Tim Palmer Britain's drinkers have increased their alcohol intake for the third year in a row with one expert predicting further growth in future. It is the first time sales figures have gone up so steadily since the late 1970s. New figures from ACNielsen, revealed at this week's FWD Drinksummit conference, show that the UK alcoholic drinks market was worth £27.8bn last year with the take home sector accounting for £8.7bn (31.4%). Peter Crean, ACNielsen's client team manager, said the off-trade was one of the biggest winners, growing by 6% in value in 2001 as it piled on extra sales of £500m. The lion's share (64%) was taken by the multiple grocers, while the value in independents rose by a more modest 4% as they lost market share. However, the biggest losers were multiple specialists such as First Quench and Unwins whose category share has declined from 25% in 1992 to 15% in 2001. "The multiple specialists have lost their specialist point of difference as other players have become more astute with their offers," said Crean. He said the independent sector would continue to be competitive if stores continued to focus on the needs of their neighbourhoods, kept their ranges up to date, made better use of competitive promotional offers and implemented the FWD's Blueprint merchandising guide. "Independents under-trade in the wine market," claimed Crean. "Wine sales account for 20% of liquor turnover in the sector, whereas in the total take home market wine has a 33% value share. At the same time the category is too reliant on a beer market where prices are going down. "I believe the multiple specialists' decline will continue but there are signs they will soon be offering stiffer competition. The ownership of First Quench and Oddbins is more secure, Unwins is restructuring and Bargain Booze is expanding." {{DRINKS }}