New Zealanders are drinking stronger beer and more often than they were last year, according to Statistics New Zealand figures out today.

The figures show that the amount of high-strength beer was up 17 per cent in 2016, while there was a 4.2 per cent increase in the amount of alcohol on our shelves.

The government statistics agency said that a spike in the amount of beer with an alcohol content above 5 per cent followed an even bigger increase of 38 per cent in 2015.

Low-strength beer was down while beer with the mid-range alcohol content, between 4.35 and 5 per cent, rose by 6.4 per cent.


"The volume has doubled in the last five years, reflecting the growing demand for craft beers," said international statistics manager Nicola Growden.

The total volume of all alcoholic drinks rose 4.2 per cent in 2016, with beer (3.7 per cent), wine (4.7 per cent), and spirits (7.7 per cent) volumes all up.

This contrasts with 2015 when there was little overall change in the total volume available, and a 2 per cent fall in 2014.

The total volume of pure alcohol, expressed as the number of standard drinks available per person a day, rose 5.1 per cent in 2016, following a 2.2 per cent fall in 2015. Despite the rise in 2016, the latest level is the third-lowest in the last 16 years.

"There was enough alcohol for each adult New Zealander to drink the equivalent of two standard drinks a day," Growden said. "This is 500ml of 5 per cent alcohol beer, or two glasses of wine per person."

The increased prevelance of alcohol comes as New Zealand's economy is being boosted by an expanding population, strong tourism, and a buoyant property market stoking consumer spending. The labour market, too, has remained robust with new jobs being created for the inflow of migrants.

Retail spending data backs up the trend with recent data showing the total value of retail sales, seasonally adjusted, rose 1.1 percent on quarter in the December quarter to $21.08 billion. The value of liquor sales rose 1.9 percent on the quarter to $407 million.

While the ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence index eased to 127.4 in February from 128.7 in January, it was up on a seasonally adjusted basis. "The economic landscape looks pretty radiant for consumers," ANZ Bank New Zealand chief economist Cameron Bagrie said at the time.

Earlier this month, Lion - Beer, Spirits & Wine (NZ), the local unit of Japanese brewer Kirin Holdings, announced it will pay as much as $25.1 million for its newly acquired Panhead Custom Ales craft beer brand.

Lion agreed to buy Panhead in May last year from the family of founder Mike Neilson and New Zealand managing director Rory Glass said the brewer had struggled to keep pace with demand.

Glass cited sales growth for its craft beers and the trend of "premiumisation", where consumers seek out better and more expensive beers, for the company's 12 percent gain in profit in 2016.

In late January, Heineken-owned DB Breweries, which owns bars and liquor brands including Tui, Monteiths and Redwood Cider, announced it bought Kapiti boutique brewer Tuatara Brewing Co for an undisclosed sum.

- additional reporting BusinessDesk