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Drinks sector forced to take stock as market remains flat

DIAGEO is not the only drinks company to have found the going tough in Ireland in recent years.

The Irish drinks market has fallen about 15pc since the peak of the boom and is down a fifth since 2001, forcing several firms to reassess their Irish operations.

Britvic is probably the poster boy for the struggles of the market. The UK company bought C&C's soft drinks business (Ballygowan, Club Orange, Mi Wadi and 7Up among others) for €249m in 2007 and has gained precious little from the deal.

Last year the company halved the value of its Irish business, taking a €122.3m charge in its yearly results. That loss pushed the multinational into an annual loss overall.

The continued struggles in Ireland saw Britvic announce it planned to lay off about 100 staff from its 800-strong workforce here in January. The company cut 160 staff in 2009.

The state of its Irish business has continually raised doubts about Britvic's commitment to Ireland but chief executive Paul Moody says his company is in it for the long haul here.

Heineken's struggles have been less pronounced but the Dutch brewer, which owns Beamish and Murphys, as well as the Coors Light and Amstel brands in Ireland, has suffered nonetheless.

It had revenue of €402m in Ireland last year but warned that the outlook here remained "challenging".

"The pub trade is totally dependent on disposable income.

"Severe constraints on credit, combined with levels of consumer disposable spend being stretched, will certainly make it tough for all to compete, and in reality 2011 will be another tough period for the industry.

"The overall situation remains extremely difficult," it said.

Pubs and restaurants, known as the "on trade", have borne the brunt of the downturn. It has been an inevitable fact that as incomes and employment fall, the notion of having a few cheap cans in the comfort of your own home becomes more attractive than paying €5 or €6 for a pint in a bar.

Pubs, restaurants, and the like had a "disastrous" performance in 2010, according to the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland (DIGI), the umbrella organisation for the sector here.

A survey by DIGI claimed that 7,000 jobs were lost in pubs, bars, hotels, restaurants and nightclubs last year, while sales declined by "double digits".

"Bar sales volume decreased by 10.5pc (13.1pc in value) in 2010 following the 2009 decline of 11.1pc and the 2008 decline of 6.8pc. The 2010 decline has continued this year.

"In the first quarter of 2011 bar sales declined by 7.4pc compared with the first quarter of 2010," says DIGI secretary Donall O'Keeffe, who is also chief executive of the Licensed Vintners Association.

He believes on-trade business is down a quarter in the last three years.

Irish Distillers chief executive Alexandre Ricard paints a similar picture.

The owner of Jameson and Powers whiskey estimates the hospitality sector contracted by 14pc last year and warned more would need to be done to maintain business in the Republic.

"The hospitality sector, primarily pubs, continues to suffer badly and all stakeholders in this important sector for jobs and tourism must be cognisant of their policy decisions and actions, and their impact," he says.

It has been a similar picture for cider-maker C&C, which has seen volumes decline in Ireland but has managed to maintain its profits even as revenue falls.

Last year, Bulmers' volume was down 2.4pc here, while price/mix impact meant net revenue from the brand tumbled by 7.1pc.

Indo Business