The freezing January weather is being blamed for a drop in pub beer sales of nearly 6.9 million pints in the first quarter of 2010 as snowbound drinkers were forced to stay at home.
The British Beer and Pub Association revealed in its latest Quarterly Beer Barometer that pub sales were down 8.8% while overall sales fell 5.1% compared to the same period in 2009.
Despite that, supermarket and off-licence sales actually rose by 0.5%.
The BBPA said the latest figures demonstrated the continuing fragility in the beer market. And it asked the Government not to increase beer taxes in the Budget on 22 June.
Despite the falls for the first quarter, the year-on-year change in beer sales has improved, according to the BBPA. The rate of decline eased to 3.5% in the year to March 2010 from 4.2% in the year previously.
But the 5% increase in Beer Duty in the 2010 Budget came into effect as the quarter was ending, with fears that an effective increase of 8p per pint is likely to have a further depressive effect on future beer sales. The BBPA estimated that the tax increase put a further cost burden of £161m on the sector.
Brigid Simmonds, BBPA chief executive, said: "These new figures show the economic environment remains tough and precarious for Britain's pubs. The exceptional impact of winter's icy blast has taken its toll, but this does not fully explain the extent of the current difficulties facing the industry.
"The Budget in March raised our beer tax bill by a further £161m. It means over the last two years beer taxes have increased 26% raising costs by £761m during a time of deep recession.
"We are looking for a new government to approach the issue of beer taxation with a fresh pair of eyes. Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have stated that beer taxation needs reform and pubs need support because of their value to communities. It's time to deliver on those promises.
"As a first step we are looking for the Government to abolish the beer tax escalator. Secondly, if the Government does put up VAT we are looking for a compensatory reduction in beer tax. This would be a targeted measure to help pubs, because over half of beer sales are in pubs and 60% of drink sales in community pubs are beer."
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