Healthy debate

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Can pubs capitalise effectively on the rise of the health-conscious consumer? Noli Dinkovski reports from a special MA forum Living well and...

Can pubs capitalise effectively on

the rise of the health-conscious

consumer? Noli Dinkovski reports

from a special MA forum

Living well and feeling good about yourself aren't exactly new ideas - in the midst of all their war-

mongering and overindulgence, even the Romans understood that a healthy body equalled a healthy mind, and worked hard to develop varied, nutritional diets.

But the whole health and well-being debate has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years. Terms such as "five-a-day" and "organically-grown" are everyday phrases needing little explanation, and consumers are fed an endless stream of information about what's good or bad for them.

Pubs are clearly full of products and brands that don't exactly embrace the health and well-being agenda.

But perhaps they are missing a trick. Should they do more to seize opportunities emerging from the consumer-led drive to improve quality of life? Or would pubs do better to concede that they are always going to be places where people simply want to enjoy themselves

without worrying about their health for a

few hours?

These questions were at the heart of a Britvic-sponsored Morning Advertiser

round-table last month, where influential pubco operators and licensees joined senior members from the soft drinks company.

Conscious choices

Britvic business unit director for the licensed sector Paul Linthwaite kicked off the debate, saying he felt it wasn't necessarily up to pubs to communicate benefits of healthier eating or drinking. But he added that it doesn't mean healthier products should not be available.

"People operate a 'credit' and 'debit' mentality when it comes to healthy living," said Linthwaite. "They visit pubs to have a good time, so it probably wouldn't be of great use to pubs to start preaching what is healthy and what isn't. But healthy options should be available if customers want them."

Linthwaite said two-thirds of consumers consciously change their spending choices based on health warnings and advice they are given, demonstrating to him that it is clearly an area on which licensees can capitalise.

And in the wake of the smoking ban, pubs have become conspicuously cleaner environments, with the potential to draw in the health-conscious consumer still further.

Subtle approach

The pubco operators present were in agreement that pubs can be promoted as healthier places, though Marston's marketing operating director Andrew Cooney believed it was important "not to ram the health message down people's throats".

He said: "Yes, people expect a range of healthy alternatives as part of what's available, but I don't think anyone goes to a pub with the sole intention of being healthy. With this in mind, some form of signalling for healthy options on menus and perhaps some PoS for natural fruit juices will suffice."

The spotlight placed by health lobby groups on binge drinking and the threat of further duty tax hikes on beer has increased the potential of soft drinks to grow as a category.

Health advantages are clear, too. "Many fruit juices provide nutritional benefits and some are low in sugar," said Linthwaite.

"Soft drinks are great for hydration, and pacing is important - people keep a much tighter rein on levels of alcohol they consume these days. In fact, one in five people go to the pub and don't drink alcohol at all."

Soft drinks offer a further opportunity that licensees would be foolish to ignore - profit. Some mark-ups can be as high as 70%.

Bar Group chief executive Paul Wigham said that in the light of the profit potential, particularly when mixed with spirits, the company was now looking hard at increasing its soft drink offering.

"We are even considering removing one of the draught lagers, which are like sacred cows in some of our pubs," said Wigham.

"But we don't want to stock unappealing bottles of fruit juice that just end up accumulating dust on shelves.

"Why bother to stock those when you can offer customers fresh, natural juice in a clean 16oz glass with ice and a slice instead?"

But Linthwaite said there could be a problem with throughput of fresh natural drinks - when typically not enough are sold to justify selling them on a continual basis.

He felt that stocking mainstream fruit juices, such as orange, might be worthwhile, but that it would be difficult to justify more obscure flavours.

Licensee Tracy Jenkins, of the Newman Arms, in central London, agreed.

"We tried selling Innocent Smoothies a while back but that didn't work well," she said. "As they only have a 14-day shelf-life we were forced to throw away too many."

Massive Pub Company chief executive

Peter Linacre said he appreciated the value that soft drinks provided, but voiced concerns about the overall volumes that can be shifted.

"I don't see any major barriers to developing healthy soft drinks as a category, especially in the wake of so much media hype about the dangers of alcohol," Linacre said.

"My problem is that in terms of rate of sale, soft drinks are clearly no match for lager; and if people start becoming too health-conscious, they might stop coming to pubs altogether."

Despite a rise in natural juices and low-sugar varieties, the soft-drinks sector is still dominated, in pubs at least, by carbonated drinks that are notoriously high in sugar.

Linthwaite said that Britvic was growing a sizeable range of healthy options, citing 100% pure-juice drinks such as OJ and AJ as two good examples.

He conceded, however, that greater

innovation was necessary to raise the sector, hinting at new Britvic products sometime next year.

Health associations

Licensee Chris Lewis, of the Moat House pub and hotel near Stafford, said it wasn't solely down to suppliers to raise the health and well-being category - pubs can do more as well. When it comes to food, Lewis said innovation is possible through working closely with local suppliers and producers to ensure that only fresh and, where possible, organic ingredients are used - aspects that consumers associate with healthy living.

"Consumers are instantly attracted to anything labelled as locally-sourced or organic when they read menus, so wherever possible pubs should communicate these messages," said Lewis.

But should pubcos take a greater interest in promoting the health and well-being category? Greene King Pub Partners marketing controller James Rowe said that the challenge facing his pubco was to be able to tailor healthy ranges of food and drink appropriate to the wide variety of pubs within its 1,500-strong estate.

"We have to act as the gateway for the suppliers and help them to work out the ranges that are most appropriate to the type of pub in question, whether it's a community or a

town-centre outlet," said Rowe. "Equally, I think the suppliers should do more to build up the category by working together more

and coming up with market recommendations. In fact, that applies to all categories - not just soft drinks."

The health-conscious early-morning crowd is one market that many pubs have been slow to pick up on.

Rowe says that town-centre pubs, with all their passing trade, have the greatest opportunity, though they have to

focus on getting it right if they are going to muscle in on the competition.

"If a pub opens early, and simply writes on a chalkboard outside that it sells coffee and breakfast, it will struggle against the likes of Costa Coffee and Starbucks," said Rowe.

"But if we can work together with suppliers to increase innovation with products such as serve-yourself fridges, they have a fighting chance of competing."

Growth can only continue

Martin Dinkele, of Cardinal Licensed Trade Research, said that trying to take on the coffee shops was a difficult task and pubs needed to consider any move with care.

"You might be better off having your own juice-maker than deciding to buy in stock,

but it all depends on how much you think you can sell," he said.

Lewis suggested pubs shou

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