Czechs still world leaders in beer consumption but exports saving breweries as local market stagnates

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The Czech Republic continues to have the highest beer consumption per head in the world. However, the domestic market has stagnated and only an increase in exports prevented Czech breweries from recording a fall in total production in 2014, according to figures just released by the Czech Brewing and Malting Association.

Photo: Kristýna Maková
Per capita consumption of beer in the Czech Republic last year remained at 144 litres per person. This leaves the nation ahead of the Germans (on 107 litres) and Austrians (106 litres) when it comes to sinking suds.

In 2014 the country’s six brewing groups, 29 independent breweries and 280 microbreweries produced 19.65 million hectolitres of pivo, a 2.3 percent rise on the previous year.

This sounds like good news. However, half a decade later the output of Czech breweries has still not reached pre-crisis levels.

In 2009 a record 19.88 million hectolitres were produced. But the following year saw a full 9-percent downswing due to a fall-off in tourist numbers and a VAT increase.

Domestic consumption amounted to 16.92 million hectolitres last year, which was a very slight decline. Tourists are believed to have downed 630,000 hectolitres of that total.

The percentage of beer consumed in pubs reached a record low in the modern era of 41 percent (in 2009 it was 51 percent). This is believed to reflect tightening budgets and Czechs’ growing preference for considerably cheaper home drinking.

Breweries are boosting efforts to get drinkers back into pubs. Market leader Plzeňský Prazdroj is doing more to train owners and staff to handle and pull their pivo better, while the firm is also banking on limited edition brews.

Looking again at the overall market, growing interest from abroad was very much the silver lining for Czech brewers last year.

While in 2013 they exported 3.39 million hectolitres, in 2014 that figure was up to 3.65 million hectolitres. (A decline in imports of low quality foreign beers was also welcomed).

Microbreweries are one area that is booming, with a 30-percent rise in their output last year, Jan Šuráň of the Czech Union of Microbreweries told Czech Television.

Small and medium-sized Czech breweries hardly export at all but are still growing thanks to their solid position on the market. Mr. Šuráň said this reflected the fact that there was a relatively large group of Czech consumers willing to search out craft brews.

Mr. Šuráň said he expected the growth in the number of microbreweries to continue for at least another three or four years.

Microbreweries tend to have very small markets, so each can find its own place, even if there were three on the one street, Mr. Šuráň said. Indeed, while there are six times as many of them as large breweries, their combined production is still only around 1 percent of the total.