Some European drinkers are now paying more for their beer and willingly so, says a new report. While total beer consumption rose by less than 3% last year both the premium and superpremium segments grew more than 10%.

The report, from industry analysts Canadean, shows that across Europe as a whole more than half of beer volumes are now accounted for by mainstream brands, one third is taken up by premium and superpremium products and one sixth by discount beers.

Growth-wise there is a fairly clear division between expanding East European demand and the mature but shrinking West European markets. Only one of the top ten players, Spain, is in West Europe, while worst performers Denmark and France lost 2.3% of volume over the period 1998-2002.

Europe-wide imports grew by 10% last year, although much of the trade was intra regional and accounted for by only a handful of markets. The largest importer, the UK - took most volume from Ireland and Germany. Exports, which also grew, were more global with the main suppliers, the Netherlands and Germany, sending large volumes to the US. The lowest import and export levels are found in East Europe where only the Czech Republic and Ukraine export more than 1 m hl.

Europe's beer market remains fragmented - with only the top two players, Heineken and Interbrew having more than 10% each of total sales. With the consolidation of its volumes in Russia and its purchase of Austrian brewer, BBAG this year, Heineken's pole position is assured while Interbrew is continuing with its policy of acquiring local breweries and brands. These leading positions are being challenged by Carlsberg, Scottish & Newcastle and SAB Miller, all of which have been pursuing fairly aggressive expansion policies in recent years.