There's a Tear in British Beer"¦

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Gone are the days of Guinness is Good For You; welcome to the socially responsible recession era world of O'Doul's. In a market trend that almost defies logic, beer sales in the UK have been on the decline for the past few years "“ while sales of non-alcoholic beer have steadily increased.

Though Britain still reigns among the booziest of the Western European countries, sales of beer in off licenses (convenience stores, basically) and supermarkets has declined 11 percent in the first quarter of 2009, more than double the decline of beer sales in pubs and bars for the same period. Overall, the British beer market has dropped a whopping 8.2 percent in this last quarter, the sharpest dive since 1997, and has fallen 7 percent since 2006. The only bright spot, albeit a dim one, in the otherwise gloomy beer outlook is that traditional cask ales have maintained a small but steady increase over the last few years.

But while it's all tears in their beers for brewers, off-licenses and pub owners alike, the makers of non-alcoholic brews, such as Cobra Zero, have a reason to celebrate (responsibly, of course): Sales of non-alcoholic beer rose 9 percent in the last year and a massive 23 percent since 2006. It's still a tiny portion of the entire beer market, but brewers are beginning to take notice, perhaps, in the way beer manufacturers jumped on the low-calorie, low-carbohydrate wagons when they came around.

Marketing directors, especially those of the companies selling non-alco beers, attribute the rise to the growing availability of good non-alco beers and better tasting choices, while independent market researchers have pointed to the inundation of government messages encouraging responsible drinking. Reports on who's buying the non-alco beer vary: Bavaria, one manufacturer of the beer, says their drinkers are "image conscious 18-34-year-old men," although the company also sponsors UK pregnancy websites. Cobra, however, says their biggest fans are older men, between the ages of 45 and 60.

In other booze news, UK sales of alcopops, those nauseatingly sweet pre-mixed cocktails of the kind you drank when you were a teenager making the jump from candy to liquor and hadn't yet discovered adult alcoholic beverages could be just as rewarding and even tasted better, have tumbled drastically over the last decade. Sales, which had been previously fueled by young drinkers, have dropped 14 percent in the last year, while the market shrank from roughly £800 billion in 2005 to around £405 billion now.

June 10, 2009 - 8:50am
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