The future's looking soft

Related tags Soft drinks Alcoholic beverage Wine Soft drink

Food-led pubs can reap real benefits from putting soft drinks higher on their priority list. Nigel Huddleston reports As a natural partner to...

Food-led pubs can reap real benefits from putting soft drinks higher on their priority list. Nigel Huddleston reports

As a natural partner to top-quality

produce, many food-pub licensees spend a lot of time getting their

wine list right, but it's debatable how many show the same devotion to their soft drinks.

Yet ignoring the commercial importance of soft drinks in the product mix could be a big own-goal in food-led pubs.

On-trade soft-drink sales amounted to £2.4bn in the year to last November, according to AC Nielsen figures - not far off the sales figures for light wine at £2.8bn.

Ale and lager were the only categories that shifted more liquid volume in the on-trade during the year, but soft drinks managed to maintain growth of 1% in a year with a washout summer, which saw beer sales decline by 3%.

Twice the sales of cider

And soft-drink sales are currently running at a rate that is more than twice that of cider, the on-trade's star drinks category of late.

Paul Linthwaite, business unit director for on-premise at Britvic, says pubs that lead with food over-trade in soft drinks.

"Soft drinks represent around 25% of all wet sales in pubs, based on our own research and Nielsen figures," he says. "The share will range from about 7% to 8% in very wet-led pubs to around 40% in some food-led pubs.

"There are lots of occasions during which food is consumed when alcoholic drinks have limited appeal - lunchtime for example, which is becoming less and less represented by alcohol."

Soft drinks are actually the second most-ordered item at the bar after lager, and with margins of around 70% on packaged soft drinks it's a key area for licensees to keep on top of.

Yet the on-trade lags far behind the take-home market in the category. Zenith International puts on-premise market share at just 11% compared with more than 60% for beer.

To get the best out of soft drinks, pubs need to look at segmenting their range to suit different with-food occasions.

For example, the soft-drinks offer for families out for a Sunday roast might not be suitable for workers going back to their desks after lunch.

Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) says families are key to making the soft-drink proposition work in food pubs. Adults with their kids are three times more likely to buy soft drinks than the average pub customer.

Paul Grace, head of on-premise marketing at CCE, says pubs need to consider soft drinks as part of the overall package.

"A quarter of all pub visitors come in for a meal," he says, "but half of all family groups will be eating. Parents will be looking to treat the family or simply get an everyday meal.

"Treating means a special experience, so perfect service and an impressive eating environ-

ment are important, while everyday eating means getting a decent meal for the family at a reasonable price.

"In both cases, quality food, quality drinks brands and child-friendly facilities are the basis of success."

Soft-serve professionalism

Linthwaite at Britvic says pubs should look

to put the same level of professionalism into

a soft drink as they would a perfect-serve spirit-mixer.

"Ensuring drinks are served well is just as important as in any other category," he says, "which means a clean glass, plenty of ice, garnish, and a straw if appropriate, particularly for children.

"It adds some value to the drink. Food-led pubs are normally focused on the quality of the experience and a soft drink is no different in that."

Linthwaite adds that new products embracing natural ingredients, such as Britvic's own recent Pepsi Raw launch, would be ideal for food pubs where the focus is on quality ingredients.

"Around 42% of the soft-drinks category is still cola and clearly there's been a lot of innovation in juice drinks and other categories, but cola hasn't had too much."

Naturally, major suppliers say easily-identifiable brand names are the way forward for pubs, particularly where families are concerned.

Linthwaite says: "Products like OJ and AJ are both high-quality juice drinks specifically for the on-trade in a glass bottle and have got an easy bar call."

Grace at CCE says studies by research company HIM back up the quality theory, with the on-trade launch of Capri Sun an example.

"Capri Sun is a brand that both parents and kids know and love and it features in kids' lunchboxes across the UK everyday. This confidence in the drink leads directly to sales and indirectly to repeat visits."

But the increasing desire of many food-led pubs to have products that will give them a point of difference also leaves the door open for less well-known brands.

Hibiscus Drinks says opportunities in pubs are one of the main areas of focus for its Hib, made with spring water and hibiscus flowers. Director Anita Doran says the launch was founded on firm potential for demand.

A largely untapped market

"Research by Mintel identified a gap in the market for more healthy, diverse and interesting soft drinks in pubs," says Doran. "It found that non-alcohol drinkers are a largely untapped market and have yet to be tempted by a suitable range of healthy alternatives.

"Food now accounts for a larger proportion of pub profits, but soft drinks are lagging behind in terms of innovation and sophistication."

Doran agrees with Britvic's Linthwaite that presentation should play an important role in selling soft drinks to customers.

She says: "A 75cl bottle can be served in an ice bucket with wine glasses and when poured looks just like red wine, giving it credibility as an alternative to alcohol."

But whatever the appeal of new-fangled drinks to many consumers, pubs can't afford to ignore the importance of a strong core range.

TNS Alcovision research shows that 54.4% of soft-drinks sales in the on-trade are still

traditional mixers.

Keeping things simple is still a key aspect of making soft drinks work. As Linthwaite at Britvic says: "There's a real business opportunity to do soft drinks well - and it's not hard."

Soft-drink success tips

1. Ensure you make a diverse range of soft drinks available to non-alcohol drinkers. Stock new, innovative and different products that offer credibility and added-value elements.

2. Create a sensory experience for

your customers - opening a bottle of

fruit juice and unleashing the bouquet

of fruit or flowers will create tantalising appeal and enhance your customers' expectations of the product.

3. Serve soft drinks in branded glasses. If drunk with food, serve in a branded wine goblet.

4. Create new occasions for soft drinks, such as breakfast or mid-morning. Soft drinks and smoothies are ideal products with which to kick-start the day and provide incremental sales for the licensee.

5. Provide descriptors of unusual soft drinks on the menu and mimic the language of wine. Describe the ingredients, taste and flavour and indicate where they originate.

6. Eye-level is buy level. Ensure your soft-drink range is visible to the customer, particularly at lunchtime or when ordering food.


Tips for soft-drinks success

1. Variety is the spice of life

A diverse range with new and different products will give credibility and added value. There is constant innovation so keep reviewing the range.

2. People drink with their eyes

When serving with food, branded glasses or goblet-style wine glasses for drinks add an extra flourish to the service.

3. Communicate with customers

Provide descriptions of unusual soft drinks on the menu and mimic the language of wine, including the ingredients, aromas and flavours. Even suggest food matches, but make them realistic.

4. Don't hide them away

Ensure the soft-drinks range is visible, especially during lunchtime and at food ordering points. Use PoS to provide visual prompts.

5. Look for the second sale

Think of innovative ways to encourage incremental sales such

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