We aren’t a nation of teetotallers yet, but it sure looks like we might be heading that way. The perfect storm of rising alcohol prices, falling consumer spending power, mounting health concerns and the wonderful weather we’ve been having have prompted an unprecedented fall in the amount of booze we’re drinking.

The sobering truth is that over the past year, we’ve bought 164 million fewer pints of beer, 27 million fewer bottles of wine and six million fewer bottles of spirits - equating to a 4% decline in off-trade booze sales by volume [Nielsen]. This may be good news as far as the health police are concerned, but it’s dire news for Britain’s Biggest Alcohol Brands, as our lead news story (page 5) and 17-page report (kicking off on page 36) reveal.

An incredible 59 of the top 100 brands have seen their volume sales decline in the past 12 months. Some have suffered the double misfortune of a value AND volume fall, despite the relentless upward pressure on retail prices from tax hikes and rising costs. And there’s little respite in sight, with minimum pricing also on the horizon, although as we report on page 6, that may not be quite as imminent a prospect as initially feared.

“Before we all start hitting the bottle, there are plenty of things to celebrate about the Great British booze market”

Liz Hamson, deputy editor

But before we all start hitting the bottle, there are plenty of things to celebrate about the Great British booze market. For one, there are 38 brands in volume growth - and another three that have been around for less than a year, yet between them they have clocked up almost £85m in sales. Among these is Foster’s Gold - one of a growing number of brands developed to add value to the market in the face of declining volumes. Stella Cidre continues to go from strength to strength too - as do Crabbie’s and a whole raft of wine and spirit brands.

And you can be sure no one is taking the challenge lying down. Expect to see plenty more NPD like the wine-based cocktails we report on on page 28 - not to mention more premium products, low abv drinks and smaller pack sizes - as drink manufacturers do everything they can to keep prices down and consumers interested. Yes, the year ahead’s going to be tough. But perhaps we should take the view that the glass is (nearly) half full… and trust in the industry’s ability to adapt.