Britain's thirst for beer is undiminished - in the take-home market at least. But with on-trade sales heading for freefall, the expected uplift in the off-trade has failed to materialise.
And although volumes may be marginally up, off-trade
sales are still struggling to keep pace with inflation. The widely anticipated Christmas price war is not about to make the picture any rosier.
This year's OLN Beer Report bears a striking similarity to the one we published last year, at least at the front end - the top 10 is essentially the same, though Beck's has leapfrogged John Smith's Extra Smooth to claim ninth place.
The major brands which
dr ove the sector in previous years are among those which have found the going toughest this time.
A range of premium lagers - Stella Artois, Budweiser, Carlsberg Export, Kronenbourg and Grolsch - have all registered declines, while their main standard rivals have fared relatively well.
Once again, the Nielsen figures illustrate lager's dominance of the beer market, with just John Smith's Extra Smooth breaking the monopoly in the top 10. The combined sales of Guinness Draught and Original would actually place it in eighth spot, though this would also have the effect of pushing John Smith's Extra Smooth down to 11th.
Those who say that beer is being sold artificially cheaply in the off-trade can reflect that the category as a whole is seeing stronger value growth than volume expansion - though the difference between the figures is so tiny, this detail is unlikely to impress anyone who has seen lager sold cheaper than water.
But of the 50 brands in the table, 30 report a better performance in value terms than
Even more encouragingly, the top eight beers all saw value increase faster, or fall more slowly, than volume.
Perhaps beer is not chasing short-term volume gains at the expense of genuine market growth after all - or perhaps it's just that duty and other cost increases are finally beginning to filter through.
The extremes are illustrated by Skol Super and Red Stripe. Both brands registered an 8% uplift in sales value, but in very different ways. Red Stripe was able to increase revenue despite tolerating a modest dip in volumes; for Skol Super, it required a whopping 40% volume increase.
Six brands have fallen out of the top 50, including some big names.
Marston's Pedigree, one of the standard bearers for the premium bottled ale category, has gone - new stablemate Hobgoblin, acquired by Marston's as part of its purchase of Refresh UK, has taken its place among the elite.
Coors Light, a beer which was backed with a
£19 million launch as Fine Light in 2003, is now worth just over £6 million in the off-trade
- a disappointing return on the investment.
However, in its new guise the brand is picking up sales and misses out on a top 50 place by the tiniest possible margin.
At the time of the launch, Coors was adamant that lager was the future - ironic, then, that one of the beers which joins this year's top 50 is its own Worthington's Creamflow.
Stone's, however, has made its exit while Hall & Woodhouse's Tanglefoot just creeps into the chart following a very solid performance by ale market standards.
Foster's Twist, the citrus lager launched in 2006, represented S&N's first NPD for the brand after acquiring the European rights to the Australian beer.
It was a brave move, and one which might have pacified critics who accuse brewers of being slow to innovate.
But with off-trade sales down 41%, the future for the sub-brand seems shaky.
More bad news for Inbev UK's Castlemaine XXXX, which saw another massive 50% sales decline after a 39% decline in 2007, and Murphy's saw sales slide this year too by 21%.
Both variants of Booker's Lynx lager leave the chart, replaced by SABMiller's Polish lager, Tyskie Gronie, and the year's fastest grower - Beck's Vier.
The party also appears to be over for Brahma, another big-fanfare launch, which has never really gained traction in the UK and has already suffered the indignity of being publicly downscaled by brand owner Inbev.
In the coming year, look out for strong performances from Tuborg (growing at 157%), Greene King's Abbot and IPA, and Wells & Young's Bombardier, all of which stand a good chance of cracking the top 50 if they can maintain the momentum of the past 12 months.
Fastest growing brands and biggest fallers
Beck's Vier wins the prize for biggest growth in the off-trade beer market this year, with an impressive sales increase of 113% to nearly £15 million.
SAB Miller's Polish lager brand Tyskie was just 2 points off the 100% mark at £9 million and Inbev UK's Peeterman Artois built on
the success of last year's launch to increase sales by 40% to £10 million. Meanwhile, 2008 was another disappointing year for Castlemaine XXXX, with a further drop in sales.
Foster's Twist - last year's huge success story with a whopping 713% sales increase - failed to keep up the momentum. Murphy's too has fallen
further compared to its -1% from the previous year.
Total GB off-trade sales to Oct 4 2008
Position Brand Supplier % change
(Last year's in brackets)
Stella Artois Inbev UK -3
Carling Coors 4
Foster's Scottish & Newcastle UK 2
Carlsberg Carlsberg UK 22
Budweiser Anheuser-Busch -11
Carlsberg Export Carlsberg UK -5
Kronenbourg 1664 Scottish & Newcastle UK -11
Beck's Inbev UK 27
John Smith's Extra Smooth Scottish & Newcastle UK 10
Inbev UK 1
Guinness Draught Diageo 1
Carlsberg Special Brew Carlsberg UK 2
San Miguel Carlsberg UK 0
Tennent's Super Inbev UK -14
Scottish & Newcastle UK 27
Peroni Nastro Azzuro Miller Brands 38
Boddingtons Inbev UK -15
Corona Extra Wells & Young's 29
Guinness Original Diageo -4
Old Speckled Hen Greene King 17
Miller Genuine Draft Miller
Holsten Pils Carlsberg UK 1
Cobra Cobra Beer 34
Newcastle Brown Ale Sottish & Newcastle UK -8
Miller Beer Miller Brewing Company -12
McEwan's Export Ale Scottish & Newcastle UK -5
Castlemaine XXXX Inbev UK -50
Beck's Vier Inbev UK 113
John Smith's Original Scottish & Newcastle UK -20
Caffrey's Coors -7
Murphy's Inbev UK -21
Skol Carlsberg UK -12
Tetley's Smoothflow Carlsberg UK 5
Peeterman Artois Inbev UK 40
Tetley's Original Carlsberg UK 2
Leffe Blonde Inbev UK 0
Tiger Tiger Beer UK 9
Tyskie Miller Brands 98
Sol Coors 8
Budweiser Budvar Budweiser Budvar UK -6
Skol Super Carlsberg UK 8
Oranjeboom Shepherd Neame -15
Red Stripe Wells & Young's 8
Theakston's Old Peculier Theakston -9
Brahma Inbev UK -20
Worthington's Creamflow Coors
Tanglefoot Bitter Hall & Woodhouse 6
There may be trouble ahead ...
Nielsen analyst Graham Page is pessimistic about the brewing industry's chances of reversing its fortunes in the immediate future.
Miller Beer may not be the only brand which disappears
as brewers rationalise their portfolios.
"It has been a disappointing year for beer compared to previous years," he says. "Beer has been growing
steadily for a long time, accelerated by the hot summer of 2006. You've now got a situation where the on-trade has almost collapsed and the off-trade
has fallen back itself.
"Any brands that are marginal may be put out to contract, with somebody else producing them, which may help the regionals. The problem for the big nationals is that the UK is a mature market in decline and it really hasn't got anywhere to go."
Page predict s "suicidal" pricing this Christmas as the industry tries to shift volumes that did not sell in the summer.
"My gut feeling is the performance of the trade in January, February and March will be absolutely dire and we'll be seeing some of the worst numbers in living memory, as bad as the Depression of the 1930s."