john smiths

John Smith’s racked up £55m in sales last year, but is in steep volume decline

Heineken UK has reduced the strength of its John Smith’s Extra Smooth beer to 3.4% abv.

The cut of 0.2% abv rolled out across packaged John Smith’s on 29 January, and would take effect on draught product from 5 February, Heineken said.

It will enable the brewer to take advantage of duty savings available on beers of up to and including 3.4% abv.

Calculations by The Grocer indicate the saving made by Heineken on packaged John Smith’s Extra Smooth alone will exceed £10m, based on volume figres reported in The Grocer’s Top Products Report 2023.

Heineken, however, claimed increased demand for lower-strength brews was behind the move.

“We know consumers are increasingly choosing lower abv products as part of a balanced lifestyle,” a spokesperson for Heineken UK said. “Acknowledging this trend, we have made the decision to brew John Smith’s Extra Smooth at a slightly lower abv.”

Reducing the strength of John Smith’s would result in the removal of ”millions of alcohol units across the UK” and was “aligned to our long-held position of promoting moderation”, the spokesperson added.  

The practice of cutting the strength of alcoholic drinks to make duty savings – dubbed “drinkflation” – has increased in beer in recent years as brewers grapple with rising costs.

Heineken has also reduced the abv of its Foster’s lager from 4% to 3.7%, while Greene King’s Old Speckled Hen Ale has decreased by 0.2% to 4.8% abv.

However, changes to alcohol duty in August aimed at further promoting lower-alcohol brews have accelerated the trend further.

Carlsberg’s namesake Danish pilsner has seen its strength reduced to 3.4% abv to take advantage of the discount, which cuts the amount of tax due per litre of pure alcohol in the beer by almost 60%.

Other brewers, including Damm and Theakston, have brought out new, lower-alcohol beers to capitalise on the savings.

John Smith’s Extra Smooth is the second-biggest ale and stout brand in UK retail. Last year, however, its sales fell by 8.7%, to £55.9m [NIQ 52 w/e 9 September]. Volumes were also down by 18.1%.