Spain’s beer producers warn industry under threat from Brexit

The United Kingdom is the third-biggest recipient of Spanish ales, but experts fear that could change once Britain leaves the EU

Tourists drink beer in Granada.
Tourists drink beer in Granada.Miguel Ángel Molina (EFE)

The profile of Spanish beer is growing internationally but a new set of factors is threatening to undermine its success. Although beer consumption has bounced back last year after losing ground during the economic crisis – 20% between 2007 and 2012 – the economic slowdown coupled with external factors such as the possibility of a no-deal Brexit have started to ring alarm bells.

The UK is a country with a big beer culture which doubles or triples our consumption and also helps us to export

Jacobo Olalla, managing director of Cerveceros de España

“It’s a little early to say, but we have felt the effects of the economic slowdown and then there is concrete data, such as the drop in British tourism,” said Jacobo Olalla, managing director of Spain’s beer producer association Cerveceros de España, during the presentation of a report on Spanish vacation habits, produced by the association.

According to Olalla, Brexit is going to have a huge impact on the Spanish beer market, both in terms of tourism and exports. The United Kingdom is the third biggest export market for Spanish beer – 467,132 hectoliters in 2018 from a total of 2.97 million – and the main source of foreign tourists in Spain. “It’s a country with a big beer culture which doubles or triples our consumption and also helps us to export,” Olalla adds.

Summer accounts for the biggest consumption of beer in Spain. As much as 31% is drunk between June and September – the equivalent of 11 millions of hectoliters, according to Cerveceros de España. But although the British continue to choose Spain for their summer vacation, the comeback of destinations such as Turkey, as well as the growing global climate of uncertainty, are reducing their numbers; in June, 2.1 million UK tourists came to Spain, 5.3% down on the previous year.

“Brexit could have consequences for the pound [which hit its lowest exchange rate since 2017 at the end of July] and for tourism – not just holiday tourism,” said Olalla, referring to the number of Brits who own a second home in Spain. “A hard Brexit, which will probably limit freedom of movement, could send them home. Brexit is not good news for anyone.”

Summer, beer and paella

Spain is the fourth-biggest beer producer in the European Union. Last year, the sector sold more than 40 million hectoliters, more than half in bars and restaurants. According to the last report from the Ministry of Agriculture on food and drink consumption in Spain, beer is the most popular cold drink outside the home. In 2018, it accounted for 35.2% of cold drinks consumed, compared with 32.7% of water and 19.5% of soft drinks. Meanwhile, consumption within the home dropped in volume but rose 2% in value.

Brexit is not good news for anyone

Jacobo Olalla, managing director of Cerveceros de España

According to the report The Spaniards’ Ideal Summer, produced by the Madison Market Research company, 70% of the 2,021 Spaniards surveyed described their ideal summer as a combination of beer and paella in a town or at the beach, accompanied by their partner in 43.7% of cases, friends in 15.6% and family in 36.2%. “Tourism, climate and lifestyle have made Spain the third-biggest consumer of beer,” said Olalla. “It’s not about consuming alcohol, it’s about having a refreshing drink.”

This would explain why Spain is one of the biggest consumers and producers of non-alcoholic beer. “The total consumption of this product is 15% of all that is drunk while in France it is just 4%,” said Olalla.

Eighty percent of Spaniards associate drinking beer with an aperitif or a meal, according to the report. Rice dishes, paella and Spanish omelette are all foods that those surveyed regularly have with beer when at the beach.

The survey also covered favored vacation spots and found that the most popular resort is Benidorm, followed by Playa Norte in Gandia and Barceloneta. What those surveyed appreciated most about these beaches was the environment (57.6%) and cleanliness (46.3%). Among the more rural destinations, Conil de la Frontera, Llanes and Formentera were all frontrunners.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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