THE world appears to have passed peak booze. The volume of alcoholic drinks consumed globally fell by 1.4% in 2016, to 250bn litres, according to IWSR, a research firm. It is the second consecutive year of decline, and only the third since data started to be collected in 1994. The drop-off is caused by people drinking less beer, which accounts for three-quarters of all alcohol drunk by volume. Worldwide beer consumption shrank by 1.8% to 185bn litres last year. Yet because the drinking-age population of the world grew by 1% in that time, beer consumption per drinking-age adult declined even more, by 3.2%. The overall decline is almost entirely because of downturns in three of the five biggest markets. China, Brazil and Russia accounted for 99.6% of the global decrease in the volume of beer drunk in 2016.
Both economics and changing tastes play a part. China overtook America to become the world’s biggest market for beer by volume in 2001. It now quaffs a quarter of all beer. But consumption per person peaked in 2013 and dropped further last year. One reason is that Chinese drinkers are turning away from cheap local brews towards premium products and imported beers. Beer’s appeal is also waning among older drinkers. Over-30s are moving to wine and over-40s favour baiju, the national spirit. Elsewhere, recessions have hit beer-drinkers’ pockets. In both Brazil and Russia, consumption by the average adult fell by 7%.
Beer-drinking patterns also change as countries grow richer. In a study in 2016, Liesbeth Colen and Johan Swinnen of the University of Leuven examined the effects of income growth and globalisation on beer consumption in 80 countries between 1961 and 2009. They found that as GDP per person increased in poorer countries, beer became more popular. But when it reached around $27,000 per person, consumption began to fall again.
For decades, consumers in emerging markets have driven beer sales ever upwards. The latest figures suggest that the froth is coming off.
This post was published at The Economist