However, overall beer sales across the on and off-trade were collectively up 2.6% versus 2017 – an increase that marks the biggest year-on-year sales growth of beer in 45 years, according to sales data from the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA)'s Beer Barometer.
In the on-trade, full-year 2018 sales of beer rose by 0.1% on full-year 2017 sales. In the off-trade, this increased by 4.7%.
Last year began with a tricky start for the beer and pub sector with total sales in the first quarter down by 1.7% on the same period in 2017.
However, consistent growth in the second quarter (up 3.6% versus the same quarter in 2017), quarter three (up 4.4% year on year) and up 3.1% in the last quarter of 2018, meant it was a record year for beer sales.
Increased beer sales in the middle period of the year were driven by the success of England at the World Cup, which saw the national team reach the semi-finals of the tournament, driving footfall in pubs where fans watched the games.
This rise in sales was also partly driven by good weather, which encouraged people to get out and visit their local pub, making full use of the pub garden.
Although the World Cup was a welcome boost for licensees, as it only takes places every four years, operators can’t rely on this for growth the BBPA said. It added the same could be said for the good weather the country experienced too.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer’s decision to freeze beer duty in the Autumn Budget was very welcome and the BBPA said had made an immediate impact on the trade, with beer sales rising in the last quarter of 2018.
In particular, pubs benefited from a strong end to the year with beer sales growing by 2.2% in the period from September to December, compared with the same quarter in 2017. This was the first time that quarter’s beer sales grew in the on-trade since 2011.
Heavy cost burdens
Freezing beer duty in the Autumn 2017 Budget will have also boosted beer sales in 2018 overall.
BBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds said: “Last year has been a good year for beer and pubs. Considering the heavy cost burdens the industry faces from high beer duty, business rates and rising costs in general, it is great to see beer sales doing the best they have for some years.
“A significant amount of the growth in beer sales in 2018 can be attributed to the England team’s performance at the World Cup and the good weather over the summer months.
“The Chancellor’s decision in the 2018 Autumn Budget to freeze beer tax also appears to have had an immediate impact, with sales of beer in pubs growing in the last quarter of 2018 by 2.2.%.
“This shows just how important reducing the beer tax burden is to boosting sales and helping pubs with their footfall.
“As the UK’s alcoholic drink of choice, which continues to have a much bigger, positive impact on the UK economy than any other drink, it is important beer continues to do well and the Chancellor continues to support pubs.”