Cask ale sales back in growth for first time in 20 years

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Cask ale, Beer

Now in its sixth year, The Cask Report is backed by Camra, the Society of Independent Brewers and the Independent Family Brewers of Britain
Now in its sixth year, The Cask Report is backed by Camra, the Society of Independent Brewers and the Independent Family Brewers of Britain
Around 2.2 million barrels of cask, equating to some 633 million pints, were sold in the UK last year, marking a 1.6 per cent uplift in volume on 2010 - the first increase in sales of the drink since 1991.

According to The Cask Report 2012-2013, released today, cask ale has overtaken keg as the most popular draft ale in the UK. It has also increased its penetration of the pub market to 56 per cent, achieved a 53 per cent ‘ever tried’ rate among adults and increased the frequency with which it is drunk by existing cask ale drinkers.

“The Cask Report has been analysing the sector for six years now and while cask has been outperforming the beer market for most of them, this is the first full year of actual growth,” said the Report’s author Pete Brown. “Sales growth during a recession is an impressive achievement, doubly so against a background of declining overall beer volumes and a shrinking number of pubs.

“This excellent performance speaks volumes for the increasing popularity of cask among consumers, as well as a growing realisation among licensees that cask, as an ‘only in pubs’ drink, can help them  drive footfall and sales.  Pubs that sell cask are less likely to close than non-cask stockists – as witness cask’s increasing share of the declining pub market.”

This year’s Cask Report is published at the start of Cask Ale Week (28 September -7  October).  This celebration of cask ale, often referred to as ‘real ale’, is focusing on ‘try before you buy’, which was highlighted in the report as the single most effective way of introducing new drinkers to cask. Some 8,000 pubs will be offering free tasters during Cask Ale Week.

Younger drinkers

Community, wet-led pubs still form the backbone of cask’s distribution base, but it also increased its penetration in café bars and town centre circuit venues, demonstrating its growing appeal to younger drinkers.

Brown added: “There is no magic ‘formula’ to tell licensees how many handpulls to put on the bar, or what they should be:  it’s dictated by their pub’s location, style and customer base, which are all very individual.

“However, research tells us that, for most pubs that are serious about their cask ale, the choice isn’t about whether to stock ‘familiar’ or ‘unfamiliar’ ales.  Both have their place: even beer ‘shrines’ with a wide range would do well to have some nationally recognised brands on the bar and equally, any pub with more than two or three hand pumps should be looking to introduce some less familiar brews, to appeal to more adventurous cask drinkers.”

While cask drinkers remain predominantly male and upmarket, interest from younger and female drinkers is holding steady after significant recruitment from these groups.  Fifty-eight per cent of cask ale drinkers say they first tried it when aged 18-24, proving its appeal to emerging drinkers.

‘Much to celebrate’

Over 50 per cent of cask drinkers choose it as it offers ‘more variety and flavour than other mainstream drinks’, while its heritage, natural ingredients and local provenance are also cited as strong influences. 

Brown says, “This year’s Cask Report contains much to celebrate: actual volume growth for the first time in decades; continuing evidence of cask’s ability to protect pubs from closure;  an understanding of how the right range can drive sales and, perhaps most importantly, insights into how to convert three million current non-cask drinkers.  

“Despite the decline in pubs and pub visits, cask is doing much more than hold its own.  By taking the findings of The Cask Report and implementing them consistently and with commitment in their pub, licensees should be able to build a thriving cask business, offering our wonderful national drink to a growing number of enthusiastic customers for whom a glass of cask is an integral part of an enjoyable pub visit.”

Last year’s Cask Report​ had similar positive findings, revealing that cask ale drinkers are twice as likely to visit the pub as non-cask drinkers, spend more when they’re there and, most importantly, can’t switch to the supermarket to purchase their favourite drink.

The full Cask Report 2012-2013 is available online at www.caskreport.co.uk

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