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Beer and cider sales give Christmas boost to pubs and bars

On-trade drinks sales at pubs and bars in the final fortnight of 2023 were 7% above those of 2022, with beer and cider leading the way.

According to data from CGA by NIQ’s Daily Drinks Tracker, the UK on-trade enjoyed a significant improvement in the two weeks from mid-December to just before the year’s end, a welcome relief after years of festive seasons disrupted by Covid-19 waves and industrial action.

In the week to 23 December sales were 9% ahead of those in 2022, whereas in the period between Christmas Eve and 30 December there was still growth, though at a slightly less impressive 6%. However, drinks sales on Christmas Day in 2023 were 10% above those of 2022, though for Boxing Day the increase was a hundredth of that (0.1%). The most impressive day for sales across the fortnight was 22 December, which fell on a Friday in 2023, with sales up by 21%.

It was beer and cider that performed especially well, with sales in both categories around 12% above the 2022 level. Wine also performed well, with sales up 8% and 7% in the first and second weeks. For spirits results were far more mixed, up 3% in the week to 23 December, but having plummeted 11% below 2022’s result the following week, possibly a consequence of consumers turning away from stronger drinks in the Christmas aftermath, though it does also mark a continuation of the slump on-trade spirits sales have been experiencing in the UK for months.

Jonathan Jones, CGA by NIQ’s managing director for the UK and Ireland, toasted the news: “After a soft November and early December it was great to see such a strong end to 2023 for many operators and suppliers. Despite ongoing pressure on their spending, consumers were clearly eager to celebrate Christmas with friends and families in the special environments that pubs and bars provide. While trading conditions remain challenging, we can be cautiously optimistic that these positive trends will continue into early 2024, despite the pressures of reduced spending and Dry January.”

However, Jones’ optimism, albeit cautious, might be misplaced, given the harsh climate many hospitality businesses have been pushed into this winter. db recently spoke with restaurateur Tom Fahey about the sheer adversity of the circumstances the sector is facing.

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