Independent brewers continue to outperform the overall beer market, with the local brewing sector up 10% in 2008 and brewers predicting a 15% rise this year.
That's according to the new edition of the Society of Independent Brewers' (Siba) Local Brewing Industry Report.
This shows like-for-like volumes among Siba members grew 7% in 2008 — the rest of the increase came from brewers not in operation in 2007. It compares to a 5.5% year-on-year fall in sales by British Beer and Pub Association members in 2008.
The data is based on a survey of nearly 200 Siba members, mainly smaller brewers, in November and December.
Siba put the growth down to rising distribution, with the average number of pub customers per brewer growing from 79 to 94 last year. Increased rate-of-sale also helped — throughput of local beers grew by an average of nine per cent over the last two years.
The brewers showed confidence in the future — with a 15% growth anticipated for 2009. Three out of four members aim to increase brewing capacity this year to meet rising demand, with 81% planning to invest in new equipment and 82% in marketing.
However, rising beer duty and input costs have hit margins — 45% of local brewers saw gross profits fall last year and just one in eight improved margins.
"These are impressive figures that speak volumes for the talent, entrepreneurship and hard work of small brewers throughout the UK," said Siba chief executive Julian Grocock.
"They also demonstrate how the right fiscal support, in the shape of Progressive Beer Duty (PBD), can encourage companies not only to thrive, but to invest in their future. We applaud this Government's commitment to retain PBD, and urge them to reconsider other, punitive aspects of their taxation policy, which risk causing irreparable damage to the sector."
He added: "Consumers' desire to shop ethically, and their willingness to pay a premium to do so, are holding firm through the recession. Local beers tick all the boxes for the ethical consumer: genuine provenance, low food miles, sustainable production and contribution to the local economy. If there was ever a right time for the local brewer, it is surely now."
The survey also showed draught ale accounted for 86% of volumes, but bottled beer is growing fast — volumes rose 50%, helping total sales turnover rise 20%.
• Download the full report by clicking here.