Heady days for Europe’s brewers

Microbreweries are booming as EU beer production grows despite a drop in overall alcohol consumption, a new report finds. By David Burrows.

What has been published? The Brewers of Europe’s latest statistics. Basically, it’s a state-of-the-sector review, highlighting how much beer was made and drunk in the EU in 2017. It showed that there’s been a boom in microbreweries and that interest in low- and no-alcohol beers continues to rise.

Tell me more. Well, beer production continued to rise in 2017, with the EU 28 churning out 39.65 billion litres of the stuff. In 2011, by comparison, the figure was 39.20 billion litres. The UK managed 4.05 billion litres, putting it in second place to Germany (9.3 billion litres). These volumes are still a good way off their pre-economic-crash levels, but 2017 was an eight-year high. In an interview with Food Ingredients First, the Brewers of Europe secretary general, Pierre-Olivier Bergeron, was in high spirits: “The economic crisis 10 years ago hit European brewing hard. Since then we’ve had the stability, shoots of recovery and now four years of consecutive growth,” he said.

What’s changed, then? Exports have been key – one in five beers are shipped abroad, a third of them to outside the EU. There has also been a rise in the number of active breweries – there were 9,449 in 2017, up from 8,501 the year before and 4,396 in 2011. In the UK alone there are 2,430 – more than anywhere else in Europe (Germany is second with 1,492). The vast majority of these are, microbreweries – the thirst for “craft” beer shows little sign of drying up. Of those 2,430 breweries in the UK, 2,378 were of the “micro” variety – that is, with yearly production of up to 1,000 hectolitres. In his preamble to the report, Bergeron hailed the “unprecedented boom in the numbers of SMEs and new microbreweries springing up all across the continent”. Breweries now support about 2.3 million jobs in Europe.

How about consumption levels? The UK was second, after Germany, in the league table of consumption – just over 4.4 billion litres were quaffed here, which is slightly more than in 2016 (4.37 billion litres). Across the EU 28, 35.78 billion litres of beer were drunk in 2017. Per capita consumption was 67 litres, putting the UK mid-table. In the Czech Republic it was 138 litres, and in Austria and Germany 105 and 101 litres respectively.

That all seems like too much. Probably. However, it’s interesting to note that the increase in beer consumption has coincided with a “drop in overall alcohol consumption, binge drinking and adolescent drinking” said Brewers of Europe. There has reportedly been a shift towards beer – which is typically a low-alcohol beverage – as well as increased availability of even lower-alcohol and non-alcoholic beers. In fact, the EU now produces nearly 900m litres of non-alcoholic beer (about 2% of the total). Production of lower-alcohol beers is also rising, said Brewers of Europe. A 2018 Reputation Institute survey of more than 10,000 Europeans of legal drinking age in 12 countries found that nearly half were making moderate alcohol consumption part of their lifestyle or culture and now recognised the innovative low- and no-alcohol options offered by brewers.

That seems like good news. Yes. Brigid Simmonds, the CEO of the British Beer and Pub Association, told the Drinks Business magazine this month that lower-strength beers represent a “really great opportunity”. Nielsen data shows that in the off-trade in the past year, £43m was spent on no- or low-alcohol beers, an increase of 28%.  Volume has increased by 21% and works out to the equivalent of more than 12.2m pints sold. The trend has also been welcomed by the EU health commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis: “It shows that healthier choices have become more popular among consumers and that the industry is adapting well to this demand,” he said. The commissioner also welcomed the commitment of Brewers of Europe to provide the full list of ingredients and the calorie content on all pre-packed beers. In July, the organisation recommended to all breweries to list ingredients and calories on the labels of pre-pack containers. Recent research in the UK found that less than one in 10 alcoholic drinks carry up-to-date health warnings, with Brexit an opportunity to include ingredient, nutritional, calorie and alcohol content. By the end of this year Brewers of Europe reckons that “no less than three out of four beers [in Europe] will label ingredients and one out of two beers will label calorie information per 100ml, on-pack”.

I’ll drink to that. Me too.

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