A beer and cider drought is likely this summer, drinks suppliers fear, because retailers are not keeping enough back-up stock.

Some major multiples were running "stockless stocks" of beer and cider, claimed one senior beer industry CEO, referring to the practice of only holding stock in store in order to preserve cash that would otherwise be tied up maintaining volumes in regional distribution centres.

"The supermarkets are expecting us to turn supply on and off at a moment's notice to preserve cash - but it's a risky game.

"While the original order is made several months in advance, the firm order and therefore stock lead times are only confirmed on a weekly basis, and last-minute tactical responses to rivals' promotions are increasingly prevalent.

"If the order is substantially different from the forecast, the retailer obviously benefits if it is revised downwards, but some multiples are running stockless stocks, and we may not be able to supply the volumes our customers need."

The criticism was echoed by a senior cider supplier who claimed a warm bank holiday, and Met Office forecasts for a hot summer, would only exacerbate availability problems.

Because poor weather had hit sales of beer and cider in the previous two summers, retailers were approaching this one with out-of-date figures, he said.

"Retailers must anticipate demand and try to get net capacity right, but they seem to be using estimates based on out-of-date trends. Three years ago, Magners was the only big cider brand on shelf - now fixtures are crammed with more than 20 names. They urgently need to get their ducks in a row," he said.

The past couple of months had seen an exceptionally strong start to the summer season, an ale supplier added. "This is the first decent May bank holiday we've had in years - it's been busy for cider, lager and even ale, which normally suffers if it's too hot. If this trend continues into the summer, retailers will need to stock up well in advance."

A beer and cider buyer for an independent high street retail chain also expressed concerns.

"The multiple grocers are close to running dry and this summer could present real problems. Retailers should operate with a lead time of around 12 to 14 weeks. It's far better to be ambitious with supplies, otherwise suppliers can't gear up to match what retailers are asking for in sufficient time."

A spokesman for Asda denied it was one of the multiples affected. "There is nothing to suggest we are close to running dry," he said. "We saw tremendous activity over the bank holiday weekend but we immediately began replenishing our inventories."

Multipack booze buys add to issue
Record numbers of multipack special offers on booze threaten to make the availability problem even worse, according to the latest Nielsen data.

A record 47% of all alcohol sales came from products on offer - up 8% from last year - for the four weeks ending 16 May. This is compared with the 32% average on all food and drink. "These aggressive price tactics could exacerbate the beer drought even further, as the cheap booze deals - particularly multipacks - will fly off the shelves in the summer," said one senior beer supplier.

This week Morrisons is advertising any three cases of John Smiths, Sol, San Miguel or Strongbow for £18.