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UK drinkers return to bitter but on-trade beer sales plummet

LONDON - UK drinkers are returning to bitter, with sales of the traditional British pint topping 400 million pints, as the gap between on and off-trade sales narrows sharply.

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According to a report by analyst AC Nielsen, sales of bitter rose 7% year on year in value to £475m and 1% in volume to 404 million pints. Lager sales rose in value by 4% to £2.9bn, however the volume sold is down by 1% to 2.8 billion pints.

One of the reasons lager sales are higher is, unlike bitter, there is less difference in taste between a pint served from a tap or from a can. However, according to the report, one of the reasons behind bitter's comeback is the introduction of new technology to help preserve flavour in a can.

Lager still dominates the market and while bitters Boddington, Old Speckled Hen and John Smith's Extra Smooth are all in the top 20, only the latter is in the lager-dominated top 10.


Stella Artois is the top beer in the UK followed by Foster's and Carling.

The resurgence of bitter is all the more remarkable as it comes alongside the current high rate of pub closures and the shift towards drinking at home.

The difference between on trade and off trade is the closest yet with only 56% sold in pubs and clubs. If consumers continue to increasingly drink at home it is predicted off-trade will overtake on-trade by this time next year.

Nielsen analyst Graham Page said: "It's not that the off trade is doing spectacularly well, it's that the on-trade figures are spectacularly awful."

Top 20 UK beer brands

1.Stella Artois
2.Foster’s
3.Carling
4.Carlsberg
5.Budweiser
6.Carlsberg Export
Kronenbourg 1664
8.Beck’s
9.John Smith’s Extra Smooth
10.Tennent’s
11.Guinness Draught
12.Stella Artois 4%
13.Grolsch
14.Carlsberg Special Brew
15.Reroni Mastro Azzurro
16.San Miguel
17.Corona Extra
18.Heineken
19.Boddingtons
20.Old Speckled Hen.

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