Carlsberg has overtaken beleaguered lager brand Stella Artois as the biggest-selling family of beer brands in the UK off-trade. Nielsen figures seen by The Grocer show the Carlsberg family of brands, which includes standard Carlsberg, Carlsberg Export, Edge and Special Brew, posted a 17.7% rise in volume to 2,814,858 hectolitres. This growth helped it to trump sales of the Artois family of brands - including Peeterman Artois and Artois Bock - whose sales fell 0.8% in the same period to 2,790,394 hectolitres [Nielsen MAT w/e 22 March]. "The Carlsberg portfolio has a wide range of brands offering quality and choice to our drinkers," said head of take-home customer marketing Ged Lowry. "When coupled with the innovative brand and ­market-building strategies we have introduced over the past few years, it's a ­powerful package." The Artois family remains ahead of the Carlsberg family in value terms at £524m versus £422m [Nielsen MAT to end February 2008] but the momentum is again with Carlsberg as it rose 11.4% in value while Stella dropped 3% [Nielsen to end February 2008]. "To put recent data in context we consider it more important to use value as a guide," insisted an InBev spokeswoman. "We feel value is a better indication of a brand's performance and in value terms we are actually 23% bigger than the Carlsberg family." Perhaps to prove its point, InBev announced it would be increasing its wholesale prices, putting 5p on a pint of its beers, which include Stella, Tennent's and Boddingtons. "We have faced increasing costs in the past year and absorbed the increases where possible but unfortunately at this stage we have to pass some cost increases on to our customers," InBev confirmed. Carlsberg dismissed criticisms its growth was down to high rates of deep discounting through the multiples. "We are in the retailer deals but so are other players, so we are feeling the effect no more or less than anyone else," Lowry said. He also downplayed suggestions the brewer was investing less in advertising. "In 2007 we spent more above the line than Foster's and slightly less than the Artois family." Lowry confirmed the Dutch brewer had value growth in its sights and said the focus would be on overtaking Stella in value this year as well. "At the current level of growth we could overtake La Famille Artois by this time next year, though obviously growth rates will fluctuate through the year depending on weather, promotions and advertising," he said. "Our strategy will be to focus on driving distribution of our smaller four and eight-packs, continuing to look at NPD for take-home following the success of the Draughtmaster this Christmas and looking at how to bring more women into the category with beers such as Carlsberg Edge. "We've also shifted our advertising and promotional focus to make the most of the key sales periods." tanked up 2,814,858 (hls) Carlsberg family volume sales, up 17.7% in the last year 2,790,394 (hls) The Artois family volume sales, down 0.8% in the last year 16,141,041 (hls) Total lager volume sales, up 1.2% in the last year Nielsen MAT w/e 22 March 08