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Plan B brings drinks boost

Drinks sales continued to lag behind pre-pandemic trading last week, ahead of a much-needed lift to pubs, bars and restaurants from the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

CGA’s Drinks Recovery Tracker shows average drinks sales by value in Britain’s managed pubs, bars and restaurants in the week to Saturday (22 January) were 11% below the same week in 2020. It extends a tough period for the licensed sector, after shortfalls of 18% and 12% in the first two weeks of 2022—though these were an improvement on a 25% drop in the last three weeks of 2021.

There is cautious confidence that drinks sales may pick up after Plan B restrictions were eased in England on Thursday (27 January). The end of mandatory COVID-19 passes for nightclubs and big events should give a boost to the late-night sector in particular.

Drinks sales in England were 10% down on 2020 levels, but in Scotland and Wales, where restrictions have been stricter, they were 25% and 24% short respectively. The easing this week of some restrictions in Scotland and Wales—including the reopening of nightclubs and end to crowd limits—should give these markets a lift too, but hospitality businesses continue to face constraints here.

Across Britain, drink sales were well below pre-COVID-19 levels on every weekday, with instructions to work from home denting after-work drinking occasions. However, they perked up to sit 8% down on Saturday (22 January)—a welcome indication that consumers are returning to weekend visits into the sector.

CGA’s breakdown of drinks categories shows spirits sales were exactly flat compared to the same week in 2020, thanks in large part to the popularity of cocktails. However, beer and cider (down 13%), wine (down 18%) and soft drinks (down 12%) were all well behind.

“It’s been a very challenging start to 2022 in the hospitality sector, further weakening drinking-out businesses that suffered a collapse in sales over Christmas,” said Jonathan Jones, CGA’s managing director, UK and Ireland.

“We can be optimistic that the end to Plan B restrictions will encourage consumers to get back to pubs, bars and restaurants over the next few weeks, and kickstart what will hopefully be a much brighter year. However, rising costs in many areas have hit both profit margins and consumer spending, and operators and suppliers are going to have to work hard to generate sales in 2022.”


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