Beer battered by storms

Lager sales have been the biggest victim of the wet summer, according to the latest Nielsen figures.

Off-trade value figures for the four weeks to July 14 show lager sales dropped by 16.2 per cent to £212 million, with ale losing sales value of 11.8 per cent compared with the same period last year. Total beer sales were down 15.5 per cent.

Suppliers have blamed a range of factors, but S&N UK’s head of off-trade customer marketing, Craig Clarkson, said: “The single biggest factor affecting sales of beer is the weather. You can do the best marketing activity but you are still dependent on the weather. Frustrating as it is for marketing departments, we have just had a terrible summer.”

Beer suppliers always planned for poor summer weather, Clarkson said, adding he was “really not concerned about the health of the category” and that a fine bank holiday weekend could help to make up lost ground. “The summer isn’t over yet,” he said.

Beer deals ahead of the bank holiday weekend include two cases for £16 at Sainsbury’s. Budweiser is on sale in Tesco at £10 for a 20x30cl pack of cans – a discount of £4.99.

Elsewhere in the statistics, there is more positive news. Light wine appears to have weathered the storms, enjoying growth above inflation in the four weeks to July 14 (8.2 per cent).

Spirits enjoyed a resurgence, with sales up 5.5 per cent, although Nielsen analyst Graham Page says 2006 spirits sales were unusually low – probably as consumers were buying beer instead because of the World Cup.

The drinks trade’s most recent success story – cider – enjoyed the strongest performance with 15.5 per cent growth, but even major brands such as Magners suffered. A Magners spokeswoman said: “In common with many drinks brands, Magners’ sales dipped in July due to the appalling, unseasonal weather.

“Despite this, the brand continues to grow in the off-trade as distribution increases and the cider category as a whole expands.”

Sales patterns have also affected figures for the 12 weeks to July 14, with beer down by 6.4 per cent and light wine up 6.8 per cent. Total liquor sales during the 12-week period climbed by 2.8 per cent, suggesting that strong wine and cider sales are propping up total off-trade sales.