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Is British beer getting stronger? A look at the facts

On 02/07/15 by Brigid Simmonds (Chief Executive)

You may have seen the research from Mintel reported in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, saying that “older, middle class drinkers are consuming a higher percentage of alcohol” because a quarter of all beers launched over the past two years “contained at least 6.5 per cent alcohol, with many around the ten per cent mark”.

Does this mean that alarm bells should ring? It is worth taking a broader perspective on the market.

There is certainly a huge variety of new beers coming onto the UK market, with an estimated 5,000 total brands now available. It is true to say that craft beers from small producers have outperformed the market in recent years, but such beers still account for only a small market share, at around five per cent and not all craft beers are high strength.

Any increase in average strength in this part of the market is therefore likely to have a small impact on total units of alcohol consumed through beer.

On the other hand, as the article rightly points out, there has also been innovation at the lower-strength end of the market, which has indeed been spurred on by the Government’s innovative policy of 56 per cent tax relief on beers below 2.8 per cent ABV.

Overall, this means that British beer isn’t getting stronger. According to data published by HMRC, the average strength of beer sold in the UK in 2014 was just 4.16% ABV.

In fact, beer has been leading the way in terms of removing units of alcohol from the UK market. Under the ‘billion unit pledge’, as part of the Government’s Public Health Responsibility Deal, the industry has met the billion unit target ahead of schedule, and most of the units removed as a result of the pledge, have been beer.

It is important to remember than overall, beer is very much our national, lower-strength drink, and is staying that way - especially refreshing during the kind of weather we are enjoying this week!


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