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British craft brewery numbers drop at the start of 2024

The number of active brewers in Britain has dipped 2% in the first quarter 2024, according to the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA).

Data released as part of the SIBA UK Brewery Tracker has shown the shape of Britain’s craft brewing industry following a “-38 net closure rate across the UK, with all regions either seeing a reduction in the overall number or remaining the same”.

According to the results, the number of independent breweries in Britain now stands at 1777, marking a -38 drop since the end of the fourth quarter of 2023. The findings take into account all brewery openings and closures to give an accurate picture of the number of active brewing businesses.

SIBA has outlined that the year-on-year comparison shows a slightly more positive picture, with some regions seeing overall growth when compared to this time in 2023. For instance, looking across Britain, the east has had a particularly strong 12 months with a +11 net growth rate, with the south east (+3) and south west (+2) seeing more moderate growth when compared to this time last year.

The trade association revealed that overall the UK’s year-on-year figure comparison is also down -47, led primarily by a -19 net closure rate in the north west, -12 in the north east, and -11 in both Wales and the midlands.

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Speaking about the data, SIBA chief executive Andy Slee said: “Seeing a 2% drop in the number of breweries in the UK is a small shift, but not the start to the year the industry had hoped for, and as we look ahead to what promises to be a busy summer for pubs I’m hopeful we’ll see the dial swing into the positive as we did in Q2 2023.”

Slee explained: “There is no single reason breweries in the UK close, but for most it is a combination of rising costs and slowing sales caused by the cost of living crisis, which when compounded by the repayment of substantial Covid loan debts makes many businesses struggle to turn a sustainable profit. And whilst the price of a pint on the bar is already high, this simply isn’t passed on to small brewers – with the price of a pint largely eaten up by one of the highest levels of taxation in Europe, and huge increases in raw materials and production costs for brewers.”

Alongside its tracker findings, SIBA identified how the government’s differential rate of duty for draught beer in pubs and taprooms [meaning there’s less tax on beer sold in pubs compared to shops and supermarkets] has been hailed as a “hugely positive step” but insisted that the government “must to go further to have a lasting impact”.

Slee added: “Extending the draught duty relief to 20% would be a game-changer for the industry and go some way to keeping the price of a pint in pubs affordable, whilst ensuring independent breweries are able to turn a sustainable profit. Every brewery closure is a huge loss to its local community and economy, and whilst the Covid loans offered to businesses to keep them afloat were a necessary step we are seeing many businesses now struggle with the pressure of the short and inflexible payment terms offered.”

The SIBA results noted how the southeast region was the worst hit in the first quarter 2024 with a net closure rate of -10, followed by the midlands with -7 and Scotland with -6. Despite this, the north east and north west regions fared slightly better, each seeing a -5 net closure rate, closely followed by the south west with -4.

Irrespective of the challenges the independent brewing sector has faced of late, SIBA’s data illustrated how the east had shown a flat result and seen a very moderate -1 closure rate during the start of the year, with Wales and Northern Ireland both finishing the first quarter with no net change in their overall brewery numbers.

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