There’s no denying that stocking the right drinks range is vital to running a successful licensed premises. As customer knowledge continues to grow, choosing the right brands for the back-bar is arguably tougher than ever before.
And according to various brand owners and distributors, there are a couple of key factors licensees should consider when deciding what to stock.
Graham Baird, sales director at Belhaven, reckons when it comes to dealing with changing trends and a fluid market, Scotland’s licensees have a good track record.
“The licensed trade has always been a fast-moving environment, thanks to rapidly changing category dynamics and pace of innovation,” he said.
In terms of trends, beer has been the big mover and shaker in recent years, and Baird said there are “a few really interesting trends” within the category worth watching.
“First is the continued ‘mainstreaming’ of craft in terms of the number and types of outlets stocking a wider range of beers, and the influence that the craft beer revolution is having on all beer categories, with a huge growth in hybrid or fusion beers,” he said.
Baird added that trends from the USA, such as the growth of products like fruit-infused IPAs, are beginning to have influence in the Scottish trade and he reckons there’s now a general nostalgia amongst brewers who “are looking to old recipes and heritage ingredients for inspiration” in craft beer.
Yet beer isn’t the only category that offers diversity.
Terry Barker, director of sales and marketing at Cellar Trends, which distributes brands including Angostura and Luxardo, reckons the greater emphasis on food and entertainment in the on-trade generally offers opportunities when it comes to drinks portfolios.
“Offering a range of drinks, wines and spirits which tap into these occasions is key,” said Barker.
To help operators meet customer expectations over the next 12 months, Barker highlighted four key on-trade trends. Firstly, he said demand for premium brands is expected to continue; quoting figures from IWSR 2016, Barker said sales of premium brands are growing across categories including tequila (+17%), rum (+19%), gin (+28%) and bourbon (+35%).
He also reckons sales of craft products will continue to grow, and predicted customers will continue to experiment with brands. Lastly, Barker reckons the popularity of cocktails is set to continue.
This view was echoed by Faith Holland of Diageo GB who said cocktails “continue to thrive” and now account for 6% of all spirits sales.
The licensed trade has always been a fast-moving environment.
“Importantly, with recent research revealing that two thirds of cocktails are enjoyed in pubs, it is an opportunity all outlets can maximise by getting their cocktail offering right,” she said.
Getting the drinks offer just right can be tricky, but there’s no need for publicans to take a stab in the dark.
Ian Peart, on-trade channel director at brand owner Pernod Ricard UK, whose portfolio includes gin brand Beefeater and Absolut vodka, advised operators to use social media to tap into the latest market trends.
Peart suggested licensees tailor their range to their customer base and work with suppliers to build the right range.
“With every outlet being different, it is far better for outlets to discuss with their brand representatives what they require so they can help in the right way,” he said.
When it comes to brand support, Fi Leonard of Tennent’s agreed that by working closely with suppliers, operators can further their own understanding of which brands will work best in their venue.
Leonard also suggested that keeping an eye on stock and sales should help with range decisions.
“It’s important that pub owners pay close attention to what’s driving sales and what’s left on the shelf or in the keg,” said Leonard.
Hugo Mills, director of sales and operations at Molson Coors, hammered home the importance of building a range that’s right for a venue while also highlighting the supporting role suppliers can play.
“Having the right range is crucial for today’s pubs if they want to stay profitable,” said Mills.
Through teams of brand reps spanning the country and covering a wide and diverse portfolio, Mills reckons the firm is “in a position to make powerful recommendations that are right for each individual customer and their outlet, rather than just pushing select products”.
“We see the bigger picture and have the specialist insight, dedicated sales team and technical support to make the most of our brands and support our customers,” he added.
“We can also offer great levels of support when it comes to marketing and promotion.”