Pubs and sunshine slow pace of beer sales slump

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The Independent Online

The slide in UK beer sales has started to slow, helped by the recent heatwave and hefty discounting by pub operators, the British Beer & Pub Association revealed yesterday.

Total sales fell by 4.8 per cent in the second quarter, year-on-year, but this was a marked improvement on the 7.8 per cent fall in the first quarter of this year and lower than the rate of decline in the second half of 2008.

The figures raised hopes that the worst of the downturn may be over, particularly for the on-trade industry's pubs, hotels and restaurants which are now posting better sales than the supermarket-dominated off-trade sector. David Long, the BBPA's chief executive, said: "The new figures give some ground for cautious optimism that some speck of light may be appearing at the end of the tunnel."

Last week, the BBPA said that pubs are closing at a record rate of 52 a week.

The big pub operators have contributed to the recent slowing in the pace of declining beer sales by launching aggressive promotions on combined food and alcohol deals. On-trade sales fell by 4.5 per cent in April, May and June, but this was less than the 5.2 per cent fall in the off-trade sector for the second successive quarter.

However, Graham Page, a liquor consultant at Nielsen UK, said that based on current trends off-trade beer sales volumes could exceed the on-trade sector in the second half of next year and "definitely" in 2011. The BBPA estimates that government tax revenues for the first half are down by £156m, compared with the same six months of 2008, despite recent tax rises.