By James Atkinson

New research has confirmed Australians' growing preference for premium drinks over traditional beers, with the country predicted to spend $25.4 billion on alcoholic beverages in 2011-12.

Australia's alcohol spending is expected to increase by 15.3 percent over the next five years, reaching $29.3 billion in 2016-17, according to the new reports on off-premise and on-premise alcohol spending by research company IBISWorld.

The reports say the trend towards premium beverages and rising alcohol prices are the key drivers of growth.

"Australian alcohol consumption is expected to reach 10.61 litres per capita this year. While this is forecast to rise to 11.02 litres per capita by 2016, this 3.86 percent increase is a minor factor in upward spending," said IBISWorld general manager (Australia) Karen Dobie.

"In 2011-12, Australians are expected to fork out $25.41 billion on alcohol – with $9.04 billion being spent in pubs, taverns and bars and $16.4 billion in liquor retailer stores. Significant growth is expected across both sectors as the retail environment and consumer sentiment strengthens."

Dobie said off-premises consumption – through takeaway purchases at pubs, taverns and bars and liquor retailers – is expected to retain the largest share of the pie, accounting for about 81 percent of total alcohol spending.

The reports say beer consumption currently accounts for 44 percent of total alcohol consumption, falling from a high of 76 percent in the 1960s, while wine accounts for 37 percent and spirits for 19 percent.

"Traditional full-strength lagers such as VB, Carlton Draught and Tooheys are losing market share in favour of cider and premium, imported, low-carbohydrate and craft beer segments," Dobie said.

"Craft beers have grown in popularity and there are now close to 120 microbreweries in Australia," Ms Dobie said.

The reports add that Australia's per capita alcohol consumption is higher than the United Kingdom's current level of 10.58 litres per capita, and well above the United States' average of 8.42 litres.

"Australia has overtaken the UK in terms of alcohol consumption, yet Australians are increasingly aware of the dangers of binge drinking," Dobie said.

"The rising popularity of low and mid-strength beer and wine indicates the industry will not be heavily affected by more sensible drinking patterns."

In terms of growth potential, Dobie said Asia as the strongest region for beer sales, with average annual growth between 2003 and 2008 reaching above 8 percent.

In China per capita consumption is expected to rise to 53.40 litres by 2013, while Singapore is expected to rise to 23.12 litres and Thailand 61.42 litres.

The researchers said this could create new opportunities for Australian brewers looking to expand overseas.

The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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