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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 March 2007, 12:20 GMT
Guinness sales losing their froth
By Shane Harrison
Dublin corrrespondent

Lent is now upon us, a time when many people in Ireland make a sacrifice until Easter Sunday.

Guinness sales are in decline in the Irish Republic

Quite a few forsake their visits to their local pub and give up drinnking alcohol for several weeks, though some do make an exception for St Patrick's Day on 17 March.

And that's not good news for Diageo, the owners of Guinness, Ireland's world-famous stout that was first exported in 1796.

In 1914 the Guinness brewery in Dublin was the largest in the world and the company was the biggest single employer in Ireland.

But times have changed.

Recent figures show that sales of Guinness are losing their froth.

The 2006 figures for Ireland and Britain show a drop of 7%, continuing a trend that began years ago.

Some people blame the trend on the Irish Republic's smoking ban in pubs; others say it has to do with a crackdown on drink-driving.

People are drinking more alcohol at home and are mainly choosing wine

But the truth is that even before the ban was introduced people were going to the pub less often and this was having an impact on sales.

People are drinking more alcohol at home and are mainly choosing wine.

Michael Patton, corporate relations director, Diageo Ireland, says company research shows the number of people remaining loyal to Guinness is stable.

"The problem is they are consuming less Guinness than before," he said.

Mr Patton puts the decline in sales primarily down to life-style changes. Six years ago, he says, 70% of all Guinness was consumed in pubs but now it has dipped below 50%.

He said: "The main issue for us and the beer market, in general, is changing life-style and the continuing shift from on-trade to off-trade consumption."

The continuing decline in Guinness sales has led to speculation that Diageo might be prepared to sell the brand but Michael Patton says that's not the case.

"We won't be getting out of beer. Diageo has a total beverage alcohol strategy and that means it will stay in beer."

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