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Pass the Heineken: Our taste for imported beer on the rise

Foreign beer sales have climbed sharply over the last decade. Getty Images

Canadians cherish their beer, with the amber brew’s reign as the top fermented beverage across the country in no danger of being replaced by any wine or spirit anytime soon.

Canadian beers are, however, beating a bit of a retreat from foreign suds, with more and more of the latter pouring over the border in recent years as more domestic beer drinkers reach for an import.

A report released Tuesday by the Conference Board of Canada says imported beer sales have climbed by more than a third over the last decade and now comprise 15.5 per cent of all beer sold.

On a dollar basis, Statistics Canada meanwhile puts the total dollar figure at $639.4 million in 2010, up 196 per cent from 2000.

“Brewery products imported into Canada have made significant gains,” Statscan says.

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Heineken makes inroads

The Netherlands has been the biggest importer of beer to Canada in recent years. The country home to Heineken, Amstel and Grolsch accounts for more than 21.5 per cent of all foreign beer sold into Canada, followed closely by the United States (21.3 per cent) and Mexico (18.4 per cent).

In it’s 2012 annual report, Heineken even notes Canada’s rising contribution to its bottom line. But other top EU beer exporters to Canada include Belgium, home to Stella Artois, the United Kingdom, Germany, Ireland (the birthplace of Guiness), Denmark and France.

“These countries have brewed beer for centuries and have earned extremely favourable international reputations,” the government agency noted.

BEER, BY THE NUMBERS

8.1  per cent of average household food and beverage budget spent on suds

$5.8 – billion dollars in taxes beer sales generate

235 – number of bottles consumed per person a year

163,200 – jobs the beer industry accounts for

Source: Conference Board of Canada

Trade imbalance

And while we’re lapping up more imports, Canadian beer appears to be less popular these days not just at home but abroad, as well.  Annual exports have fallen by 27 per cent over the last decade, according to Statscan, who cited a higher dollar making Canadian beer more pricey internationally among other factors.

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Up until 2002 in fact, Canada had been a net exporter of beer, a trade surplus that’s reversed itself into a deficit that now reaches into the hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Still, as the report – which was commissioned by Beer Canada – points out, the country’s “beer economy”  is a multibillion-dollar industry backed chiefly by enthusiastic consumption of domestic beers.

Total sales top $12.3 billion a year between 2009 and 2011, the Conference Board of Canada says, generating $1.12 for every dollar spent on the beverage, the report said.

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