It’s no secret that, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, pubs become a go-to location for people looking to celebrate and catch up with their friends.
What may be more surprising is that soft drinks could be just as important as the range of alcohol products behind the bar.
Drinks firms reckon there are more people looking for alcohol-free alternatives than ever before, and operators who are well stocked in time for Christmas can capitalise on this growing trend.
Justin Horsman, marketing controller at Global Brands, the firm behind Franklin & Sons, said that “particularly around Christmas, soft drinks are in demand to cater for family and friends”.
And quoting the Office for National Statistics, Amy Burgess of Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP), the firm behind brands such as Coca-Cola, Appletiser and Schweppes, claimed that a fifth of adults in the UK are not consuming alcohol – and many fall into the ‘designated driver’ role during the festive period.
Consumers want to treat themselves so quality is key.
When the festivities get underway, Burgess reckons Christmas is “a huge opportunity to increase soft drinks sales”.
She emphasised the importance of operators carrying “a wide choice of soft drinks in the run-up to the big day” – by doing this, licensees can “maximise their sales as people enjoy their parties and celebrations”.
And Burgess added that, while stocking best-sellers is a must, a selection of adult soft drinks is also key to a successful offer, with consumers increasingly “looking for a sophisticated option”.
This was echoed by Emma Billinge, marketing director at Purity Soft Drinks, who said that bar and pub customers, even those looking for non-alcoholic alternatives, are often after something “a little bit different, or even unique”.
She said that in order to flourish, “pubs need to start catering for, not just the swing towards adult soft drinks, but the demand for something a little bit different, an upmarket alternative to mainstream carbonated soft drinks, containing more natural ingredients, such as botanicals”.
Russell Kirkham of Britvic Soft Drinks, the firm behind brands such as Pepsi, 7Up, and Tango, said that bigger groups of people “are more likely to walk through the door at this time of year”, and urged operators to be prepared “to showcase sharing offers such as pitchers of cocktails and non-alcoholic drinks to suit a variety of tastes”.
But above all, encouraging people to trade up from their usual soft drink choice should be high on an operator’s agenda, according to Kirkham.
Encouraging people to trade up should be on the agenda.
He said: “If there is one time of year consumers are open to treating themselves, it’s at Christmas.”
Kirkham had four tips for operators looking to capitalise on Christmas, including: making the most of large groups through the development of set menus that suit office parties; ensuring all drinks are presented attractively; ensuring families are well catered for; and training bar staff to give them the knowledge to suggest festive food and drinks pairings.
“Offer special promotions and deals on meals or bar snacks and nibbles to drive footfall, maximising your soft drink sales,” said Kirkham.
Speed of service is another important factor during the busy festive season, according to Burgess of CCEP.
She said: “As Christmas approaches, pubs and bars can get busy, and the speed of serve can make the difference when it comes to maximising sales.
“Focus on staff training to ensure that customers aren’t discouraged to make return visits to the bar due to slow service.”
Demand for alcoholic drinks will remain high, of course, and drinks firms predicted a particular focus on cocktails.
Staff need a sound knowledge and understanding.
Tina Connolly, brand manager at Halewood Wines & Spirits, said customers are becoming “more curious” and more likely to “experiment with their festive tipples”.
And at that time of year, they “want to treat themselves so quality is key, as is flavour, style and design”.
She added that sound staff knowledge is essential.
Connolly said that “bartender education is important in helping consumers make informed choices”, and can be beneficial overall.
She said: “By using a portfolio of top-shelf spirits and innovative, trendy and versatile ingredients, pubs and bars can wow with some mixologist magic.”
Regardless of what range is chosen ahead of Christmas, Nick Tatham of Continental Wine & Food (CWF) stressed that advanced planning and “keeping things simple” can pay dividends during the festive season.