After the frenzy of Christmas and New Year, January 25 is about much more than celebrating Scotland’s most famous poet, say drinks firms; it’s also an opportunity to liven up what is traditionally a quieter month for the trade.
And it’s the ideal time for outlets to grow their sales of whisky, in particular.
“Burns Night is an important date in the calendar with regard to whisky,” said Neil Boyd, commercial director of malts for Ian Macleod Distillers, the firm behind Glengoyne and Tamdhu.
“It is a celebratory occasion that would not be complete without whisky to toast our national bard. Burns Night celebrations take place across the globe and it is a perfect opportunity to sample our national drink.”
A strong display and range can help increase profitability.
In fact, whisky is linked with Burns Night to such an extent that even non-whisky drinkers can be lured into the category, according to Ian Peart, on-trade channel director for spirits at Pernod Ricard UK, owner of whisky brands Chivas Regal and The Glenlivet.
“The main opportunity here is that customers are thinking about Scotch whisky; even those who don’t normally consume it can be easily persuaded to purchase a dram or two purely because it is traditional to drink it on this night,” said Peart.
“It is worth creating special menus for the night, providing information on the different styles of Scotch whisky, how to drink it, and special offers to entice consumers.”
The “special offers” can include whisky flights containing spirits from each of Scotland’s key whisky regions or even different expressions from the same distilleries, said Peart.
Ranging is crucial, according to Jim Grierson, on-trade sales director at Maxxium UK, the firm behind The Macallan and Highland Park.
He said that the most effective whisky ranges will be those that include a balance of premium malts and blended whiskies, ensuring that “the full flavour range is covered”.
“This allows customers to select their favourite whisky whilst also making it possible to up-sell or entice consumers to try an expression for the first time,” said Grierson.
“A strong display and range of leading malt brands which are recognisable to customers can help increase profitability.
“Luxury brands do particularly well during this season, presenting an exciting opportunity to capitalise on the increased demand.”
This year promises to be an eventful one for Scotland, with the Commonwealth Games, Ryder Cup, Homecoming celebrations and, of course, the independence referendum.
Euan Mitchell, managing director of Isle of Arran Distillers, said the increased focus on Scotland could make this Burns Night bigger than it has ever been.
“Each year there seem to be more celebrations in the on-trade and more and more people are remembering Burns and Scottish heritage by going out to celebrate in bars and pubs across the UK and also hosting their own events at home,” said Mitchell.
“With the debate around Scottish independence increasing, this year there might be an even greater focus on Scottish traditions like Burns Night.
“Some might say there’s even potential for Burns Night to become the Scottish equivalent of St Patrick’s Day.”
And more modern outlets shouldn’t be put off by the traditional image of the Burns supper, said Mitchell.
“Burns Night is a great excuse for a party and, if the traditional run of events doesn’t appeal, bars should consider holding ‘alternative’ Burns nights to put a modern twist on the Scottish tradition,” he said.
It isn’t just the brand owners that are gearing up for Burns Night.
Each year there seem to be more celebrations in the on-trade.
John Coe, trade marketing manager at Punch Taverns, said the pub company advises its licensees to try and make the most of Burns Night each year.
The company’s Whisky Club initiative provides lessees with access to a range of whiskies, as well as display materials, to help them capitalise on the event.
“It is essential that, like any event, Burns Night celebrations are planned well in advance and marketed as soon as New Year celebrations are over,” said Coe. “The sooner you take bookings, the more prepared you can be for ensuring appropriate staffing levels, food and drink volumes.”