Beer has been the worst-hit drinks category in Western Europe in the first half of this year, as consumers switch away from the on-trade to at-home consumption, according to research.

In its Quarterly Beverage Tracker, released today (19 August), beverage research agency Canadean has claimed that beer sales across the region fell by around 4.5% in the first six months of this year - the equivalent of 580m litres. While the total alcoholic drinks segment saw consumption fall by 3.8% year-on-year, soft drinks volumes dipped by only 1% in the period.

"Beer sales have been hit hard as consumers across the region tighten their purse strings by shunning bars, pubs and restaurants," Canadean said. "'Cocooning', a term not used since the downturn of the early 1990's, has been resurrected to describe the trend for drinkers to stay at home to entertain family and friends rather than eat out or go to a bar to socialise."

The agency highlighted the Netherlands as an example of where other reasons have contributed to the poor figures. An excise duty increase in the country, coupled with a smoking ban in cafés, has triggered a 9% decline in beer sales in the first half of this year.

While soft drinks have suffered as beer has in the HORECA channel across Western Europe, Canadean said that much of the segment's volume has shifted to the supermarkets.

"Beer in particular has been unable to capitalise on any switch from on- to off-premise," the agency continued. "People drink less beer when they do not go out so regularly."

Going forward, Canadean said that the third quarter is traditionally the most influential period of the year for commercial beverage sales, when hot temperatures in July and August or an Indian summer in September "could make the volume performance more respectable".