The boom in craft beer and the resurgence of ale has left publicans facing an almost dizzying number of options when it comes to ranging which, coupled with customers who are more discerning than ever, makes selecting the right products crucial.
Help is at hand, however, as the breweries behind some of the biggest brands in the Scottish on-trade have outlined what they think makes a strong beer range.
Paul Condron, marketing director at Tennent’s, reckons a pub’s beer range is one of the key considerations among customers when deciding where to go on a night out.
“One of the most important decisions for customers in choosing where to drink is the choice they have in the bar,” said Condron.
While there’s room for diversity, Condron suggested operators ensure they stock the big hitters that can sell all year round.
“We recommend that publicans maintain good stock levels of best sellers such as Tennent’s throughout the year to meet the consistent demand,” he said.
Gordon Muir, brand manager at Belhaven, echoed Condron’s suggestion that some brands can have a year-round appeal, but added that there is some movement in sales trends as the mercury drops.
“We do see some movement towards darker ales as the weather gets cold, but it is fair to say that many drinkers continue to look for their favourite style whatever the weather,” he said.
To meet customer expectations, Muir suggested publicans stock a broad range, while making sure each beer on the bar is worthy of its place.
Try the beers in other outlets to check the quality of product.
“Our advice is always to offer the maximum breadth of range and make sure that every beer is earning its place on the bar,” he said.
“Offering choice in popular categories is important, but if two lagers offer a very similar proposition then licensees should be thinking about whether more choice could be created by switching into a different category.”
Muir added that as both ales and craft beers offer “a wide variety of styles and flavours”, it would be advisable to offer “a mix of well-known and trusted brands” alongside “new and innovative beers” that can offer “tremendous choice to drinkers”.
Adding a new brew to the beer range can be a bit hit-and-miss but publicans need not take a stab in the dark, according to Jo Stewart of Stewart Brewing, who suggested adopting a ‘try before you buy’ mentality.
“[Operators should] try the beers in other outlets to check the quality of the product would be my advice,” said Stewart.
Diversity shouldn’t stop at the beer range either, Stewart reckons, but should also extend to the serve options available to customers.
“Choose a diverse range of beer styles and give customers the option to buy in 1/3 units as well as 1/2 and pints,” she said.
“Include a good range of local beers, a branded glass and some great music and remember to promote it well.”
Getting the beer range right isn’t just a one time job, it’s an ongoing endeavour.
Andy Maddock, managing director of the Caledonian Brewery, reckons licensees should regularly review their range to make sure they are offering “the best possible selection” for their customers.
“It’s not necessarily about cutting down their lager range per se, more about getting the mix right – it’s about breadth rather than depth,” said Maddock.
A broad range may be brilliant for boosting sales, but only if it’s presented well within an outlet.
Maddock said there are several ways publicans can make their beer range visible throughout the venue.
“Publicans should use point of sale items at tables and not just at the bar,” he said.
“Equally, make sure the bar signage is clear and fridges are arranged tidily so that customers can see the full range you have on offer instead of always making their usual choice.”
A spokesman for drinks giant Diageo, the firm behind Guinness, agreed that visibility is vital in the on-trade, highlighting a CGA Strategy report suggesting 38% of consumers claim visibility influences their decision.
He added that operators should keep the bar clear and clean so “as to not block the view of the back-bar fridge”, and said this should also be a consideration when placing point of sale as “obstructing the fridge will only hide what you have on offer”.