Pubcos are linking up with the Portman Group's 'I'll be Des' campaign to promote the virtues of soft drinks over Christmas. By Ben McFarland
In a move that is unlikely to be replicated by their UK counterparts, an organisation in Norway is advising adults to get some drinking practise in before the festive season gets going.
What with alcohol being so expensive in Norway, people rarely venture out for a swift half and are consequently ill-prepared to cope with the boozy demands of Christmas festivities. So, with this in mind, authorities are urging them to test their drinking limits instead of embarrassing themselves by going over the top at Christmas parties.
Luckily, there's little need for such a warning over here. The average UK drinker is judicious and forward-thinking enough to practise all year-round and making a prat of oneself every December is as much part of Christmas as turkey, family rows and repeats of The Great Escape.
And while it is essential for pubs and bars to cater for these core customers during the hedonistic run-up to Christmas (that is, those hellbent on celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ with copious amounts of alcohol), publicans would be fools to themselves if they neglected the softer side of the festive trade.
Although customers drinking soft drinks and non-alcoholic beers may be in the minority, there are several reasons why pubs should make them feel welcome.
For instance, the recent Pub-Goers Survey conducted by the The Publican Newspaper in association with Britvic Soft Drinks revealed that nearly 20 per cent of people interviewed had not visited a pub of any description during the last six months.
More often than not, however, it is during the run-up to Christmas, when peer pressure from friends and colleagues to join in the festivities is higher than usual, that this small number of abstainers may find themselves in the pub.
Faced with the rare opportunity of changing the perceptions of non-pub-goers, many of whom may not be regular drinkers, it makes good business sense to meet their non-alcoholic needs and give them good reason to return before the same time next year.
It would also be churlish to ignore the significant number of pub-goers who will sensibly take note of the drink-driving message and err on the side of moderation. If the designated driver feels overlooked and is unimpressed with a sparse selection of soft drinks, they're unlikely to stay.
When they leave, it is not only the healthy profit margins on a couple of lemonades that go with them, but also the valuable custom of those three or four passengers about to embark on a night-long drinking session.
As part of its "I'll be Des" advertising campaign, aimed at discouraging drink-driving, the Portman Group is working alongside a number of drinks brands and pub groups to improve awareness of the campaign as well as the importance of meeting the non-alcoholic needs of "Des" or "Desdemona".
Andy Ford, campaign co-ordinator, said: "We have really focused our efforts this year on the trade and have deliberately worked with brands and pubs to promote the campaign."
Last year, John Barras - the community pub brand owned by Scottish & Newcastle - supported the campaign by offering free soft drinks to designated drivers during the Christmas period.
Drivers were given an "I'll be Des" badge that entitled them to a free soft drink whenever a round of two or more alcoholic drinks was purchased, in an attempt to attract big groups of customers.
This scheme has been replicated by a number of pub chains and the Portman Group offers a wide range of point-of-sale (POS) material to help promote the idea in the bar.
"People go into pubs and often are not aware of the soft drinks available but if you put up a display in conjunction with the 'I'll be Des' campaign it can really help boost sales and get the message across," said Andy.
"It's not only a goodwill gesture but helps build repeat business and gives publicans the opportunity to promote their business and publicise the scheme in the local media."
Sticking up posters and embarking on a PR assault will mean little, however, if your soft drink offering only consists of a few post-mix carbonates and a bottle of lime cordial.
Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of what they're drinking and there is a rising demand for fresh alternatives to cola and lemonade.
Britvic Soft Drinks has just re-launched Britvic 55, its leading sparkling fruit juice range, with a new look, having upgraded the bottle size from 175ml to 180ml last year.
Following its purchase of Orchid Soft Drinks last year, Britvic has also been pushing a "premium" selection of brands, designed for the more sophisticated soft drink enthusiasts.
Having expanded the J2O range, now consisting of four flavours, Britvic has launched a cinema advertising campaign as part of a £2m marketing spend for its Amé brand. The blend of fruit juice, mineral water and eastern herbal extracts - aimed at female drinkers - is available in white, red, rosé and dry in both 750ml and 330ml wine-style bottles.
You only have to look at the rise of juice bars on the high street, spearheaded by the demand for fruit juices and smoothies, to recognise that the adult soft drinks market is experiencing clear growth.
This has prompted the launch of a number of new adult soft drink brands. The Bottle Green Drinks Company, for example, purveyors of pressés and cordials, has targeted the female lunchtime market with the launch of a new spritzer range earlier this year. The new range has an ABV of only three per cent and two flavours - Pinot Noir spritzer with rasberry and Chardonnay spritzer with elderflower.
Big Tom, a spicy tomato juice marketed by the Creole Drinks Company as the ideal ingredient for a Bloody Mary, is gaining a big following among those on the wagon and those eager to get back in the saddle the morning after the night before.
However, if male pride or something similar prevents you from going soft and only a beer will do, then there's a number of low or non-alcoholic beers to choose from. Probably the biggest and most well-known brand is Kaliber from Guinness UDV. Kaliber was given a £2m relaunch earlier this year with a new bottle, a new and improved taste and an "Only the beer gets drunk" TV advertising campaign, the first since Billy Connolly promoted the brand in 1992.
It, too, has got involved with the Portman Group's "I'll be Des" campaign this year by launching a range of co-branded POS material into more than 7,000 pubs including posters, Santa hats, balloons, bunting and other Christmas-related bits and bobs.
Geoff Bond, Kaliber brand manager, said: "Kaliber has shown double-digit growth since its relaunch and we are continuing to put the message across that Kaliber is an enjoyable brand rather than a functional product.
"The "I'll be Des" campaign is a great way of incorporating the driver into the social occasion and encouraging a whole group of people to stay in the pub."
Another non-alcoholic beer extolling the virtues of staying sober is Clausthaler. While its rival Kaliber is making sure you don't lose your licence, this 0.5 per cent pilsner, brewed according to the German purity laws, is warning of the dangers of losing something much worse - your dignity.
Clausthaler suggests that while all those around you paw the boss's wife and get "over-emotional", why not keep your head and wake up as smug as a bug in a rug the next day knowing that you haven't declared your undying love for the work experience girl or danced like your dad... or worse.