Surplus supermarket stocks of beer at the end of 2008’s wet summer - and not the worsening economy and duty hikes - were to blame for the dramatic slump in new orders from brewers in the last three months of 2008, according to data supplier Nielsen.

Figures published by the British Beer & Pub Association suggested sales of beer in the off-trade fell by 6.5% year-on-year, marking the second successive quarterly fall. But these figures represent sales from breweries into shops, rather than sales at the checkout, and don’t tally with those of Nielsen, said analyst Graham Page.

Nielsen’s data show only a 2% fall year-on-year in beer volumes in the 12 weeks to 27 December and a 3.8% rise in the value of the beer market in the final eight weeks of the year.

“It wasn’t a particularly spectacular Christmas for beer but wasn’t that bad either considering the economic downturn,” said Page. “There was quite a build-up of beer stocks in the summer that didn’t shift. With so much stock sitting around in stockrooms and warehouses, it meant less was being re-ordered from brewers.”

Nielsen’s figures for the whole of 2008 showed off-trade beer sales up 1% in value to £3.3bn, with volumes down 1% to 1.9 million litres on 2007.

However, the BBPA defended its figures, saying they reflected a true picture of falling demand, made worse by the impact of higher beer duty.

“It’s an indication of how hard people have been hit by increases in duty, followed by the economic downturn,” said a spokesman. “Most of our members are brewers as well as pub owners and the fact that people are drinking less upsets them.”

Final quarter on-trade sales for 2008 were just shy of 10% down year-on-year, said the BBPA.

Meanwhile, individual brewers have reported mixed figures. Adnams warned its 2008 profits would be “substantially lower”, and said beer volumes fell 6% in 2008.

But Greene King’s brewing division sales were down just 1.5% with “strong Christmas trading” in take-home, particularly by Old Speckled Hen ale.