Brits have dramatically reduced their consumption of alcohol over the past year. The amount of beer bought in the off-trade has fallen 164 million pints sales of wine have fallen by 27 million bottles and spirits the equivalent of six million.

As The Grocer’s annual Britain’s Biggest Alcohol Brands report reveals, some of the biggest players have been the hardest hit, with 59 of the top 100 drinks brands down in volume year-on-year. And, while six of the top 10 brands in the UK have grown by value, all but one have lost volume in the past 12 months.

The upshot has been a 4% fall in volume sales of alcoholic drinks in the off-trade over the past year, according to the latest Nielsen data [52 w/e 28 April 2012].

“Consumer confidence is low, and consumers are buying less to rein in their spend,” said Nielsen Client Team manager Helen Stares.

While many industry observers believe the economy is the key reason for the slump, volumes have also fallen as a result of shoppers cutting back for health reasons, and a trend toward smaller pack sizes - particularly a decrease in the number of cans or bottles in multipacks.

Poor weather had also dented sales and made year-on-year comparisons look particularly bad, said suppliers.

“The prolonged period of poor weather has accounted for almost half of the year-on-year volume decline,” said AB InBev UK off-trade director Simon Harrison.

The category’s woes have been compounded by soaring retail prices - driven primarily by tax hikes and rising costs, which have pushed value sales up 3% from £14bn to £14.5bn. Retail prices have grown 7% on average, according to Nielsen, with category hikes ranging from 4% for sparkling wine to 10% for cider.

There has also been a marked shift in some parts of the market towards own-label products and retailer-exclusive brands. This is particularly evident in wine, with Sainsbury’s exclusive Mondeli rocketing 121 places up the top 100 alcohol brands table to 22, and Tesco’s Ogio up nine. Own-label’s share of the light wine category has increased 1.1 percentage points to 22%. It is also up 0.8 points in beer to a 4.7% share, and 1.7 points in RTDs to 4.9%.

But it isn’t all bad news for brands, with spirits including Russian Standard and Teacher’s showing strong growth, as are some non-exclusive wines and newcomers including Stella Cidre and Foster’s Gold.

Convenience stores are also benefiting, with overall impulse sales of alcohol up 3% by volume compared with a 6% slump in take-home.