It’s been a dark time for Guinness - with sales of the black stuff falling by almost 10 million pints in the past year.

Volume sales of Diageo brand Guinness Draught have fallen 15.8% year on year [Nielsen 52w/e 15 September 2012] in the off-trade, while Guinness Original has dropped 5%.

The fall had been partly down to shoppers switching pack sizes, said the company, which was looking to address this with a greater emphasis on pack differentiation. Diageo denied distribution losses had been a factor in the brand’s performance, claiming it had held its off-trade distribution at almost 100%.

Growth in craft and premium bottled beers had eaten into sales of the brand, said some observers, as had the trend for lighter drinks.
“It’s a fantastic brand but it goes against the grain compared with a lot of the NPD we are seeing at the moment, much of which is angled towards easier-drinking products,” said one senior industry figure.

Guinness has also faced increased competition from own-label stouts. Earlier this year, Waitrose beer buyer David Wyllyams told The Grocer: “There’s definitely a place for stouts [in own label ranges]; we’re offering more value for the consumer in pricing terms on like-for-like products.” More recently, Tesco has expanded its own-label beer range with Simply Stout, which it is selling at £1.33 for 500ml compared with £1.89 for a 500ml bottle of Guinness Original.

Growth in premium beer “gives us reason to believe Guinness will deliver to consumer demands for greater refinement in their drink of choice,” said Diageo UK senior category development manager Katherine Abram, adding that Diageo was spending £33m on its new Made of More marketing push.

“We hope to see growth in the brand over the year ahead,” she said.