Prime time for the on-trade

A strong festive offer can drive drinks sales, firms say


FROM a turnover perspective there’s hardly a publican in Scotland that wouldn’t wish it could be Christmas every day, although the extra hours and endless office parties could tire some out before long.
For better or worse Christmas comes just once a year and so it’s important operators extract all that they can from the most profitable time of the year, say drinks firms.
Tina Connolly of Halewood Wines & Spirits, the firm behind Whitley Neill gin and Crabbie’s, said it is “essential” that licensees “add some sparkle to their drinks list” at Christmas in order to increase sales.
“During the festive period, more than ever, consumers indulge in the very best of food and drink so licensees should bolster their premium and super-premium alcohol range,” said Connolly.

It’s essential to add some sparkle to the drinks list.

A seasonal drinks list could serve to lift sales but there’s no doubt designing a new menu is one more task to perform at a busy time of the year.
Operators need not reinvent the wheel, however, as Halewood reckons making some tweaks to existing drinks can make a big difference.
“Welcoming a new season isn’t always about starting again,” said Connolly.
“Experimenting with switching summer fruits for winter, unflavoured vodka for flavoured or simply rotating one or two ingredients will make it appropriate for the time of year and provide a drinks and cocktail list with variations of well-known classics through to contemporary, more adventurous cocktails.”
Katy Carter of Cellar Trends, which distributes Angostura rum and Douglas Laing whiskies in the Scottish on-trade, agreed that Christmas represents an excellent opportunity for operators to boost their drinks sales, highlighting cocktails and mixed drinks in particular as a deep well of sales potential.
“Christmas is one of the most important trading periods for the on-trade with pubs, bars and restaurants often experiencing some of their highest sales and most consistent footfall of the year,” said Carter.
“All drinks experience significant uplift over this time – cocktails and long mixed drinks become more important as people want to treat themselves, and spirits become a more important part of their repertoire.”
With this in mind, Carter reckons that premium spirits will take “the lion’s share of the seasonal uplift” this Christmas, and operators should prepare accordingly.

Darker spirits tend to fare well during the festive season.

The sales potential of premium spirits over the festive period was also highlighted by Matt Pomeroy, brand education and ambassador manager at Pernod Ricard, the firm behind Absolut vodka and Chivas whisky.
Pomeroy said that “as people are out more frequently celebrating and being convivial” spirits sales on the whole should rise.
“On-trade retailers who tap into the premium drinks opportunity and create bespoke ‘Christmas moments’ for their customers will be this season’s winners in the battle for festive sales,” said Pomeroy.
The festive season may coincide with a lift in fortunes for all spirits categories, but Pomeroy highlighted darker spirits as a sub-category which operators could really cash in on at Christmas.
“Darker spirits tend to fare well during the festive season, as they are commonly associated with being ‘warming’ drinks,” said Pomeroy.
“Styles of drinks that tend to be more popular in bars are simple spirit mixers, as they are quick and easy to serve.”
Spirit mixers may do well with many customers, but they won’t be for everyone – least of all those customers under the age of 18 who will be welcomed with their families in many on-trade outlets across the country.
Russell Kirkham of Britvic, the firm behind J2O and Pepsi in the Scottish on-trade, suggested publicans would do well to ensure they can provide families with a quality experience.
“Christmas is a time that brings families together so soft drink serves for children out and about with families should be available,” said Kirkham.
“Busy parents are likely to be out and about with the kids doing Christmas shopping and festive activities, so make sure you’re offering a welcome break from the festive rush during the day and ensure your range includes plenty of options for little ones.”
Children aren’t the only customers who will be looking for alcohol-free options in the on-trade this winter.
Operators were also advised to consider designated drivers when creating their Christmas drinks offer.
“We’ve seen a number of successful ‘designated driver’ campaigns over the years and there is no doubt it is
an area the trade need to focus on again this year,” said Carter of Cellar Trends.
“The secret is to make the driver feel part of the group and for him/her to be comfortable with a suitable drink that looks to contain alcohol however clearly does not, i.e. non-alcohol beer, wine or mocktail.”