Stout wars – challengers battle for a bigger share of the dark side

Beer continued to dominate on-trade drinks sales in 2023 and is likely to be the biggest seller again in the course of 2024.

Lager is the king of the castle, commanding sales of more than £684 million between June of 2022 and June of this year, with ale a distant second at £124m. 

The lager sector – it should almost go without saying – continues to be ruled by Scottish giant Tennent’s, with Heineken’s Birra Moretti in second place, followed by Peroni Nastro Azzurro and then Stella Artois. 

In ale, Belhaven Best is the biggest beast, and the brand owner unveiled a new branding for Best this year with the hope of broadening its appeal to a new generation of drinkers. 

Tennent’s-owned Caledonia Best is in second place and Heineken’s Beavertown Neck Oil IPA in third. 

Another two Heineken brands, John Smith’s and Deuchars IPA – owned by Heineken and now produced by Belhaven – round out the top five. 

However, CGA’s figures – supplied to SLTN for our annual Top Brands feature – revealed a significant £10m drop in ale value between 2022 and 2023, made even more stark in a year when drinks revenues overall were up. 

It’s arguably stout where there’s been the most interest in the course of 2023.  

The year began with craft giant BrewDog introducing a new stout to its core range – Black Heart – with the stated aim of taking on the category’s longtime champion, Guinness. 

In an interview with SLTN BrewDog marketing manager, Ben Lockwood, said the company was looking to challenge the ‘stout monoculture’ by giving consumers more choice. 

“Of course there’s a lot of smaller players in the stout market, but 97% of the total volume sold is on draught, and the vast majority of that is Guinness,” he told SLTN’s Gordon Davidson. 

“That is where customers really don’t have a choice at the moment.

“During lockdown we learned that people with some extra spending power want to explore and try new things, and the only category where they can’t currently do that is stout. 

“In Black Heart we are providing that choice.”

BrewDog isn’t the only brewer excited about the stout category. 

In the summer Belhaven relaunched its Belhaven Black brand, debuting the new-look stout at the Edinburgh Fringe, where Belhaven was a key sponsor. 

At the time, Belhaven reported that stout was the fastest-growing category by volume in beer, with volumes up 20.4%. 

Meanwhile, CGA’s figures reported a £3m increase in stout sales between 2022 and this year. 

Steven Sturgeon, head of marketing for Belhaven, said: “In the beer category stout is making a strong resurgence, especially with a younger demographic, and is likely to continue to grow in 2024. 

“Belhaven Black is the perfect choice for Scottish venues looking to provide customers with a delicious and locally produced stout. With its recently refreshed look now in pubs we are confident that it will stand out on the bar.”

In fact, the stout market looks so tempting that even mixed martial arts fighters are getting in on the act. 

Forged Irish Stout was launched this year by UFC star Conor McGregor and has already secured listings across the UK. 

Doug Leddin, the company’s chief marketing officer, said the brand is “performing beyond our wildest expectations, and we have no intention of slowing down anytime soon”. 

“The brand has grown phenomenally in such a short amount of time, which is down to the sheer quality that you don’t find with other brands in the market.”