Competition and Consumer Preferences

Economies of scale and lower overheads mean that supermarkets and off-licences can sell their beer more cheaply than pubs, bars and clubs.

The price of an on-trade pint increased by 187 per cent between 1987 and 2011, but only by 52 per cent for off-sales.

Competition has become increasingly aggressive with some supermarkets selling alcohol at cost price or below as a loss leader. Many publicans say these discounts have hit their trade hard. Pubs are also not benefiting from the economic recovery as much as other consumer choices, such as overseas tourism (up 11%), do-it-yourself equipment (up 18%) and recreation and culture (up 16%). Discounting has also cut the cost of eating at home. A VAT anomaly benefits supermarkets, where not all food is subject to VAT, and puts pubs at a disadvantage, as they pay the full rate on all food sold. This has led to a further decline in pub-going.

Three in four people believe a well-run pub is as important to community life as a post office, shop or community centre, but a growing number view going to the pub as unaffordable. In a recent YouGov poll, commissioned by CAMRA, 30 per cent agreed that a pub was the best place to socialise, but 40 per cent preferred socialising at home and 35 per cent said that pubs were too expensive. Worse, 21 per cent said their local pub had closed.

Since CAMRA was founded, and despite our success in increasing the availability and variety of real ale, the population of the British Isles has shifted from beer-drinking to more continental tastes: in particular, a growing love for wine.

An increasing number of people between 16 and 24 years old are choosing not to drink alcohol at all, or to drink less. Between 2009 and 2013, 3,800 coffee shops opened and 4,500 pubs closed. If the current trend continues, the number of coffee shops could overtake pubs in ten years. Coffee shop chains are beginning to diversify by selling alcohol, posing a further threat to the traditional pub.

The anti-alcohol lobby has made ever more strident claims about the dangers of alcohol to long-term health. Despite evidence that moderate consumption, in a social and regulated environment, benefits both people’s wellbeing and their communities, the drinks sector has struggled to develop an effective counter-message.

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