A combination of lower tourist numbers and a wet summer took a significant toll on beer sales in Spain last year.
The latest figures from the Cerveceros de España organisation which represents the Spanish brewing industry show that consumption of beer dropped by 1.32 per cent last year to 30.1 million hectolitres, while per capita consumption fell by 3 per cent to 73.1 litres.
Spanish per capita beer consumption is now 4 per cent below the EU average, compared to 2 per cent below in 2001.
In volume terms, sales dropped by 0.7 per cent, but there was at least a welcome increase in value sales - up 5.95 per cent to €2.2 billion - due to price rises related to the introduction of the euro and increased consumption of imported and speciality beers, which retail for a higher price.
But despite the poor performance in 2002, Jacobo Olalla, secretary general of the association, told the Expansion newspaper that he was optimistic of a return to profitability in the current year, provided that tourist numbers returned to more normal levels.
The brewing industry above all was impacted by the 3.3 per cent drop in tourists last year: around 13 per cent of all tourist expenditure in Spain goes on beer, according to Cerveceros de España.
Olalla said that there was also an encouraging rise in exports, which compensated somewhat for the decline in domestic sales. Sales outside Spain surged 20.24 per cent during 2002, continuing the impressive progress made over the last few years. In the last seven years, exports have more than doubled from 358,000 hl in 1996 to 752,000 hl in 2002.
Spanish brewers sell their products to more than 60 countries worldwide, headed by Portugal, which accounts for 16.06 per cent of total exports, and Italy, with 13.06 per cent.
As far as types of products were concerned, domestic consumption of no-alcohol beer showed a sharp increase - up 4 per cent to 2 million hl - and Spain is now said to be the country with the largest consumption of no-alcohol beer in Europe. Some 17 per cent of all the beer consumed there is no- or low-alcohol, according to Olalla, a reflection of the high quality of this type of product in Spain, he said.