It has traditionally been derided for its terrible taste and spurned by serious drinkers for its lack of a crucial ingredient. But sales of no-alcohol and low-alcohol beers at UK off-licences and supermarkets have soared to a record high, new figures show, sparked by demand from health-conscious Britons and a wider choice of new ranges with improved taste.
Sales of these beers posted an annual 40% increase across all retail outlets according to the latest data from Kantar Worldpanel. Retailers said consumers were responding to the improved product quality and range; a desire to live more healthily; and better awareness around the risks of drink-driving.
Supermarket giant Tesco reports that its sales are even higher, with a year-on-year growth of 47%. It will next week expand into the developing mid-strength beer market when it launches a dedicated range of 11 brews – lager, ale and stout. Each has an ABV (alcohol by volume) of 2.8%, compared with an average beer ABV of 4%.
Low-alcohol beers are now cheaper than their more alcoholic equivalents, thanks to a 50% cut in duty announced by the chancellor in the budget – which took effect last October – for those of 2.8% ABV and less.
The move, which saw a 50p reduction on a pint of beer, sparked much experimentation amongst UK breweries in anticipation of greater demand for the lower-alcohol beer. But Tesco – which will help shoppers by labelling displays with a new “mid-strength” category – said the sales spike was already in evidence.
Non-alcoholic beer was launched in the UK in the early 1980s but did not sell well, largely because of its poor taste.
Tesco specialist beer buyer Chiara Nesbitt said: “The growth, particularly for non-alcohol beers, is remarkable as they were previously frowned upon by drinkers who considered them thin and tasteless compared to the real thing. However, over the last few years there have been great improvements in quality with many breweries using far better ingredients in order to create full-bodied brews that taste like their more alcoholic cousins.
“The success of this market has shown us that growing numbers of drinkers are prepared to buy lower alcohol beers as long as the quality is good.”
Waitrose has seen a similar trend, reporting that sales of low-alcohol Bavaria are up 11% and Becks Blue up 27% year-on-year. The supermarket chain is launching two new 2.8% ABV beers – a bottled ale and a lager – in March. And sales of its own low-alcohol cider have risen 16% year on year.
David Wyllyams, Waitrose beer buyer said: “We’ve noticed a trend towards low-alcohol beers and ciders, which is attributed to a growing awareness of alcohol unit consumption and our customers’ willingness to try new beverages.”
Last year Tesco sold nearly 15m bottles of non- and low-alcohol beer and this year it expects sales to grow even further by 10 to 15%.
Nesbitt added: “The new mid-strength beer category has been a long time coming and the growing number of 2.8% ABV brews will offer greater diversity than ever before for drinkers whilst at the same time offering them very high quality and extremely great tasting brews.
“We are creating a new middle ground for beer drinkers which will offer a solution to anyone fancying a midweek pint, perhaps to enjoy while watching the football, but who doesn’t want anything too strong.”
The pub trade – reeling from closures of as many as 52 every week at the lowest point – is pinning its hopes on the wider range of economically-priced low-alcohol beers to entice even more customers. J
on Howard, press manager of the Campaign for Real Alesaid: “Low-strength beers are a great selling point for licensees seeking to offer further choice at the bar, as well as making it easier for punters to regulate their drinking.
“Brewers have already proven in a short time that it is possible to brew a low-strength beer packed with flavour and aroma. Furthermore, our research on the subject last year showed how one in every two regular pub goers would like to see more pubs serving such a beer.”
He said the lower rate of duty on low-strength beers was “a win-win scenario” for the industry and government. “We hope to see more of these low-ABV thirst-quenchers unveiled by brewers in the near future.”
Article source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/jan/27/low-alcohol-beers-sales