And it seems those harsh conditions last December are influencing the way some operators are approaching their festive ordering this year.
Wholesalers contacted by SLTN said many bar, restaurant and hotel operators are keeping orders tight but placing them more frequently, rather than stock-piling products.
Continuing concerns over the economy are also said to be influencing the trend.
And it seems it’s also impacted on the deals some wholesalers are offering the trade this festive season.
Irvine-based Wallaces Express is giving customers who attend its trade shows the chance to order 13 weeks’ of stock for the run-up to Christmas, and benefit from the discounts calculated on that volume of stock, while only having a week’s stock (or as much or as little as they want) delivered at a time.
“Our customers who take advantage of our trade shows buy only what they require on a weekly basis but can ‘roll-up’ their purchases to qualify for extra free stock or free goods,” said managing director Brian Calder.
“Let Wallaces Express hold the bulk of the stock and publicans can draw it as required, therefore spreading the payment and controlling the cash flow.
“Licensees are definitely not stock-piling at the moment.
“The prudent publican is buying what they need more often, sometimes asking for two or three deliveries per week. Keeping their stock levels lower and not running up too much debt is the way to go.
“As a wholesaler you have to offer increased service levels and flexible credit terms to survive. Wallaces Express encourages licensees to buy less but more often and to keep debt low and cash flow high.”
A less but more frequent approach to ordering has also been noted at LA Wholesale, the supply arm of Glasgow-based LA Group, which was set up 18 months ago and specialises in supplying bitters, liqueurs and spirits, including 140 different rums and 90 Tequilas.
“The size of the company means it’s very agile so we can deal with last minute deliveries,” director Mike Lovedale told SLTN.
“It means operators don’t need to have a lot of stock sitting because we can handle orders pretty quickly.
“We’ve positioned ourselves to treat the downturn as an opportunity.
“In this economy bars have to be the cheapest or the best.
“We can give people the tools and training to be the best at what they do, whether it’s a Mexican restaurant looking to stock Tequilas or a top-end cocktail bar.
Licensees are definitely not stock-piling. The prudent publican is buying what they need, more often.
“We don’t sell ‘bling’ products; for us it’s all about taste and quality and provenance rather than glitzy brands stars are seen drinking.
“High quality products are selling really well and I think that will continue over Christmas.
“Last year, the weather meant December was difficult for the trade but January was good because people had postponed nights out.
“I think units will get through again this year, whatever the weather.”
Donald Campbell, sales director at Glasgow-based Wm Morton, which acquired wine merchant Inverarity Vaults in July, is also hopeful the trade can enjoy a bumper festive trading period this year.
He reckons operators could adopt a slightly more cautious approach to festive ordering, although said this has yet to be reflected in buying patterns.
“I think in an economy like this there is greater awareness of credit control and cash flow at all stages of the supply chain and amongst single and multiple operators,” he told SLTN.
“We’re hopeful of a better Christmas weather-wise so that our customers are busy.”
When it comes to trends in festive drinks, Campbell expects wine and cider to continue performing well.
“Wine’s not just a Christmas trend, it’s becoming a bigger part of the offer,” he added. “People are looking for different wines and value for money.”
Martin Race, operations director of Batleys in Scotland, part of a company that also owns Bellevue cash and carry in Edinburgh, agreed that value is topping the agenda for both consumers and operators.
“Vodka continues to drive the market and commodity products are performing well, reflecting the current economic market whereby publican and consumer alike are looking for value for money,” he said.
“Conditions are still difficult, mainly due to the economic uncertainty and the ultra-competitive nature of the marketplace – this year’s Christmas pricing/package is the most competitive ever as wholesalers and brewers compete head to head.”