Licensees' Choice Awards: winners for a reason

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Related tags: Licensees, Gold medal, Public house

The Licensees' Choice was launched this year and it has proved to be an unqualified success. The results have drawn huge interest from across the...

The Licensees' Choice was launched this year and it has proved to be an unqualified success.

The results have drawn huge interest from across the drinks industry as these are the brands that people on the front line respect.

These are not necessarily the biggest and richest brands, but instead the favourite brands of the very people that serve them to the general public across the nation's bar tops every night.

This Focus takes a look at some of the medallists in this year's awards and asks them what the secret of their popularity is.

Earlier this month The Publican unveiled the results of its first ever Licensees' Choice awards. We awarded gold, silver and bronze medals to brands in over 20 different drinks categories across beer, wine, spirits and soft drinks.

While there were no Usain Bolt-esque performances there were nevertheless some fascinating results, ranging from dominant wins from giants of the industry, to some surprise awards for brands that may not have the marketing budgets of the big boys, but nevertheless engender real loyalty and affection from licensees.

That was the whole point of launching the Licensees' Choice - to highlight brands that licensees love, not just the ones that offer the best price, or have the best distribution.

Here we speak to some of the award winners - those that are in our opinion among the most interesting winners. Some are big brands that tower above the competition in their categories. Others are unexpected winners; that sneaked a minor medal but deserve no less recognition for that.

Budvar - Bronze (World beer): Neville Hall, sales and marketing director, Budvar UK

How does it feel to have won a bronze medal in the Licensees' Choice awards?

"We felt that it was very rewarding to be in the company of Corona and Peroni, [which won gold and silver, respectively] which are both recognised style brands; and at the same time to be ahead of more established PPLs in the marketplace.

"Above all it vindicates our policy of focusing on the on-trade market. We cannot compete financially with other brand owners in terms of consumer marketing budgets and we have a very limited headcount resource. So it's great news for us."

Do you see this as a stepping stone to bigger and better things?

"Well the award is actually tinged with some frustration for us - because it shows that we are popular with a wide range of licensees, but despite that we cannot make inroads into national distribution. It is a simple matter of us not being able to operate on the same margins as the national brewers - and as a result we can't get into places like the big managed chains."

Why do you think you have such popularity among licensees - even those not allowed to stock Budvar?

"We have built an excellent reputation in the industry - we are seen as a company that delivers on its promises. Our customers like us because we go that bit further for them. But I also think that we are a word-of-mouth brand. We have stuck to what we are good at and the trade therefore recognises we are in this for the long-term.

"There is something to be said for the fact that we're the only independent single-brand company left in the beer market. In the last year or so Tiger and Cobra have become part of large global brewers. Licensees also like that we're on-trade-led. We never receive complaints that our product is on promotion in supermarkets from frustrated licensees. It's just something we do not do."

What plans do you have for the next 12 months?

"We're looking to increase our draught distribution. We are in about 1,200 outlets on draught - compared to 7,000 outlets in packaged. And yet draught accounts for 50 per cent of our total on-trade volume. It shows how impressive Budvar's rate of sale is on draught."

Black Sheep - Gold (Cask beer - 4% and below): Jo Theakston - sales and marketing manager

Were you surprised to win the gold medal in the Licensees' Choice in the cask ale (4% and under) category?

"Pleasantly surprised! The licensee is the person who makes the industry tick and so for us it is a genuine honour to be recognised by the trade."

Why do you think you have such popularity amongst licensees - especially compared to other brands which spend a lot more on marketing than yourselves?

"We have a very honest approach that is based on a commitment to delivering great quality beer and a personal service to the licensee, which counts for a lot. People warm to the story behind Black Sheep and our beer creates a real talking point in a pub.

"As we have grown nationally, our reputation seems to have spread further afield through word of mouth and customers see Black Sheep on the bar as a stamp of quality and so may go out of their way to visit a particular pub. We always look to back that up with quirky and clever promotional ideas to drive the footfall in the pub."

So what is the most important thing as a cask ale brand when it comes to the on-trade? Is it about clever marketing? Close relationships with retailers? Or do you think it is about being a brand that can really help a licensee's business?

"That is something that I have often heard about Black Sheep - that licensees see it as a beer that will help their business. I think really it is a combination of all those points: it is about close relationships with retailers - if we consistently provide a great product and treat the retailer with respect then their loyalty will grow. Also, our beer really stands out from the rest and is a bit quirky compared to the big national brands whilst maintaining a genuine quality to the product itself - I believe customers really react well to that and this in turn really helps a licensee's business."

Where are you most successful - in the freetrade or deals with pub companies?

"Both are important to us and we have seen successes in each. For us our relationship with Punch Taverns over the last few years has been key to our development nationally - we have become one of the best-selling session beers in their entire estate."

Is there any one thing you have done as a brand in the last 12 to 18 months that you think has particularly appealed to licensees?

"We were the first to the market this year with an illuminated hand pump for our cask best bitter - something that other bigger brewers have now followed suit with. We wanted to find a new and innovative way to help the cask beer category develop and also ways to help licensees tap into a new, younger market."

Tanqueray - Bronze (Gin): Rob Ward - head of marketing, Reserve Brands, Diageo

Are you surprised that Tanqueray was awarded a bronze medal when it is seen by many as a style-bar brand?

"It is not that surprising to see Tanqueray win an award from licensees. It has long been the gin of choice for the discerning bartender. But I think it has worked in pubs recently for a couple of reasons. Firstly pubs are realising the value of proper upselling. But also I think the diffusion model works - by that I mean the idea of seeding the brand in top-end bars and seeing it slowly diffuse down into pubs.

"Consumers travel all over the world and see Tanqueray in the bars they visit. So they start to demand it when they come home. All over the world it is the bartenders' choice."

What have you done with the brand in the last 12 to 18 months that will have appealed to licensees?

"We have continued to develop Tanqueray in the last year. Earlier this year Diageo unveiled a new bottle design for the brand that has kept in line with the traditional 'cocktail shaker' look.

"However, we have given it a more contemporary feel. And we have launched a new global marketing campaign called 'Resist Simple' which is aimed at encouraging

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