It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, so licensees should already have plans in place to cope with the coming party season.
To make the most of festivities, however, they need to be adaptable to changing drinks trends or they could miss out on lucrative opportunities.
Pete Fairclough, brand manager of wine producer Kingsland Drinks, acknowledged that changing an existing festive range at the eleventh hour can be awkward.
But he insisted that it is “definitely worth being flexible so as not to miss out on the opportunities created by consumers trading up during this key sales period”.
“Therefore, it’s important to make sure you have premium spirits, fortified wines, Champagnes and dessert wines covered,” he said.
The importance of stocking up on premium products was also stressed by Diageo.
Commercial planning and activation executive for the on-trade, Janel Fatania, said the festive season provides four key opportunities for selling premium products: the Christmas get-together; work party; big night out; and formal meal.
Food-led occasions, in particular, provide a significant opportunity for operators.
“Last year the average on-trade outlet sold an additional 569 serves versus an average month – half of which were spirits – and saw premium spirits sales grow by 16%,” said Fatania.
Alcoholic products aren’t the only ones expected to be in demand this Christmas, however.
Operators were also advised to keep an eye on their stocks of low and no-alcohol drinks.
“People are choosing not to drink alcohol for a wide variety of reasons,” said Fran Draper, brand manager for Eisberg Alcohol-Free Wine.
“From health-related tee-totallers, to charity abstainers and designated drivers, most social occasions will now include non-drinkers looking for an alternative that helps them feel part of the night out.”
According to Draper, alcohol-free wine sales are on the rise, highlighting “the demand for a grown-up option”.
“In Scotland in particular, where strict drink-driving laws mean a zero tolerance approach to alcohol when getting behind the wheel, drivers must be given proper alcohol-free alternatives that go beyond water, fruit juice or sugary fizzy drinks. As a result, we expect sales to increase over the festive period, especially north of the border.”
Nicola Henderson, on-trade marketing manager at Tennent Caledonian Breweries, whose drinks range includes Tennent’s Lager, Caledonia Best, low-alcohol beer T2 and alcohol-free HeeHaw, accepted soft drinks “will always be popular” for those who choose not to drink.
But she added: “These won’t always be the preferred option for those who also enjoy the taste of an alcoholic beverage. For that reason it’s important to take advantage of the range of low and no-alcohol alternatives that now exist.”
And the importance of premium products is just as applicable to non-alcoholic drinks as alcoholic, according to Alan Hay, on-trade controller at AG Barr.
“The festive season provides outlets with an opportunity to expand their drinks menus and offer more choice,” said Hay.
“Consumers are looking for something more special and are prepared to pay more for a premium offering when visiting licensed outlets at this time of year.”
He suggested exotic flavours, in particular, are worth adding to drinks lists.
“Soft drinks with exotic flavours are ideal for use in mocktails, allowing publicans to offer a unique experience for their customers and create a bit of theatre in the process,” said Hay.
Equally important is that operators let their customers know about their Christmas drinks range.
“Advertising is paramount,” said Andrew Turner, category and trade marketing director, on-trade, at Heineken.
“Let customers know about your plans by putting up outdoor signage to increase visibility and awareness, drawing people in. Make it really clear both inside and outside the bar what your Christmas plans are.
“If you’ve got a large Facebook or Twitter following, use these channels as well.”