Worth an estimated £500m to the market, Christmas is crucial for soft drinks
The majority of pub-goers may be hell-bent on celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ with the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol, and making a idiot of oneself may be as much part of Christmas as turkey, crackers and silly paper hats, but publicans should not neglect the softer side of their festive business.
Moderate drinkers paying their annual visit to the pub, families and designated drivers all contribute to the increase in trade during the Christmas period and will be looking for something more from a soft drinks selection than just orange juice and cola.
According to research by Britvic, Christmas is worth £501m to the soft drinks market and accounts for around 28 per cent of total annual sales. That means a huge opportunity for publicans, especially as there is always major promotional support from brand leaders.
This winter will see the launch of advertising campaigns for three of Britvic's major on-trade brands - J20, Amé and Fruit Shoot from Robinsons.
While the campaigns are primarily designed to exploit the festive lift, Britvic is also urging publicans to focus on the soft side of their business during what is traditionally a post-festive downturn.
It estimates that 30 per cent of adult alcohol consumers cut down their drinking at the pub in January and February with half of those "on the wagon" directly replacing alcohol with soft drinks such as fruit juice, colas and fizzy fruit drinks.
"Ignore soft drinks at your peril," said Britvic's Sue Garfitt. "In the past, publicans haven't been making the most out of soft drinks during January and February when the category comes into its own. Although trade is traditionally slow, you don't want to waste what opportunities are available by not having the right range and making customers aware of them."
Not content with launching three of the world's biggest soft drinks brands, Fanta Orange, Fanta Icy Lemon and Sprite, into the on-trade last month, Coca-Cola is releasing a limited edition Coke in a sleeved contour bottle with a festive contemporary design into UK pubs and bars in time for Christmas.
The new bottles, available from the first week of November, will be accompanied by point-of-sale and promotions offering Christmas goodies.
Hampshire-based on-trade soft drinks specialist Hartridges is following up the successful launch of its weight-watching Sparkling Diet Fruits and the release of its "h" range of fruit juices with a "buy four cases and get one free" incentive in the run-up to Christmas.
"Publicans should be bold and get into the spirit of things by maybe giving a soft drink away to the dedicated driver in a group of revellers, or to one person in a group of four people to ensure that there is always a sober member - encouraging safe driving at this time of partying," suggests the firm's Martin Hartridge.
"Don't forget that you can make more money by selling well packaged soft drinks as opposed to the old fashioned baby/split ranges. The gross margin on soft drinks is probably the biggest out of all the drinks stocked in the pub and club market."
Adding some spice...
For drivers, soft drinks might be seen as something of a distress purchase at Christmas. But they may feel a little less distressed - and a bit more festive and adult - if they can spice it up.
Big Tom, the ready-spiced tomato juice orginally designed to make Bloody Marys easier for the licensee and more consistent for the drinker, is setting its sights on substituting itself for regular tomato juice this Christmas.
"We are changing our message," said marketing manager Laurence Mallinson. "We have learned that Big Tom works best in a pub if it completely replaces an existing tomato juice - which just about everyone will spice anyway."
Big Tom's research has shown that as many as one in five tomato juice drinkers are dissatisfied at the way their juice is spiced and that a ready-made spiced juice can increase sales across the bar by encouraging people to order tomato juice more often - as well as offering bigger profit margins.
To help get the message across to the trade, it is offering licensees money back with proof-of-purchase in the run-up to the festive season.