January 25, 2013 / 12:06 AM / 5 years ago

British beer sales fell 4.7 percent last year

LONDON, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Beer sales fell 4.7 percent in Britain last year as a mix of cash-strapped consumers and rising government tax proved painful for the industry, the British Beer and Pub Association said.

“These figures show that the government needs to stop its full-on tax assault on our vital beer and pub industry. We have had tax hikes of 42 per cent since March 2008,” BBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds said on Friday.

Around 138 million fewer pints were drunk in the fourth quarter of 2012 alone. Beer sales fell 3.1 percent in 2011.

So-called on-trade sales at pubs and restaurants and off-trade sales at shops and supermarkets fell almost equally, as the industry felt the effect on consumers of worries about the economy and muted wage growth.

Economic data due Friday were forecast to show the economy shrank 0.1 percent in the last quarter of 2012, meaning GDP (gross domestic product - the most widely watched measure of output) would be 0.2 percent higher over the full year.

The government has been raising the tax on beer by 2 percentage points above the inflation rate each year and plans to do so until 2014/15. In November, lawmakers saw a vote to review the policy rejected by the treasury.

Drinkers pay 42 percent more tax on beer since the so-called tax escalator was introduced in 2008, during which period 6,000 pubs have closed, industry research showed.

Groups such as Greene King and JD Wetherspoon have been among the better-performing pub companies throughout the downturn, helped by value-led food and drink offers chiming with cost-conscious customers.

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