Drinks sales in Britain’s pubs and bars have dropped year-on-year for a fourth successive week, with train strikes adding to the challenges facing operators.

CGA beer pour

CGA by NIQ’s Daily Drinks Tracker shows average sales in managed venues in the week to last Saturday (3rd February) were 0.6% below the same period in 2023. However, it follows harsher drops in the previous weeks.  

The figures show consumers’ confidence remains patchy after a flurry of spending over Christmas. Footfall was also hit by rolling train strikes, which contributed to year-on-year drops in sales of 11% on Tuesday and 7% on Saturday, despite the opening games in the Six Nations rugby tournament taking place.

However, trading was stronger midweek, and sales were up by 10% and 5% on Wednesday and Thursday, thanks in part to a programme of Premier League fixtures. 

With Dry January drawing to a close and some drinkers returning to pubs and bars after a month away, there were positive trends in several categories. Beer sales were 4% up year-on-year, while cider and wine were 3% and 2% ahead respectively. Soft drinks were down 2%, and while the spirits category’s performance improved week on week, sales were still down 13% year on year.

“Whilst four weeks of negative year-on-year trading is not the start to 2024 we were hoping for, it is encouraging to see that the declines have slowed to almost flat last week, despite some difficult trading conditions, driven by train strikes,” said Jonny Jones, CGA by NIQ’s managing director, UK and Ireland.

“And it’s great to see the beer, cider, and wine categories all showing value sales growth versus last year. Our consumer research shows that demand is still strong and growing month on month, particularly for the core on-premise visitor who goes out once a week or more.

“So, with January now behind us and the Six Nations starting, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the outlook for the sector.”