Despite widespread concern about the growth in antisocial behaviour in pubs and clubs, a new report from independent market analyst Datamonitor reveals that Brits are Europe's biggest spenders on alcoholic drinks, shelling out a total of £1,272 per person per year - almost twice as much as the Germans.

Sociable Brits spend over two-thirds of their drinking money in pubs, bars and restaurants, where they downed over 110 litres of alcoholic drinks per person in 2003. Andrew Russell, Consumer Analyst at Datamonitor, and author of the report says: "The British attachment to drinking out of the home stems from the long-standing pub culture. Pubs are places where ordinary social restrictions are loosened, it is easier to meet new people and inebriation is more acceptable than at home.

"For most Europeans, drinking alcohol is not a matter of getting drunk but of enjoying life - as a result, drinking good wine in one's own home signifies comfort and pleasure."

Datamonitor's research, however, shows that this trend is catching up in the UK too. Spending on alcoholic drinks to be enjoyed at home or while entertaining friends is forecast to increase by almost 18%, to £23 billion in 2008 - over twice as fast as on-trade spending.

Brits are infamous for their binge drinking culture and their consumption of alcoholic drinks is the highest in Europe.  Levels of on-trade alcoholic consumption have risen from 109 litres per head in 1998 year to a current 112 litres per person today - over twice as much as the French and almost three times that of Americans.

However, whilst volumes of alcoholic drinks consumption are highest in the UK, the actual intake of pure alcohol content consumed is actually one of the lowest in Europe. Total annual consumption of pure alcohol intake in the UK stood at 12.2 litres per person in 2003 compared to almost 16 litres in Germany and 15 litres in France.

"Britain's low alcohol consumption seems at odds with the widely reported binge drinking culture. The truth is that only a minority of Britain's drinkers are binge drinkers - but this behaviour is concentrated in city centres and on weekends, maximizing its impact on society," comments Russell. "By contrast, the higher alcohol consumption in Europe is less intense, reducing drunkenness, public order issues and other negative effects of alcohol consumption."

Table 1: Consumption of alcoholic drinks when going out (litres)

2003
2008
Spain
113
119
UK
112
110
Germany
95
95
France
54
52
Italy
51
54
Netherlands
51
51
Sweden
19
19
US
43
43

Source: Datamonitor

There are signs, however, that binge drinking might be on the wane. Total consumption of alcoholic drinks when going out is forecast to fall to 110 litres by 2008.  While this is partly due to the rise in health awareness, and the ageing of the UK population, J D Wetherspoon's latest decision to scrap its two-for-one promotions shows that on-trade establishments are taking an active part in clamping down on binge drinking.

Spending, on the other hand, is expected to increase by almost 6%, indicating that consumers are trading up to premium and novelty drinks.

While going out for a drink used to be the reserve of young adults, a new crowd is joining in.  Urban singles and childless couples are rising in numbers, and they have more time and inclination to go out to socialise. These new consumer groups are boosting mid-week drinking, as alcohol plays an important role in helping consumers to relax and unwind. Datamonitor forecasts the number of mid-week drinking occasions to increase at an annual compound rate of over 3%.

"Consumers like to have a drink to mark the change between work and leisure, giving rise to the rapidly growing post-work drink phenomenon" comments Russell. Although mid-week drinking cannot involve the same quantity of alcohol consumption, consumers can be encouraged to go for regular, low-volume, short-duration drinks - for example, the aperitivo in Italy.

Datamonitor's research reveals that at-home drinking will offer drinks manufacturers the greatest opportunity in the future. As the average age and earning power of consumers rises, and as people invest more in their home, staying-in and entertaining-at-home occasions will become more frequent, increasing by between 3% and 5% per year.

Entertaining-at-home occasions are particularly interesting: although they are comparatively rare, consumers spend as much on drinks for an entertaining-at-home event as they do in bars or restaurants when going out - an average of almost £10 per occasion in the UK and £6 in the rest of Europe.

"Although the on-trade currently dominates post-work drinking, the arrival home from work is also something of a transitional moment - the opportunity to "shut the door on the world" and enjoy one's own home. As consumers develop ever more comfortable homes, the desire to relish the fruits of their labours grows. For many people a drink at home, of good wine, spirits or a refreshing beer, is a way of marking the pleasure they take simply in being in their own home," concludes Russell.

Expert Analysis

Changing Alcoholic Drinks Occasions

Why should consumers choose your brand? Is it still relevant to key occasions? Spending in the off-trade will reach US$182 billion by 2008, growing twice as fast as on-trade spending. Directing spending towards new types of need states and occasions is vital. This report will define and size new occasions, identify key consumer groups, explore need states and provide actionable insights.

To find out more about this report, download your sample or to order your copy, please follow this link