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British weather is an unpredictable beast, but pubs should be planning their drinks offers in the hope that the rain clouds stay away, says Graham...

British weather is an unpredictable beast, but pubs should be planning their drinks offers in the hope that the rain clouds stay away, says Graham Ridout

If the Met Office's long-range weather forecast for this summer is correct, licensees can expect a vast improvement in trade compared with last year. And let's face it - that wouldn't be difficult.

Temperatures across the UK are likely to be warmer than average. Rainfall is expected to be near or above average for the three months of summer, but the risk of the exceptional rainfall experienced last year is reckoned to be "a very low probability".

Although the Met Office does receive stick for some of its predictions, it is reasonably on the ball concerning long-range forecasts. With that in mind, it's time for licensees to think about how they are going to capitalise on the good weather.

One of the characteristics of hot weather is that many people change their drinking habits.

Research conducted by InBev a couple of years ago found that every 1°C increase in temperature led to a 4.7% rise in sales of standard lager and a 3.5% upturn in sales of premium lager.

Other drinks categories also witness a sharp increase in sales when the weather is hot. Soft drinks, white and rosé wines, cider and other long alcoholic drinks (LADs) such as punches and larger-serve cocktails are among the major beneficiaries.

Shaun Heyes, Scottish & Newcastle's (S&N's) head of category marketing, thinks: "Cider over ice will be big news again this summer and is continuing to drive growth of the LADs category. In fact, cider drinkers are increasing at a greater rate than any other LADs drinkers.

"Since 2004, the number of cider drinkers in the UK has grown five times faster than the number of wine drinkers and 10 times faster than the number of lager drinkers."

Heyes continues: "Our research also reveals that 88% of consumers prefer to drink a product that helps make their night special rather than make them feel out of control. With their lower abv, brands within our Bulmers portfolio - Bulmers Original, Bulmers Pear and Bulmers Light - fulfil this need."

Steve Kitching, managing director of commercial and field operations at InBev, views summer as lager time. "Summer is the time when lager really comes into its own because it is chilled and refreshing, so people actively seek it out during periods of warm weather."

InBev's leading brand Stella Artois has had difficult trading times recently, but research by CGA hints at a revival.

In the last quarter of 2007, Stella increased its share of the on-trade premium lager market for the first time in more than two years to take a 41.1% stake, by volume. Further growth is anticipated for this year.

Kitching says licensees should do what they can to make sure their outside drinking areas are attractive, but adds: "Although getting the drinking environment right is vital, if the beer isn't served perfect, the effect will be wasted as consumers are unlikely to order a second pint.

"Incorrect temperature is one of the major causes of an inferior pint, particularly during the summer. We have worked with retailers on a number of dispense and quality initiatives to tackle this issue."

Pitcher this

Diageo has started a £5m campaign to boost spirit sales this summer, which focuses on a range of long, mixed signature drinks and pitcher serves. The importance of summer is underlined by research conducted for Diageo that showed 54% of annual pub visits are made in the key four-month period from May to August.

"Driving spirits during this time offers real growth potential for licensees, as research has shown that spirit customers spend 50% more per head than consumers from other alcohol categories," states the company.

Diageo says it will be working with licensees to develop a range of long drinks relevant to their pubs. The campaign will also include impactful PoS displays and educating bar staff on the importance of delivering a perfect serve to customers.

Ali Wilkes, category development marketing manager for spirits at Diageo, says: "Drinking occasions during the summer tend to be what we refer to as 'mid-tempo', meaning a time for catching up with friends and family in a relaxed environment. Spirits are well suited to these occasions - customers can share a pitcher or enjoy long, mixed spirit drinks.

Two LADs that Diageo recommends are the Moscow Mule and the Sea Breeze. Both involve 50ml measures of Smirnoff No.21 (red label) vodka. For a Moscow Mule, the two mixers are 120ml of ginger beer/ale and 5ml of lime juice. For a Sea Breeze, the two mixers are 70ml of fresh grapefruit juice and 50ml of cranberry juice. Both should be served, ideally, in a 16oz glass with plenty of ice and garnished with a wedge of lime.

Don't forget the whisky

Summer may not be the time of year that people normally associate with drinking whisky. Whisky can, however, be used as the base spirit in a range of long alcoholic drinks. For example, blended Scotch whisky brand Teacher's has devised a range of long cocktails.

Aileen Nicol, UK marketing manager for brand owner Beam Global, explains: "Teacher's is ideally suited to simple, long-drink mixes that are quick and easy for bartenders to prepare and appealing to consumers who want a refreshing drink to enjoy on warm summer evenings. We recommend tailoring your drinks offering for the summer, to include fresh flavours like Teacher's and lime cordial with cola or soda."

Cash in with vodka

Vodka is the most popular spirit in long cocktails, largely because it doesn't mask the flavour of the fruit, mixers, or other constituents used, unlike the taste and aroma of spirits such as whisky, gin, rum etc.

Andy Corris, senior brand manager for Russian Standard vodka at First Drinks Brands, says: "In terms of long drinks, probably the most common mixers for all vodka brands in the UK are tonic and soft drinks such as cola. This is probably true for Russian Standard as well, but it also makes a superb base for a delicious Vodka Martini, Moscow Mule or Bloody Mary."

More than £8m is being spent this year to promote the brand with the target audience being 18 to 34-year-olds. Corris explains: "We are looking at consumers who appreciate quality and are therefore looking for an authentic premium vodka at a reasonable price."

Did you know?

A 50ml spirit and mixer can make you up to 50% more profit than a pint of premium lager and 75% more than a pint of standard lager. A 50ml measure of a spirit with an abv of 37.5% plus a mixer, is equivalent to 1.9 units of alcohol, compared with 2.3 units of alcohol for a pint of lager with an abv of 4.1%.

Soft options

Long, soft drinks are the thirst- quenchers during summer. This shouldn't mask the fact that soft drinks are one of the most important drivers for sales and profit.

Unlike their alcoholic alternatives, soft drinks can be enjoyed throughout the day. Studies have revealed that 31% of all drinks ordered between 11am and 2pm are softies and the figure rises to 35% between 5pm and 7pm.

The two stalwarts of the soft drinks categories are cola and lemonade. Cola sales command 42% of the soft-drinks market with lemonade taking 19%. Draught products out-performed packaged drinks and are a more stable purchase, less badly affected by poor weather, whereas packaged drinks tend to be occasion-led purchases and more vulnerable to bad weather.

To maximise sales, Britvic offers the following advice:

n stock the right range of big-name brands that customers recognise and like. This is particularly important with kids' offerings where Robinsons Fruit Shoot is the firm favourite;

n stock premium packaged soft drinks as well as draught, since most customers tend to prefer, and are willing to pay for, a packaged soft drink;

n make sure premium packaged drinks are properly chilled because half of customers will pay more for well-chilled drin

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