In the early years of the 21st century, European brewers faced a surprising paradox. The traditional centre of the beer industry worldwide and home to the world’s largest brewing companies, Europe, was turning off beer. Beer consumption was falling in the largest markets of Germany and the United Kingdom, while burgeoning in emerging markets around the world. In 2008, Europe’s largest market, Germany, ranked only 5th in the world, behind China, the United States, Brazil and Russia. China, with 12% annual growth between 2003 and 2008, had become the largest single market by volume, alone accounting for 23% of world consumption (Euromonitor, 2010). Table 1 details the overall decline of European beer consumption.
Decline in traditional key markets is due to several factors. Governments are campaigning strongly against drunken driving, affecting the propensity to drink beer in restaurants, pubs and bars. There is increasing awareness of the effects of alcohol on health and fitness. Particularly in the United Kingdom, there is growing hostility to so-called ‘binge drinking’, excessive alcohol consumption in pubs and clubs. Wines have also become increasingly popular in Northern European markets. However, beer consumption per capita varies widely between countries, being four times higher in Germany than in Italy, for example. Some traditionally low consumption European markets have been showing good growth.
The drive against drunken driving and binge drinking has helped shift sales from the ‘on-trade’ (beer consumed on the premises, as in pubs or restaurants) to the off-trade (retail). Worldwide, the off-trade increased from 63% of volume in 2000 to 67% in 2008. The off-trade is increasingly dominated by large supermarket chains such as Tesco or Carrefour, who often use cut-price offers on beer in order to lure people into their shops. More than one fifth of beer volume is now sold through supermarkets.
German retailers such as Aldi and Lidl have had considerable success with their own ‘private-label’ (rather than brewery-branded beers). Pubs have suffered : in the United Kingdom, an estimated 50 pubs closed per week during the recessionary year 2009. However, although on-trade volumes are falling in Europe, brewers flavoured satisfied the sales values are generally premium rising, as brewers introduce higher-prices premium products such as non-alcoholic beers, extra cold largers or fruits flavoured beers. On the other hand, a good deal of this increasing demand for premium products is being by the import of
apparently exotic beers from overseas (see table 2).