Biggest Brewers in the UK

The biggest brewers in the UK, by market share, are the following:

  • Molson Coors – 17.8 %
  • ABInBev – 17.4 %
  • Heineken – 17.1 %
  • Carlsberg – 14.8 %
  • Diageo – 4.8 %

Notice that, despite the huge upsurge in craft beer brewing (that many have labelled a ‘revolution’) big name conglomerate brewers still dominate the market. Despite being based in the UK before their purchase by ABInBev in 2016, former SABMiller brands such as Foster’s and Miller do not sell particularly well amongst UK customers. But AB brands still dominate when it comes to consumer choice – mainly thanks to their huge influence on supermarkets and pub chains.

Biggest Brewers in the UK
Biggest Brewers in the UK

The best-selling beer in the UK in 2017 was Stella Artois, followed by Budweiser and then Carlsberg. That means two out of the three top sellers are owned by ABInBev and the other by Molson Coors. There are no UK based brewers on the top four list, although Carlsberg has more breweries here and has a longer history with England than the other brands – it first started selling well on our shores in the 1950s.

Carlsberg was the undisputed top dog when it came to beers for many years in the UK, with sales figures only recently being eclipsed by Budweiser.

Marketing Power

The real success story here then, is for ABInBev. 10 years ago, sales of Stella and Budweiser were dropping fast among British drinkers. In fact, Stella had such a reputation as the drink of ‘wife beaters’ and lager louts that lobbying firm Portland Communications tried to remove all references to the stereotype on the beer’s Wikipedia page. Since such underhanded tactics didn’t seem to work, ABInBev resorted to more traditional marketing strategies – with great success. Associating themselves with prestigious and classy sporting events such as the Wimbledon Tennis tournament or the Royal Ascot Racing weekend began to shift public perception.

With Budweiser, they blitzed advertising channels with World Cup 2018 related content. As we already wrote in these pages, the English national team’s relative success at the tournament – as well as a long period of sustained sunny and hot weather over Summer – was good news for beer sales. Budweiser was in prime position to capitalise on this and saw their sales soar by 20 million litres in 2018.

Budweiser ad
Budweiser ad

‘Our performance has been driven by our affiliation to key sporting events and cultural moments this years,’ said UK chief marketing executive Rowan Chidgey, adding that they have enjoyed a ‘phenomenal’ year. It was certainly enough to see Budweiser leap over Carlsberg into the second best-selling beer position, as well as helping ABInBev stay ahead of Heineken on market share.

Speaking of which, their rival Dutch brewer has had a tough time in the UK market over the past 12 months. A well-publicised pricing dispute with giant supermarket Tesco in March 2017 led to Heineken products being pulled from the retailer’s shelves for many months. Things had only just returned to an equilibrium, when a Europe-wide industrial CO2 shortage earlier this year also hit the brewer hard. Although they are one of Britain’s largest pub operators too, so this market may have given them some needed respite from the doom and gloom.