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Spirits sales drop due to March train strikes

Train strikes in March caused a double-digit decline for spirits sales in the UK on-trade over a week-long period, according to data from CGA.

UK train strikes
Train workers went on strike twice during March

On 16 and 18 March, members of the UK’s Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) Union went on strike over a long-running pay dispute, causing major disruption across the rail network. Tube drivers represented by Aslef also went on strike on Wednesday 15 March.

For the week to Saturday 16 March, average drinks sales by value dropped by 2% year on year, data from CGA by NIQ’s Drinks Discovery Tracker revealed.

After adjustments for inflation, CGA said sales were still ‘substantially below’ 2022 levels.

Spirits were hit hardest with sales down by 15% for the week, the category’s worst result since the start of the year, CGA said.

In comparison, beer and wine both increased by 3% and soft drinks rose by 4%. Cider sales dipped by 2%.

The train strikes caused a ‘major blow’ to footfall in town and city centres across the UK on Thursday 16 March, with sales plunging by 26% below the equivalent day in 2022.

However, there was some bounce back in sales on the following day, when sales rose by 15%.

Sales on 18 March were down by 7% year on year, affected by damp and windy weather.

“A 26% drop in sales indicates the effect that rail strikes have on the out-of-home sector,” said Jonathan Jones, CGA’s managing director, UK and Ireland.

“News of more high inflation this week is a reminder of the soaring costs that face consumers and businesses alike, and with little respite to those pressures in sight it will be a challenging spring for many businesses in the sector.”

Trade body UK Hospitality had warned the combined rail and tube strikes from 16-18 March could cost the on-trade £600 million (US$727.9m) in lost sales.

Further industrial action was planned for 30 March and 1 April, but has since been called off after Network Rail members voted to accept a revised pay offer.

£3 billion hit to hospitality

UK Hospitality’s chief executive, Kate Nicholls, called the move encouraging but warned more needed to be done.

“There’s plenty still to be done, of course, with ongoing negotiations between other employee groups, but I hope that this agreement paves the way for rail and tube strikes to end completely, ” she said.

“Venues across the country have so far incurred lost sales upwards of £3 billion [US$3.7bn] and would have struggled immensely to deal with that level of ongoing disruption.

“I would encourage everyone involved to continue their urgent negotiations and bring to an end strikes that have heaped misery on businesses, consumers and workers for almost a year.”

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