The top five lagers in the UK own nearly half the value in the total beer market,and though their sales may fluctuate with the weather, they're not going anywhere.
The question is, how will they make sure 2008 isn't the washout that 2007 has been?
Two of the biggest brewers in the market, Scottish & Newcastle and Coors, want to grow their sales by giving the whole market an overhaul.
Coors, whose flagship lager Carling has a strong link with football, says waiting for Euro 2008 and hoping for better weather isn't enough. "We tend to find that football competitions affect the timings of beer consumed, not the volumes," says portfolio activation director David Wigham. "We have plans to drive sales of all of our brands throughout the year next year. We want to encourage consumers to think about beer more often, and there will be a lot of activity about extending the reach of beer to a broader range of consumers and occasions."
Scottish & Newcastle UK, which has Foster's, Kronenbourg 1664 and John Smith's Extra Smooth in the top 10, has developed a category plan that sees beers and ciders marketed by drinking occasion and customer rather than by brand. It says that will grow the whole category rather than shuffling market share from one brand to another.
InBev UK, which owns 11 brands in the top 50, including market leader Stella Artois, is investing in advertising for Stella and its sister brands Peeterman Artois and Artois Bock. A new TV ad aired for the first time last week and a website - artois.co.uk - and training programme, l'Academie Artois, are among the Dutch brewer's plans for the brands.
Activity is also planned around the 30th anniversary of the Artois Tennis Championships at London's Queen's Club.
Like others in the trade, InBev UK's take-home retail director Steve McAllister blames Stella's 5 per cent sales drop on the weather and the lack of a major football tournament this summer. "We do not believe this is a long-term trend - Stella Artois remains the UK's favourite beer brand and is nearly four times the size of its nearest competitor in terms of take-home volume," he says.
Carlsberg and Carlsberg Export grew sales by 17 per cent and 7 per cent respectively, and between them command 11 per cent of the total beer market. But the brewer believes they could have done even better with a decent barbecue season.
Take-home marketing controller Ged Lowry says: "2008 will be a better year for a number of reasons, but you can't imagine that the weather could be quite so bad again next year. Euro 2008 will also drive sales by creating more drinking occasions as men will get into the tournament and enjoy watching football with a beer.
"It is also important to continue to focus on driving the number of occasions for drinking beer and we are doing this through innovation, whether it's our Carlsberg Draughtmaster that is perfect for parties, our Jacobsen speciality range that is great for sharing with a special meal, or our Carlsberg low alcohol product that is an excellent product for those worried about alcohol consumption."Winners and losers
Foster's Twist saw the biggest growth in the off-trade beer market this year, with sales soaring 713 per cent to £10 million in the year after its launch, nearly on a par with Tetley's Smoothflow and Fuller's London Pride.
InBev UK's Peeterman Artois also saw massive success, leaping into 48th place with nearly £8 million of sales in its launch year.
Further up the table, Cobra's ad campaign and TV sponsorships helped boost the brand 54 per cent to £15 million, and Peroni Nastro Azzuro grew sales by 40 per cent to £23 million.
This year's biggest loss was for Castlemaine XXXX, which saw sales plummet by 39 per cent to £29 million. Owner InBev UK blamed the weather but hopes the brand's new look - designed to give it a more Aussie feel with slogans such as A Beer Not a Lifestyle Choice printed on cans - will appeal to male drinkers and help turn it around.
Sales of Carlsberg's 3 per cent abv Skol fell 35 per cent to £13 million. But Carlsberg says it believes the brand could become popular as interest in lower abv beers grows. Take-home marketing controller Ged Lowry says: "Skol is the biggest mid-strength lager and is much bigger than Carling C2. The brand has a part to play in our portfolio and there is a growing demand for lower abv products.
|GB Off-trade sales|
|Year to Oct 6 2007|
% sales change
|1 (1)||Stella Artois||InBev UK|
|3 (3)||Foster's||Scottish & Newcastle|
|4 (4)||Carlsberg||Carlsberg UK|
|6 (7)||Carlsberg Export||Carlsberg UK|
|7 (6)||Kronenbourg 1664||Scottish & Newcastle|
|9 (10)||John Smith's Extra Smooth||Scottish & Newcastle|
|10 (12)||Beck's||InBev UK|
|11 (11)||Tennent's||InBev UK|
|12 (9)||Guinness Draught||Diageo|
|13 (13)||Carlsberg Special Brew||Carlsberg UK|
|14 (15)||Tennent's Super||InBev UK|
|15 (16)||San Miguel||Scottish & Newcastle|
|16 (17)||Boddingtons||InBev UK|
|17 (14)||Castlemaine XXXX||InBev UK|
|18 (18)||Guinness Original||Diageo|
|19 (20)||Heineken||Heineken UK|
|20 (27)||Peroni Nastro Azzuro||Miller Brands|
|21 (23)||Old Speckled Hen||Greene King|
|22 (29)||Corona Extra||Wells & Young's|
|23 (22)||Newcastle Brown Ale||Scottish & Newcastle|
|24 (21)||Miller Genuine Draft||Miller Brands|
|25 (19)||Miller Beer||Miller Brewing Company|
|26 (26)||Holsten Pils||Carlsberg UK|
|27 (25)||John Smith's Original||Scottish & Newcastle|
|28 (28)||McEwan's Export Ale||Scottish & Newcastle|
|29 (35)||Cobra||Cobra Beer|
|30 (30)||Murphy's||InBev UK|
|31 (24)||Skol||Carlsberg UK|
|33 (36)||London Pride||Fuller's|
|34 (33)||Tetley's Smoothflow||Carlsberg UK|
|35 (-)||Foster's Twist||Scottish & Newcastle|
|36 (46)||Leffe Blonde||InBev UK|
|37 (31)||Tetley's Original||Carlsberg UK|
|39 (24)||Oranjeboom||Shepherd Neame|
|41 (-)||Lynx Altra||Booker|
|43 (42)||Marston's Pedigree||Marston's|
|44 (-)||Lynx premium||Booker|
|45 (45)||Theakston's Old Peculiar||Theakston|
|46 (44)||Budweiser Budvar||Budweiser Budvar UK|
|47 (37)||Coors Fine Light||Coors|
|48 (48)||Peeterman Artois||InBev UK|
|50 (49)||Skol Super||Carlsberg UK|
Source: Neilsen Scantrack data.