Belgian Beer Exports Plunge in 2023 Amid Economic Pressures

Sarhan Basem

Brussels (Brussels Morning) – In 2023, Belgian beer consumption and exports declined significantly, with domestic consumption dropping by 5.8% and exports by 7.5%. Inflation, purchasing power issues, and staff shortages contributed to this decline, making it one of the sector’s most challenging years. 

How Did Inflation Impact Belgian Beer Consumption in 2023?

There is a historic decline in exports. The brewers refer to inflation, a purchasing power crisis and a staff shortage. After the disastrous year 2020 with the major impact of the coronavirus crisis, there was a recovery in beer consumption in 2021 and 2022 to almost the level of pre-covid year 2019. In 2023 things are back to normal again. Consumption fell by 5.8 per cent to 6.5 million hectoliters of beer. For the brewers, this is not so exceptional in itself, because there has been a global decline for more than 20 years.

But while until a few years ago they could compensate for declining domestic demand with booming exports, this is no longer the case. Exports fell for the fourth year in a row in 2023 and the largest decline ever: -7.5 per cent to 15 million hectoliters. In 2019 it was still 18.4 million hectoliters and in 2022 there was already a decrease of 6.5 percent. Just like in 2022, exports outside Europe mainly fell last year (-22.2 per cent to 2.2 million hectoliters). Exports to EU countries decreased considerably less (-4.4 per cent to 12.8 million hectoliters).

How Are Belgian Brewers Coping with Reduced Exports?

According to Belgian Brewers, the decline is due to competitiveness, which is under heavy pressure, for example, due to rising wages and energy costs. According to them, this makes it difficult to remain competitive compared to a growing local supply in the export countries. According to the brewers, the changing consumption pattern – which has been causing declining beer consumption in our own country for years and where consumers opt for a tasting beer – also affects exports.

Why Was 2023 a Challenging Year for Belgian Brewers?

2023 was “one of the most challenging years” for the sector, the annual report said. “The challenges for our sector are considerable: rising energy, production and wage costs, staff shortages and a lasagna of taxes that puts pressure on our competitiveness,” says Krishan Maudgal, director of Belgian Brewers.

However, the brewers remain resilient, it sounds. “The glass is and remains half full.” The sector continues to demand a “well-thought-out government policy” to support the sector and Belgian beer culture. In 2023, domestic consumption in the catering industry (-5.7 per cent) and retail (-5.9 per cent) fell. Seventy per cent of production is intended for export. Last year, 23 new breweries opened their doors, compared to 36 closures. At the end of 2023, there were 417 breweries throughout Belgium (-13), good for 6,927 direct jobs and 1,600 brands. The brewers together invested 251 million euros in 2023.

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Sarhan Basem is Brussels Morning's Senior Correspondent to the European Parliament. With a Bachelor's degree in English Literature, Sarhan brings a unique blend of linguistic finesse and analytical prowess to his reporting. Specializing in foreign affairs, human rights, civil liberties, and security issues, he delves deep into the intricacies of global politics to provide insightful commentary and in-depth coverage. Beyond the world of journalism, Sarhan is an avid traveler, exploring new cultures and cuisines, and enjoys unwinding with a good book or indulging in outdoor adventures whenever possible.