pub price here in Oxfordshire, enough said ?
Calum Ferguson, Abingdon

Pubs have changed from being social to profit making establishments where it has all backfired. Modernisation is not working, since my local pub changed from the traditional 20 years ago, every owner has struggled and gone under. The no smoking ban has not helped at all, I have many friends who smoke and they all visit pubs less now. The prices of drinks are far too excessive, they cannot compete with supermarkets, why go to a pub when you can have lots of friends round drinking cheaply and having a cigarette whenever they want one? No trouble from binge drinkers or crackpot doormen. No contest is there?
Mark Elmy, Lowestoft Suffolk


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