As the World Drinks More Belgian Beer, Belgians Drink Less

Photograph by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Beer aficionados worldwide know that Belgium makes some of the very best, from fruity red Trappist brews to the famous Hoegaarden wheat beer. At home in Belgium, though, beer is an increasingly tough sell.

Alarmed by a 17 percent drop in domestic consumption over the past decade—even as revenue from beer exports more than doubled—Belgian brewers are set to launch an advertising campaign urging their countrymen to drink local beers. “You can’t be the king of export and have a bad internal market,” says Sven Gatz, director of the Belgian Brewers trade association.

Details of the ad campaign, which will be launched in the next few weeks, haven’t been announced yet. But Gatz said the goal is “to position beer as part of the quality of life, as an element of Belgian pride.”

Belgium’s situation mirrors declining consumption in traditional beer-drinking countries including Germany and the Czech Republic. While wine consumption in Belgium has risen slightly in recent years, most beer drinkers aren’t switching to other alcoholic beverages, Gatz says. They’re simply drinking less alcohol, and more mineral water, coffee, and soft drinks.

The rest of the world still loves Belgian brews, though. The country’s beer exports have soared from $372 million in 2002 to $1.36 billion last year, accounting for some 10 percent of the global beer export market, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

The brewers’ association isn’t trying to persuade Belgians to drink more beer, Gatz says. Rather, he says, the ad campaign will seek to “stabilize” consumption while reinforcing a trend toward drinking higher-quality, premium-priced beers.

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