Big brewers back venues as alcohol sales decline

Overall alcohol sales and and volumes are down between at least 10 and 30 per cent according to Alcohol Beverages Australia, as the big brewers step up to try and help venues that have taken the biggest hit.

Meanwhile Carlton and United Breweries and Lion are undertaking initiatives to help the hospitality industry, as are independent brewers including Stone & Wood, which announced at the end of March that it would be offering credit for unopened kegs.

This comes as the latest reports suggest that off-premise sales have not risen enough to offset the decline of revenue from venues.

This comes despite concerns about increased levels of drinking and stockpiling from the anti-alcohol lobby. To guard against this, Retail Drinks announced voluntary purchasing limits and the Western Australian state government introduced mandatory restrictions.

However WA has now lifted those restrictions, thanking the industry for its cooperation and commending Western Australians for their positive response.

In addition, recent Commonwealth Bank credit card analysis has shown that overall alcohol purchases is lower than the same time last year, down 10 per cent.

The bank found that off-premise sales including online, takeaway and bottle shops, rose 28 per cent, but this was not enough to offset the losses from venue sales which declined 71 per cent.

The Alcohol Beverages Australia body used the data to refute claims from anti-alcohol body Foundation for Research and Education (FARE) that alcohol sales were up and prompting community health concerns.

The YouGov report, commissioned by FARE between 3rd and 5th April surveyed 1,045 people over 18 years old.

“Alcohol sales are up over the past month and while the alcohol industry wants you to believe that people aren’t actually drinking that alcohol, this YouGov Galaxy research reveals the truth,” said FARE CEO Caterina Giorgiat the time.

Andrew Wilsmore, CEO of Alcohol Beverages Australia, responded by saying that the survey was a “snapshot in time” when there were concerns that bottleshops would close.

“Once Governments assured supply and access to bottleshops, there has been a return to more normal trading, but that has not made up for the total loss of sales from pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants,” he said.

“We urge greater caution in equating an increase in packaged liquor or home-delivery sales to many Australians drinking to excess while at home during this crisis.

“Our beer, wine and spirits producing members are all telling us that sales lost through ‘on-premise’ pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants has only marginally been made up for by an increase in packaged retail liquor sales.

“Indications are that overall sales and volume loss range from 10-30%, with many small producers even more severely impacted as they are unable to access the retail channel or have had to close their cellar/brewery/distillery door,” Mr Wilsmore said.

Brewers helping out

As the effect of the COVID-19 crisis on venues and the alcohol industry emerged, brewers have been engaged in initiatives to help their venue customers.

Stone & Wood announced early on that to support customers impacted by government-mandated closures of pubs, bars, clubs and venues, it would be offering credit to venues who had full unopened kegs of any Stone & Wood beer remaining.

CUB and Lion have also made efforts to help, having been affected by lost revenues from venues as well as packaged sales, with CUB saying that packaged sales were down in April compared to last year having been up at the end of March, coinciding with the data from CommBank.

“With people not being able to socialise it was inevitable that off-premises beer sales would take a hit,” a spokesperson said.

On-premises sales also declined from around 20 per cent of the business to effectively zero.

Despite this, CUB said on Friday that it had invested in 20,000 takeaway containersfor venues in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney. A spokesperson told Brews News that they would be glass squealers in growlers and distributed to venues by this week, and was also underway with keg refunds.

“This initiative to help pubs get to the other side of this crisis. So we’re asking all beer lovers to show their support and letting them know the only thing better than enjoying an ice-cold, fresh draught beer at the pub is enjoying one at home.

“We’ve sent participating pubs self-adhesive labels and asked publicans to stick them on each bottle sold.

“Pubs have been asked to include various details including the name of the beer, the ABV and the purchase date, with each label indicating the beer should be consumed within two days of purchase,” a spokesperson said.

Update: Following the publication of this article we received more information on the keg refund scheme set up by CUB:

“In late March, we told customers we’d provide them with credits on full CUB kegs,” a spokesperson said.

“We also told them we’d provide credit for any tank beer they have.

“We’ve been in business with some of these venues for 150 years. And we want to be in business with all our customers for another 150 years and beyond. They can count on our ongoing support and partnership as we work together to rebuild the on-prem trade.”

Meanwhile Lion has given $23.5 million back to venues as part of its keg refund scheme. The brewer has taken back a total of 85,000 kegs from 4,000 customers, it said.

It has also launched a takeaway container scheme, giving 10,000 containers to venues in NSW in a partnership with the Australian Hotels Association as part of its Support Your Local campaign.

10,000 growlers and caps and 500 dispensers will be distributed to NSW pubs and venues for free as part of the initiative.

Lion said it will distribute 1.25 litre bottles and caps, as well as dispensers which can be attached to the tap to fill the bottles.

AHA NSW CEO John Whelan said the move would help keep many NSW pubs in business and their staff in jobs.

“Hotels across NSW have been shut for almost a month now and I know many people are missing a draught beer down at their local with mates,” he said.

‘We can’t quite do that yet, but a cold draught beer to take-away is certainly next best.”

“Not only does it provide an immediate boost to venues, it prevents millions of litres of draught beer literally going down the drain.”

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