Premium bottled ale aisle

Photo courtesy of Flickr user rawdonfox under the Creative Commons License 2.0 

Traditional bottled ale sales have returned to volume and value growth despite surging competition from craft brews and reduced space on shelves, shaking off a significant slump from 2017.

This time last year, take-home sales of premium bottled (500ml or higher) ales (PBAs) had fallen 4% (£12m) to £271.7m, as the supers upended ranges in favour of smaller format (largely 330ml) craft beers. Waitrose, for instance, delisted a host of PBAs to make room for its recent influx of almost 100 new craft SKUs in the spring.

But figures reveal PBAs have returned to growth regardless over the past 12 months, adding 2% (£4.4m) in value sales to reach £276.1m [Kantar Worldpanel 52 w/e 15 July 2018].

British Beer & Pub Association chief executive Brigid Simmons suggested industry campaigns such as ‘There’s a Beer for That’ had helped promote “the innovation and diversity in UK beer”.

“The return to growth of premium bottled ales is a sign that although there is a wider range to choose from than ever before, traditional beers are still a popular choice with consumers”.

Pricing also looks to have played a part. According to Brand View data, average 500ml PBA prices in the mults have decreased by 1% over the past 12 months [52 w/e 31 July 2018].

However, craft beers are still outgrowing PBAs. The craft category has grown by more than a third (38%) over the past 12 months, Brits having splashed out an extra £42.8m - the equivalent of 13 million extra litres [Kantar Worldpanel 52 w/e 17 June 2018].

Many of the UK’s biggest traditional ale brewers have diversified their ranges to include more modern craft beer styles and brands. Both Fuller’s and Marston’s have launched their own standalone ‘pilot’-style breweries from which to launch more experimental and small-batch products.

Last month The Grocer revealed Yorkshire brewing stalwart Theakston could be poised for its own entry into craft, having applied to register the trademark ‘Peculier Brewing Company’ with the intellectual property office - although Theakston dismissed the move as trademark housekeeping aimed at “protecting and future-proofing” its Old Peculier brand.

Read more: A new dawn? Britain’s Biggest Alcohol Brands 2018