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Use & Abuse
British the Biggest Boozers
Thursday, 13th April, 2006  - Richard Farmer

The British are Europe’s biggest binge drinkers, consuming more alcohol each time they go out than any other western European country. A new report from independent market analyst Datamonitor reveals that the average British drinker knocks back the equivalent of 63ml of pure alcohol on each visit to the pub, compared with just 31ml in abstemious Sweden. However, people are cutting down on their consumption of alcoholic drinks out of the home: total European on-trade alcohol consumption volumes fell by 0.5% a year between 2000 and 2005, with an especially steep decline in the UK and Germany.

Between 2000 and 2005, the total number of on-trade alcoholic drinks occasions (occasions on which adults went out to consume alcoholic drinks in a pub, bar, café, restaurant or hotel) rose slightly to 26.2 billion in Europe, or 1.3 times per adult per week. The UK saw 3.9 billion going-out occasions, which is also 1.3 times a week per adult. Spanish consumers went out the most often at 2.2 times a week, while the average Swede went out drinking less than once a fortnight (0.4 times per week). The number of occasions fell slightly in the UK and Germany and rose everywhere else.

The amount that people consume each time they go out drinking is falling. In Europe overall it fell from 54ml of pure alcohol in 2000 to 51ml in 2005. In the UK, consumers consumed 63ml of alcohol on a typical occasion. This is down from 68ml in 2000, but is still by far the highest rate in Europe. The next highest rate is seen in Germany, where the average occasion involves the consumption of 55ml of pure alcohol. The abstemious Swedes are not only the least likely to go out drinking but also have the lowest consumption per occasion, at 31ml of pure alcohol.

Source: Datamonitor

The total volume of alcohol sold in the on-trade is not changing significantly in most of western Europe: the Netherlands has seen volumes rise by 1.6% a year, while all other countries have seen somewhere between a 0.5% annual decline and a 1% annual increase. However, the hard-drinking UK and Germany have seen a significant decline: total on-trade alcohol volumes in the UK fell from 272 million litres in 2000 to 251 million liters in 2005. German volumes fell from 264 million litres to 242 million.

People are drinking less alcohol each time they go out, and spending more and more on soft drinks in pubs and bars. “Going out is becoming less and less about drinking, and alcohol consumption is becoming something that people do at home,” says John Band, Datamonitor analyst and author of the report. “It’s clear that the culture of binge drinking is on its way out, with British consumption per occasion falling closer in line with the levels seen on the Continent.”

Europe has a sizeable on-trade gender gap: the average European man drinks just over 2.5 times as much alcohol in the on-trade as the average European woman. The gap is a little smaller than average in the UK, with the average man only drinking 2.1 times as much alcohol as the average woman when going out. The average Spanish man drinks over three times as much in the on-trade as the average Spanish woman, while even in egalitarian Sweden, male on-trade consumption is 1.8 times female consumption

However, the gap is narrowing. Between 2005 and 2010, women’s share of European on-trade drinks consumption will grow at 1.5% a year. In the UK, women will account for 38% of all on-trade drinking by 2010, up from 32% in 2005. Germany will see a similar change, with women’s share rising from 32% to 37%.

"The growth in women’s on-trade drinking has been driven partly by changing demographics: getting married or having a family restricts going-out opportunities, but women in Europe are increasingly doing this at a later age," says Band. "At the same time, pubs and drinks companies are working hard to provide attractive drinking experiences to female drinkers".

As women have stepped up their on-trade consumption their needs and wants have become increasingly important for marketers. As a result, on-trade marketers across Europe and the US have started to make venues more appealing to female tastes and sensibilities. Female-friendly bars also appeal to single males as a more hospitable venue for dating, compared with music-oriented nightclubs or traditional pubs.

Smoking rates fell from 27.7% to 24.6% in Europe between 2000 and 2005, while the rate in the US fell from 22.7% to 20.4% over the same period. However, people who smoke tobacco are more likely than average to consume alcohol, and people who regularly consume alcohol are more likely than average to be smokers. As a result, 83% of drinks industry experts surveyed by Datamonitor said that smoking bans would be a significant inhibitor to on-trade alcohol sales over the next five years.

"Empirical studies show that smoking bans do not generally have significant adverse economic effects on overall on-trade revenues", says Band. "The worst negative impacts of smoking bans have generally been on bars and nightclubs that do not serve food, with positive impacts on premises which do serve food. The compulsory banning of smoking in pubs will serve to make venues more attractive to faster-growing consumer groups such as women and middle-aged consumers, and will spur further growth in the already fast-growing food and soft drinks categories".

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