The UDV business development team is on a mission to ensure licensees are making the most of spirits
If your spirits are low or you have a display problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the UDV business development team.
The UK's biggest drinks company, United Distillers and Vintners, has embarked on a mission to give spirits a much-needed boost in the on-trade.
While food, wine and coffee in pubs and bars have all begun to find their feet over the last few years, the long and short drinks category has been suffering from something of an identity crisis. The emergence of a thriving cocktail culture and the explosion of pre-packaged spirits such as Bacardi Breezer and Smirnoff Ice has left generic giants such as gin and tonic, vodka and lemonade or whisky and cola stuck between two bar stools.
In an attempt to remedy the situation, UDV has embarked on a £1.4million "category management" perfect serve initiative, aimed at improving the spirit offering in pubs by educating managers and staff in the "art of a perfect drink".
Paul Linthwaite, category development manager, insists that by improving the preparation and presentation of long and short drinks, licencees can yield greater reward from a hugely profitable spirit category.
The profits are superior to wine as well as both draught and packaged lager, especially when combined with money-spinning soft drinks.
A spirit and mixer drink is the most profitable drink you can sell and a good serve makes sure the customers believe they are getting good value, all of which encourages loyalty and repeat purchasing.
"Spirits do extremely well abroad and command a huge following, but over here they are being left behind. A lot of publicans make sure there's a warm welcome, a selection of good food and the toilets are clean but still insist on serving spirits in a sloppy way," Linthwaite said.
Although the traditionally beer-dominated pub companies are beginning to take note of the burgeoning and fashionable style bar sector, the level of inconsistency, when it comes to serving spirits, still remains too high.
As with most under-performing sectors, the solution does not rest with the customer, who is incidentally always right, but with those on the other side of the bar. According to Paul Dwan, one of the UDV business development managers, the reason that a long or short drink is too often served differently from one pub to another can be attributed to a lack of education.
"Staff rarely have any spirits training whatsoever and one of the key aims of the scheme is to create a standard and formulaic spirit serve that will hopefully increase customer confidence in the category as a whole," he said.
More than 25,000 freetrade outlets and more than 1,000 managed houses have been earmarked for a visit from a UDV business development team in an attempt to boost both the volume sales of UDV brands and the profit in each individual outlet.
UDV has looked long and hard at the best ways to serve and present spirits and introduced a number of key guidelines, which when implemented have resulted in an average 10 per cent growth.
These guidelines, far from being rocket science, encompass a wide range of areas including serve, presentation, marketing and design.
For long drinks, Dwan recommends the use of "better looking and better value" 12oz glasses that are unbranded, as pouring a vodka and orange into a Gordon's branded glass looks unprofessional - after all you wouldn't serve lager in a Guinness pint glass.
An area of mystery and rumour has long surrounded the shady world of ice and in particular how much one should use. The gospel according to Dwan states that the glass should be two-thirds full with enough room available for fruit, mixer, swizzle stick or all three!
"People often think that ice dilutes the taste and means they're getting less for their money," he said. "But in fact the ice keeps the drink cooler for longer and it therefore dilutes slower" - thus rendering the drink long in both shape and in the time you can take to drink it!
While our continental counterparts free-pour to their heart's content, in the UK spirit quantities are kept in check by the Optic or thimble measure. "At home, people are more likely to give themselves a generous measure and our research shows that 93 per cent preferred the taste of a 35ml as opposed to a 25ml measure," Dwan said.
Dorchester-based pub company Eldridge Pope recently joined forces with UDV and embarked on a scheme to improve its spirits profits by upsizing its spirit measures from 25ml to 35ml. Mick Waite, planning and commercial director at Eldridge Pope, said: "The results were very impressive. Our cash margins increased by 20 per cent while the customer benefited by getting 40 per cent more spirits for only 20 per cent more price."
Pub operator JD Wetherspoon is another company to employ UDV's sharp trouble-shooting skills and is planning on testing American-style free-pouring in ten of its outlets after staff were trained to maintain uniform measures. Nathan Wall, head of marketing at Wetherspoon, said: "If we follow the US example, and a lot of people think we will, then free-pour for spirits could be the trend for the next ten years. In fact, the Optic itself may become outdated if free-pour becomes accepted in the mainstream."
The key benefit of free-pour is that staff face the customer and can keep all they need to serve spirits in a speed rail below the counter top. Instead of turning their back on the customer to reach the traditional Optic, the ultimate sin according to UDV, they can serve a measure directly from the bottle. This will also enable them to charm the customer into trading up to a larger measure or better still persuade them to splash out on a packet of pork scratchings!
However, Matthew Partner, category development manager at UDV, insists the Optic still has an important role to play in cementing customer confidence in the spirits category.
"Most customers are reassured by the Optic and it is a lot quicker than the slow thimble measure," he said. "We are not moving away from them but we're looking at better ways of serving from Optics."
A further drawback of the speed rail is that it takes the bottles away from the visible back-bar and tucks them out of sight behind the counter. It will come as no surprise that those clever people at UDV have come up with an answer to this particular conundrum as well.
In addition to new point-of-sale material reassuring customers of the quality spirit serve, UDV recommends publicans maintain a high-profile big brand presence on the back-bar to trigger customer demand for established names.
To help with display, an interactive CD-ROM has also been designed that cannot only re-create the look of the back bar, but can also identify weak areas where the publican is over or under-emphasising a particular brand or drink.
Partner added: "It's horses for courses and each bar is different, but often it's the simple things like ensuring that all the brands are sat within a 1.2metre field of vision that make a big difference."
The lengths to which you go to change your spirit serve does depend on a number of factors including size of bar, customer profile and enthusiasm of staff.
However, you don't have to bring the bulldozers in or acquire the "fancy Dan" antics of Tom Cruise to make sure the UDV plan comes together.
- Always show the brand label while pouring
- Make sure you have enough fruit and ice to last the shift
- Never scoop ice with a glass as the glass may splinter
- Place a bowl of fruit on the back-bar to encourage the customer to ask for a spirit-based drink
- Try to avoid Optics on a carousel as, although it saves space, the customer cannot see all the brands availab