Operators urged to give more soft focus

Category shouldn’t be considered the poor relation, as Dave Hunter reports.

Soft drinks have considerable potential for growth in the on-trade, say brand owners.

IT’S time for licensees to get serious about soft drinks and ensure they have a range that caters to all tastes.

That’s the message from brand owners, who say soft drinks continue to represent a significant growth area for pubs.
Stocking the right range is key to maximising sales.
“Getting your soft drinks offering right is a simple way to boost profits to the maximum,” said Alan Hay, on-trade controller for AG Barr.
“It’s essential to tailor your offering to your customers’ requirements, stocking the brands and packs which will bring them back to your venue time and time again.”
With on-trade visits increasingly seen as ‘treat occasions’, Hay said demand for premium soft drinks is growing.
And he wasn’t alone in suggesting that the premium end of the market poses a real opportunity for the on-trade.
Quoting figures from CGA, Simon Speers, managing director of Bottlegreen, said premium soft drinks sales have increased 40% in value in the UK on-trade over the past year, with 22% of adults now consuming non-alcoholic drinks in bars and restaurants on a weekly basis.
“Taking all of these factors into consideration it begs the question why soft drinks are still by and large the poor relation when it comes to pubs planning drinks or even food menus, particularly when pubs are increasingly becoming food rather than wet-led,” said Speers.
He advised operators to regard soft drinks as a “positive consumer choice”, rather than just a default option for children, drivers or tee-total customers.
“With all the focus on healthier lifestyles, consumers are increasingly looking to reduce alcohol consumption and as part of that lifestyle change they are prepared to pay more for adult/premium soft drinks which contain natural and better quality ingredients,” he added.
Soft drinks giant Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) was also quick to highlight the potential in premium soft drinks.
Dave Turner, trade communications manager at CCE, said factors such as heritage, tradition and ethically-sourced ingredients are becoming more important to consumers when choosing soft drinks.
Staff should be encouraged to offer customers recommendations, he said, in a similar way to how they would offer different beers and wines.
Visibility is also important, with licensees advised to allocate at least 30% of chiller space to soft drinks.
“They should feature on food menus to drive awareness of an outlet’s range, especially as 51% of consumers choose premium soft drinks to accompany a meal within licensed outlets,” he said.
“We still find that soft drinks are under-represented on outlets’ menus and we are working with customers to help them understand the benefits of this.”
As with alcoholic drinks, standard of serve is just as important when it comes to soft drinks, according to Turner.
“More and more pubs strive to serve every beer in a branded glass, as it adds to the experience and quality perception,” he added. “Soft drinks should be no different.”
Operators should also aim to review their soft drinks range regularly.
John Carslake, brand manager for Fentimans, said although soft drinks stocked will vary depending on the style of outlet, every range should include a variety of different brands and flavours, with premium as well as standard options.
“Consumer research consistently reports a growing desire amongst consumers for premium options when buying soft drinks,” he said.
“A range of flavours is important as consumers may wish to choose their usual favourite, but are just as likely to look to try something innovative, new or different.”
And there’s room for improvement when it comes to range, according to Shloer head of brand marketing, Amanda Grabham.
Quoting research from Mintel, Grabham said just a third of soft drink customers are currently satisfied with the range and quality of serve of soft drinks in pubs and restaurants.
Grabham advised operators to remove any duplication from their soft drinks range and to promote drinks through point of sale on tables and at the bar as well as including them in meal deal offers.

Images – Soft drinks have considerable potential for growth in the on-trade, say brand owners, (top). Soft drinks are currently worth £3.9bn in sales in the on trade (below).