Scottish publicans reveal fears for trade

Image caption Going to the pub has become much less common for those in low-income groups

One in five publicans has considered quitting the business, according to a new report.

The research, commissioned by brewers Molson Coors, found that in rural areas a higher proportion - a third - had thought of selling up or closing down in the last six months.

More than half of those questioned see the prospects for the industry as poor over the next five years.

Researchers say there has already been a steep decline in the business.

Almost half of Scots saying they go to the pub less frequently than they did in 2009.

That is being explained partly by the economic downturn, but also with evidence that people are more discerning about the quality of their experience when they go out - going out less often, but being willing to spend more when they do.

However, many are simply getting out of the habit of going to the pub, with only 25% going at least once every fortnight.

Smoking ban

According to the report, the fall in pub-going was most pronounced among lower income groups, down by 41%, and students, down 54%.

Recent business losses were attributed to rising costs, the impact of the smoking ban or competition from supermarkets.

The latest findings follow what the report described as a "marked decline" in the number of Scottish pubs in recent years. In March 2005 there were 6,641 outlets trading as pubs, but five years later this had reduced to 5,873 - a loss of more than 150 in the average year.

Writing in the report, Phil Whitehead, managing director of Molson Coors in Scotland, said: "Without doubt these are challenging times for the Scottish hospitality industry.

"In the five years to 2009, alcohol sales through the on-trade slumped by 14%, and beer sales fell by 16%. That is not just a worrying statistic but a wake-up call to anyone who has an interest in the medium to long term health, or even survival of our industry.

"The insight that this report provides into the future of the Scottish hospitality industry can make hard reading in places. The challenges that lie ahead are clear."

In other findings, 47% of consumers said that pubs played a positive role in local communities, compared to 17% who took the opposite view.

However, the report found the trade has had trouble translating this sentiment into business.

Minimum price

Many publicans gave evidence to the report's compilers that they had concerns for the industry as a whole, yet they were more likely to be positive about their own prospects, with 56% saw their own business prospects as being good over the next five years.

The SNP government plans to introduce a minimum price for drink in a bid to tackle the problems associated with alcohol abuse in Scotland.

Today's research revealed that consumers and publicans were split on the likely effect of the plans. When it came to consumers, 42% felt it would be negative step, while 39% said its introduction would have a positive impact.

Fifty-seven percent of licensees believe it would have a beneficial impact on Scotland, but would do little to help their business. They stand to benefit from cheap drink in shops being pushed up in price.

Mr Whitehead said: "It is obviously a challenging time for the Scottish licensed trade but this report demonstrates there are huge numbers of publicans in Scotland doing the right things to grow their businesses such as offering food, entertainment and sports broadcasting.

Colorado-based Molson Coors has around a tenth of the beer market in Scotland, led by the Carling brand, as well as Grolsch and Corona. It has around 20% of the UK market as a whole, and and aims to reach the same share of the Scottish market by the end of this decade.

One of its plans to achieve that is to expand the demand for beer among women, with promotion of new, flavoured beer brands. More than a third of women rarely go to the pub. And In Britain, only 13% of women are beer drinkers, whereas Ireland and the US have more than double that proportion.

The research, commissioned by brewer Molson Coors and carried out by CR Consulting, was carried out in August this year, surveying 201 pub operators in Scotland and questioning 1000 adults on their pub-going habits.

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