Bass licks its wounds as alcopop sales dive

Leading brewers say that alcopops sales have fallen sharply in the wake of public concern that they might lead to under-age drinking. Cathy Newman reports on the state of play.

Cathy Newman
Wednesday 17 September 1997 23:02

Bass, which recently repackaged Hooper's Hooch, Britain's biggest- selling alcopop, to aim for a more adult market, said that volume sales of the drink in the UK had fallen by 11 per cent in the first 11 months of the year.

A spokesman for the company yesterday blamed the furore over under-age drinking, which has led to the withdrawal of five alcopops.

He said: "The issue was specifically about concerns over under-age drinking, which reduced consumption."

But he added that Bass was confident that the pounds 1m relaunch of the product to appeal to drinkers beyond the original 25- to 35-year-old target market, would solve the problems. However, the group said that international sales of Hooper's Hooch were still healthy.

Merrydown, the cider-maker that owns the second best-selling alcopop, Two Dogs, admitted yesterday that its own sales had been hit by the decision of pubs such as JD Wetherspoon to stop stocking the drinks. Whitbread also excluded alcopops from 400 of its 1,700 pubs earlier this year.

Paul Millman, managing director of Merrydown, said: "There has been a lot of distribution rationalisation. If you remove alcopops from your shelves, surprise surprise, sales drop."

However, Mr Millman said that the alcopops sector was still big. He added that he was confident that advertising campaigns for Two Dogs would improve sales.

Hooper's Hooch was the first alcopops brand to arrive in the UK two years ago. The market is now worth around pounds 350m a year.

Ian Prosser, chairman of Bass, was upbeat about the company's overall prospects. He said: "I am pleased to be able to say that our profits, before exceptional items, reflect the progress expected in the second half."

Analysts said that the pounds 35m charge from the sale of its stake in Carlsberg- Tetley was in line with expectations.

Bass sold its share following the ruling by the President of the Board of Trade that the merger of the two companies could not go ahead.

The group has also been forced to write down the value of its bingo assets after a poor trading performance from the division which has been hit by the effects of the National Lottery.

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