Interbrew UK, subsidiary of Interbrew, the world's second-largest brewer, hopes to see the UK beer market return to positive growth by 2006, according to managing director Stewart Gilliland.

Figures released by the company yesterday showed that the value of the beer category once again fell last year, with retail sales worth £14,367m in 2000, down 1% on 1999.

However, introducing Interbrew UK's 2001 Market Report, Gilliland said he hoped that the fall could be levelled out in two to three years and that there would be a return to 1% growth within five years.

But he warned that unless beer was made more relevant to the 18- to 24-year-olds the category would continue to suffer at the hands of wine and the pre-packaged spirits sector.

He said: "We need to start to have a debate about how we can do things differently, think differently. If we don't, at best we will stand still, more likely we will go backwards.

"We must make beer more exciting. To make it relevant there has to be innovation in products and [their] dispensing, if not we will continue to lose out to the PPS sector."

He went on to point out that the last major innovation in the off-trade was the widget in 1989.

Gililland went on to say that quality was the key challenge for the drinks industry "in order to satisfy increasingly demanding consumers" and admitted that the beer industry "was not always as consumer focussed as it should be".

"Suppliers and retailers in every other market in the UK have had to improve their quality in recent years to stay in touch with consumers' demands. I believe that 2001 must be the time when this industry starts delivering better quality," Gililland said.

In particular the report highlighted the damaging effect of poor quality in the industry's on-trade.

The report says: "Interbrew research shows that a staggering 50% of consumers would not order the same brand again if served a poor quality pint, and this figure rises to 65% in outlets such as young persons' venues, while 40% would boycott the pub completely and go to a different venue."


The full Interbrew UK 2001 Market Report can be found at www.interbrewmarketreport.co.uk