3bn litre drop in European beer sales in 2020

Beer sales across Europe collapsed in the first year of the pandemic with statistics from The Brewers of Europe showing that combined beer sales in 31 European markets fell from 385.5 million hectolitres to 354.5m hl in 2020.
Combined beer sales in 31 European markets fell from 385.5 million hectolitres to 354.5m hl in 2020.

Combined beer sales in 31 European markets fell from 385.5 million hectolitres to 354.5m hl in 2020.


This represents a staggering drop of over three billion litres representing a collapse of more than 8% in beer sales according to The Brewers of Europe, the voice of more than 12,000 breweries across Europe, which released its 2021 European Beer Trends Statistics Report recently.

Based in Brussels, The Brewers of Europe brings together national brewers’ associations from 29 European countries and provides a voice to support the united interests of Europe’s breweries.

The current 2021 Brewers of Europe statistical report covers the 27 EU member states, plus Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and the UK and shows how the steady, decade-long renaissance in both production and consumption of beer ground to a stuttering halt as the pandemic hit.

The hospitality sector took the brunt of the damage; by mid-March 2020 almost all of Europe’s bars, cafés and restaurants were closed and would not reopen until around May.

Autumn’s second wave forced them to close again in October 2020, often only reopening from April 2021. The result was an average 40% drop in beer hospitality sales in 2020, a loss that was only marginally recouped by retail sales.

These closures impacted the whole social economy: people’s livelihoods, government tax revenues and citizens’ wellbeing were hit as communities shut down, Europeans self-isolated, culture was curtailed and social lives ground to a standstill.

The diverse expansion of the beer culture also stalled.

The previous decade had seen a flowering of start-ups and innovation in the sector. Indeed, for five consecutive years, over 1,000 new breweries opened annually across Europe, almost doubling the total between 2014 and 2019. However this entrepreneurial boom came to a staggering halt in 2020. At the end of last year, there were some 12,473 active breweries across Europe – but just 225 new ones had opened during the previous 12 months.

Restrictions remain

While the 2020 and 2021 Lockdowns have now lifted to varying degrees, there are still many restrictions in place across Europe and consumer confidence remains low amongst some groups. These continue to affect the brewing sector.

However, with the right targeted framework support, particularly focused on the hard-hit beer hospitality market, brewers can bounce back and lead Europe’s recovery through job creation, increased value and government tax generation, believes the Group.

“As we look to the future, we need to ensure that brewers have solid ground to recover,” said The Brewers of Europe’s Secretary General Pierre-Olivier Bergeron, “The beer industry is part of a complex chain involving many businesses.

“Concrete long-term support will help them recover or maintain their operations,” he continued, “Governments need to step in with measures to cope with the negative economic impact of the pandemic. With targeted support beer hospitality can lift the economy, bring in much-needed government revenues and boost jobs all along the brewing, production and hospitality value chain. Bars and pubs can once again become pillars of the local community – and with it, the economy”.

The Europe Economics’ Covid impact report, published earlier this year, showed that if beer hospitality is given the support it needs to get back on its feet, it could bring back over 800,000 jobs, €13 billion in value-added and €11 billion in government tax revenues.

Beer production

Beer production was highest in Germany at 87 million hectolitres, far ahead of second-placed Poland on 39.1 million hl. On 7.1 million hl Ireland took 12th place, down two places from its from 8.2m hl production figure in 2019 and eight places below the UK which produced 32.2m hl in 2020.

Some 1,132 were employed in beer production here last year, down from 2019’s 1,147.

Beer consumption

Ireland sits well down the Brewers of Europe beer consumption table with 3.8m hl putting it in 18th place. In 2019 this figure was 4.5m hl, putting us in 14th place. The UK, on the other hand, sits in second place with a consumption figure of 40.9m hl after Germany (78.7m hl).

Our per capita consumption figure was also down – 64 litres, down from 77 in 2019 – dropping us three places to 12th.

The Lockdown put its stamp on hospitality’s share of beer consumption too with our on-trade to off-trade ratio falling from 63%/37% in 2019 to 30%/70% in 2020.

Beer exports
Ireland’s global beer export figure puts it in eighth place with 3.4 m hl, three places below the UK which exported 4.5 m hl of beer in 2020. The previous year, Ireland exported over 3.8m hl of beer when the UK was exporting just under 5.3m hl.

Beer imports

The report does not give figures for imports of beer into Ireland for 2020 but this stood at 1.7m hl in 2019. The UK was the top beer importer, importing 10.4 m hl in 2020.

What’s clear from the report is that brewers are resilient. Times are tough but so are brewers, believes the Group. Their entrepreneurial spirit remains.

Sign Up for Drinks Industry Ireland

Get a free weekly update on Drinks Industry trade news, direct to your inbox. Sign up now, it's free