Let the sun shine on beer and cider

The return of live events could make this a big summer season for drinks sales

Pint on the table in sunshine

THE resumption of sporting and other live events could help bring an added boost to the on-trade this summer as customers and operators alike look to make the most of the first restriction-free summer season in years.

While this expected boost to business will likely impact on drinks sales overall, brand owners reckon that beer and cider – which always tend to prove popular during warmer weather – could be among the best-sellers this summer.

“With consumers facing ongoing restrictions the last two years, we expect there to be a real buzz this summer in general with people looking forward to making up for lost time with friends and family,” said Marcie Noble, on-trade sales director for the west at Tennent’s.

“This, coupled with the fact that many music and sporting events could not go ahead as normal in previous years, means that these annual events will seem even more momentous for people.”

Crawford Sinclair, commercial director at Innis & Gunn, agreed.

He said that, after two years of coronavirus restrictions, the return of major events, coupled with “increased consumer confidence”, means bar and pub operators should “ensure that they are well prepared to reap the benefits of the return to pre-pandemic levels of trade”.

“Operators should ensure a strong range of Scottish drinks on offer, good stock of branded glassware and staff trained to offer perfect serves, support customers in their decision making and of course, provide first-class service,” said Sinclair.

Beer and cider have long been popular summer choices in the on-trade but John Gemmell, on-trade category and commercial strategy director at Heineken UK, said there is movement even within the beer category itself, with customers shifting away from beer styles such as ale and stout and towards lager.

And cider, in particular, can usually be relied on to be a solid sunshine seller.

“As cider over-indexes during the warmer summer months, increasing market share by an average of 16%, it is paramount operators stock a wider range at this time of the year,” said Gemmell.

Offering greater choice was recommended across the board.

Jason Clarke, creative director of Genius Brewing, said buying habits formed during the pandemic have had a lasting effect on how consumers buy beer.

“With consumers having spent two years mostly purchasing their beer in supermarkets and online, they have become accustomed to more choice,” said Clarke.

“Operators need to look beyond a narrow, ‘safe bet’ product range.
“Increasing their selection of packaged beers gives operators a flexible, practical way to provide customers with a more diverse and interesting offering.”

Quality is likely to be an important factor in how bar and pub customers choose their beer and cider, said brand owners.

Clarke said this, too, has been a lasting legacy of the pandemic, when many treated themselves to more expensive options while stuck in the house.

“Eating and drinking out has become a lot more expensive which may lead to consumers going out less but treating the occasion as something special,” he said.

“These customers will be looking for more indulgent, premium products than ‘the usual’.”
This isn’t solely speculation; when consumers returned to premises last year after the lockdown of early 2021, many embraced more premium products, according to Ben Lockwood, on-trade customer marketing manager at Brewdog.

“Adding layers to your offer through more than just mainstream brands will resonate with your customers and give them more reasons to choose your venue over another,” he said.
“This is even more important following the extended closure of the channel throughout 2020 and 2021.

“When venues reopened last April, 43% of consumers chose premium over standard drinks, which was an increase of 3% versus the reopening of July 2020, showing the need for a more ‘special’ experience out of home.”

That’s not to say mainstream brands won’t have their place over the summer months.
The biggest, most recognisable names are likely to continue to be a force to be reckoned with as well.

John Price, head of marketing at KBE Drinks, the company behind beer brands including Kingfisher and Yeastie Boys in the UK, said operators should ensure they “are following trends and stocking a combination of both mainstream and premium” brands.

That was reinforced by Mark Bentley, on-trade category controller at Molson Coors Beverage Company, who said: “While premium options are increasingly popular, don’t underestimate the importance of your core offering either.

“Prior to lockdown, core lager accounted for 45% of all draught lager sales value in Great Britain, representing five in every ten pints of lager sold.”

Whatever the products – beer or cider, premium, craft or mainstream – promoting them through the use of branded materials is likely to make a big difference, according to Noble at Tennent’s.

“Operators should make sure they are showcasing their range by making full use of glassware, POS materials and branding made available from suppliers,” she said.

“A well-served drink in the correct glass can make a big difference to customer experience.
“Posters, menu stickers and other items are all fantastic ways to show which products you have in your range and ensure brand visibility is front of mind when it comes to choosing what to drink.”