Czech beer consumption in 2020 fell to its lowest level since the 1960s due to pub closures

Not only was there a drop in domestic consumption, but exports also suffered due to restrictions in other countries.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 20.04.2021 19:12 (updated on 20.04.2021)

While the Czech Republic has long led the world in beer consumpition, last year that figure saw a significant drop – though likely not enough to kick the country from the top spot. The annual consumption of beer in 2020 in the Czech Republic reached 135 liters per capita, the lowest level since the 1960s. That was a full seven liters fewer than in 2019, when consumption per capita was 142 liters.

Production fell last year 6.9 percent to 20.1 million hectoliters, down from a record 21.6 million hectoliters in 2019. Coronavirus restrictions on the operation of pubs and restaurants both here and abroad are to blame for the drop, according to the Czech Association of Breweries and Malthouses (ČSPS).

"As brewers, we have been monitoring data since 1950. Personally, I have a lot of rich experience, but I have never experienced such a situation. I don't remember when pubs and restaurants were so bad," ČSPS chairman František Šámal said in a press release.

“The crisis is reflected not only in trade losses, but also in the fates of a number of people who guard the brewing tradition as a national treasure,” Šámal added.

Pubs and restaurants usually account for one-third of beer sales, but that dropped to a quarter in 2020, despite windows being open for take-away. Beer sales in stores were not able to compensate for the loss of pub and restaurant sales.

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ČSPS also pointed to reduced opening hours, a ban on alcohol consumption in public, and the cancellation of sports and cultural events, as having a negative effect on sales. Restriction that banned most holiday parties and gatherings in December also had a big impact.

Approximately 500 pubs closed in 2020, with hundreds more expected this year, ČSPS added. Martina Ferencová, the executive director of ČSPS wants the government to take some action.

“The least the state can do now is open the gardens. The spread of coronavirus will not worsen, but it can save many pubs. People need to meet. In addition, the epidemiological situation is improving and with the arrival of spring weather, people's associations will increase in intensity,” Ferencová said.

“The opening of gardens under strict hygienic conditions is definitely better with regard to the health of the population than uncontrollable natural gatherings,” she added.

The structure of beer sales changed last year. Sales of beer in glass bottles increased by 6 percentage points to 46 percent. The amount of cask beer sold decreased by 8 percentage points to 25 percent. PET bottles remained at 11 percent of the total exhibition. Canned beer sales improved by 3 percentage points to 15 percent. Sales of tank beer fell by more than half to 2 percent of the total.

As for the popularity of beer types, in the long-term the consumption of lagers, meaning bottom-fermented beers at 11 or 12 degrees, is steadily growing slightly. Overall, they have increased by more than 16 percent in the last 10 years.

Compared to previous years, the popularity of non-alcoholic beers and beer-based mixed drinks also increased significantly. While their alcoholic variants used to predominate, today the non-alcoholic ones dominate. The total production of these increased by 12 percent.

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Negative trends were evident in exports. In 2019, the increase in total beer production was driven by foreign demand; last year, for the first time in nine years, exports fell. Exports in 2020 amounted to 5 million hectoliters of beer, which is 381,000 hectoliters fewer than in the previous year.

Last year, beer imports to the Czech Republic increased by 56,000 hectoliters, or by 12.8 percent to 492,000 hectoliters. The majority, 480,000 hectoliters, are from EU countries. Imported beer accounts for about 3 percent of domestic consumption.

The decrease in beer had a large impact on small breweries. "Last year, total production fell by about 8 percent, but production in microbreweries fell by 30 percent. … For mini-breweries it is a big economic downturn," Jan Šuráň, president of the Czech-Moravian Association of Mini-Breweries, said according to news sever iDnes.

Mini-breweries depend on draft beer sales at restaurants and pubs for 90 percent of their production.

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"Suddenly there was nowhere to supply our beer. Restaurants are closed and many microbreweries also have their own restaurants, which are now closed," Šuráň said.

He added that redirecting the beer production to bottles and cans was costly and time-consuming.

On the other hand, large brewers were able to benefit from increased interest in bottled beer. Budweiser Budvar increased production by 51,000 hectoliters last year to a record 1.73 million hectoliters. This figure was boosted in part by a new bottling line that opened at the end of 2019 to respond to higher demand for bottles.

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