With a third national lockdown in the rear-view mirror and pub gardens open as of 12 April, the on-trade can look ahead to a summer of blue-sky drinking as Britain’s parched, pub-going public return to their locals.
To say it’s been a tough twelve months for the trade would be an understatement, however with customers now returning in albeit limited numbers, the time has come for publicans to get back on the front foot and maximise spend per head from new and returning guests alike.
With this in mind, Matt Smith, marketing director for Tayto Group – the company behind Golden Wonder, ‘food-service exclusive’ Real Handcooked crisps and Tayto crisps as well as the top three scratchings brands, Mr Porky, Midland Snacks and the Real Pork Co – explains that having an extensive range of pre-packaged snacks won’t just be essential in satisfying increasingly hygiene and cleanliness conscious consumers, they’ll offer any publican worth their salt (and vinegar) the chance to bag a valuable profit.
“Snacks provide a brilliant opportunity to increase sales,” Smith tells The Morning Advertiser (MA). “However, we know that less than 20% of people regularly buy a savoury snack with a drink and the main reason for customers not doing so being ‘I just didn’t think about it’.
“Prompting a purchase by prominently displaying snacks and getting staff to offer them, can make all the difference.”
Smith adds that as most customers are unaware of snacks prices in pubs, offering premium products such as hand cooked crisps and scratchings enables publicans to maximise their takings.
Therefore, stocking products not available in supermarkets – such as food-service exclusive REAL Handcooked crisps – makes the experience more special for customers while publicans can add a premium and boost profits.
“Given most people either have no idea what they pay, or expect to pay over £1 a pack, venues can easily make over 50p profit on each bag of premium crisps or scratchings they sell,” he adds.
Crunching bar snack numbers
One of the standout effects of Covid in the year and 23 days between Boris Johnson calling time on the on-trade for the first time on 20 March 2020, and hospitality welcoming outdoor guests on 12 April, has been the financial plight of pubs.
On average 30 licensed venues closed per day since December 2019 – roughly one every 48 minutes – the highest rate on record according to figures from the latest Market Recovery Monitor from CGA and AlixPartners.
What’s more, at the hospitality sector’s “lowest ebb” in December, sector sales were down by 84% year-on-year while hospitality business owners forked out on average £9,750 of their own savings to keep paying staff during the pandemic – over £2,000 more than small firms in other industries.
But as pub operators seek to recoup lost cash, could the likes of crisps and pork scratchings really be their bag?
According to Kantar World Panel, the pre-pandemic value sales of crisps, snacks and nuts in the UK’s pubs and bars totalled £24m meaning a well-rounded range could help operators make a silk purse from a sow's ear post-lockdown.
Mark Bridgen, general manager at the Dog in Wingham, Kent – a mainstay of the annual Estrella Damm Top50 Gastropubs list – explains that there needs to be a “constant effort” to increase spend per head and margin, especially in the current, cash-strapped, pub climate.
"Any opportunity that we have to drive revenue is an important point for publicans at the moment,” Fuller's marketing director Jane Jones concurs. “Whether that be through snacking or starters or sharing boards, it's important to be able to drive sales and revenue within that customer base.
“Anything you can do to leverage more sales out of customers, by keeping them in the pub longer and spending more while they're in the pub, is really important,” she adds. “It's tough out there."
With this in mind, Tayto Group’s Smith believes that premium products such as pork scratchings and hand cooked crisps can both satisfy peckish pub goers and bar budget sheets.
“Given only 19% of people regularly buy a snack with their drink, there is a massive opportunity to drive incremental sales by encouraging customers to add a snack to their round, especially as the main reason for not buying a snack is that they ‘just didn’t think about it’ – ahead of factors such as cost and health considerations.
“By prompting them to consider a snack, there is the potential to add at least £1 to every transaction as over 70% of people either don’t know the price of bar snacks or are ok paying over £1 for them.”
Wet-led pubs have borne the brunt of the effects of Covid over the past year, with 2.1bn pints in beer sales falling victim to a full year of either forced closure or trading under restrictions according to the British Beer and Pub Association, costing around £8.2bn in trade.
While Chancellor Rishi Sunak stated that the temporary reduction in VAT from 20% to 5% on food, soft drinks and accommodation would be extended for a further six months until 30 September in his Spring Budget – a measure that the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) calculates is worth £485m to pubs – it appeared to leave wet-led pubs high and dry.
Consequently, snacking can offer hamstrung wet-led operators a crucial opportunity to bring home the bacon while times are tough.
“It's a very important aspect of our business,” Emma Shepherd of the Blue Ball Inn in Worrall, Sheffield, explains. “I raised the turnover from our snack offering from 2% to 6%, which as a result increased the duration of my customers stay, leading to further wet-led sales.
“Being a wet-led pub, it is hugely important for us to give our customers a broader offer and something to complement our drink offering,” she continues. “We only tend to offer food during the day rather than the evening, so a good range of snacks is a great way to encourage our customers to try something light and stay longer.”
What’s more, Fuller's Jane Jones adds that a snacking range can dovetail with an operator’s broader food menu – if they already offer a more comprehensive menu.
“The trade up into more substantial snacks gives you the opportunity as a publican to show how good your food offer is, and certainly the quality of a food offer,” she explains.
“It's often a pathway. I might not be coming in to eat today, but I've really had a great ‘substantial snack'. It might encourage footfall back into the pub but also, at the time, encourage customers to trade up and allow the publican to be able to get more revenue out of them."
The ‘holy grail’ of pub snacks
While, amid the reveal of the Government’s tiered Covid restrictions, Scotch Eggs were briefly on the nation’s lips during debates over “substantial meals”, the twist in the tail is that a survey of 2,000 pub goers by insights agency Perspectus Global found that pork scratchings were, in fact, Britain’s favourite pub snack.
“We were delighted to see the humble pork scratching top the list of our best loved pub snacks and hope the nation are looking forward to getting back to meeting friends and family over a drink and a bite to eat,” Perspectus Global director David Arnold said.
Scratchings have been a staple of Britian’s pubs for many years. Having originated in the 19th century West Midlands, very much as a working-class snack arising from the tradition of families keeping their own pig at home to be fed up for slaughter, they are now the ultimate pub snack.
Brands such as the best-selling Midlands Snacks Traditional Scratchings continue to hand cook high quality scratchings, using the finest shank rind and signature seasonings, an artisanal process and recipe that has barely changed over the years.
Matt Smith, marketing director for Midland Snacks and Mr Porky says, “We’re thrilled that it’s ‘official’ that pork scratchings have been crowned the ultimate pub snack. We’ve known for years that there’s no matching a scratching. Scratchings are the perfect partner to beer, wine and spirits due to their unique taste. The fattiness balances the sharpness and carbonation of some drinks, while the saltiness enhances the flavour of a drink and helps get your thirst on - making both the snacks and the drinks even more moreish.”
Julie Moss, managed house controller at Wiltshire-based Arkell’s brewery, even goes as far as to describe pork scratchings as “the holy grail of pub snacks”.
“It’s the unique flavour and total Britishness of the pork scratching that make them a ‘must’ to accompany our great beers. Asking pubs not to stock them is like not selling beer in pints, totally unthinkable in my book,” she previously told The Morning Advertiser.
The list in full:
- Pork scratchings – 37%
- Salted peanuts – 34%
- Dry roasted peanuts – 30%
- Salt and vinegar crisps – 25%
- Ready salted crisps – 24%
- Bacon fries – 21%
- A bowl of chips – 20%
- Pistachios – 17%
- Scampi fries – 15%
- Bombay mix – 14%
‘Digital tools will never replace human skills and intuition’
Yet given there’s little to no chance of customers buying a pig in a poke, Jones stresses that “visibility” must be the number one priority when enticing pub goers to buy snacks when venues reopen.
“It's an important way to get people thinking about snacks and that extended range, but also tempting them into snacks on one occasion and food on another," she says.
With this in mind, Tayto’s Smith urges pub operators to trot out their bar snacks in front of returning customers in any way they can, describing concealed crisps and out-of-sight scratchings as a “wasted opportunity to generate incremental sales”.
Top tips for maximising sales
Stock a range of proven, premium snacks that have been developed for the licensed sector - Award-winning pork scratching pubcards from Midland Snacks and Mr Porky, Premium REAL Handcooked crisps which are exclusive to foodservice.Put your snacks where customers can see them
- Pub cards behind the bar
- A full range of crisps on the bar
- Include them in menus or apps for table orders
Get your team to prompt purchase - A simple ‘would you like some crisps or pork scratchings with that?’ is all it takes.
“Many operators have a tendency to hide their snacks under the bar, have a token display with a couple of packs in a wicker basket, or hang some pub cards hidden in a dark corner of the bar,” he explains. “Put your snacks where customers can see them – pub cards behind the bar, a full range of snacks on the bar and include them in menus, tent cards or apps for table-orders.”
According to Smith, the crux of maximising snack revenue is having wait staff well versed in the art of the upsell – especially as pubs prepare to open with mandatory table service.
“Train your staff to ask every customer whether they’d like some snacks,” he says. “This friendly query engages customers and enables your staff to talk about the range of snacks available.
“Price is not a barrier to customers buying pub snacks so don’t be tempted to offer ‘deals’ or ‘promotions’ on snacks,” he continues. “Just prompt your customers to think about a snack to go with their drink and watch your snacks sales boom.”
Mark Bridgen of the Dog in Wingham describes this “hand selling” as the most effective way to upsell “by far” while digital hospitality marketing start-up Stampede founder Patrick Clover concedes that “digital tools will never replace human skills and intuition”.
“The most effective way of upselling will always be a friendly, skilled member of staff talking through the menu and making recommendations,” Clover continues. “I don’t think any tech will beat this level of human interaction.”
Making the most of a new ‘point of purchase’
Stefan Boxall, head of UK hospitality at Little World Beverages – which counts British beer makers Fourpure Brewing Co and Magic Rock Brewing among its brands – adds that advertising the availability of snacks through point of sale (POS) material is an essential part of the customer journey.
“Effective POS needs to do one of two things, either increase visibility at point of purchase, or be functional,” he tells The MA. “In the current climate, the point of purchase has changed, as almost all purchasing decisions are now made when seated at the table.
“It’s interesting to note that over the last 10 years, on-trade premises have moved away from tent cards and promotions on tables. This may present an opportunity to re-evaluate table POS and conjure up innovate ways of creating digital forms of POS,” he continues.
“Functional POS, such as bar runners, t-shirts, and glasses, are always a great option for the licensee. It enables them to take advantage of effectively free material from suppliers, communicate some of the core products they’re able to offer, and perform a genuinely useful function. If it does serve a purpose, it will also be no doubt used every day.”
Tayto’s Smith agrees, “Customers are in a pub to buy a drink, so using bar runners and beer mats to advertise drinks will not lead to incremental purchases. However, using this valuable POS to advertise snacks will prompt additional sales - which is why we have a full range of free POS for REAL Handcooked crisps available for venues to order directly from our website.”
What to stock?
While regular crisps as a category are the most popular on-trade snack, with 57% of pub goers buying them
according to Tayto Group research, they’re perfectly complimented by a range of premium products such as pork scratchings and hand cooked crisps.
Pork scratchings, were recently crowned Britain’s favourite pub snack in a survey published in The Daily Mail, pipping nuts, crisps and delicacies including pickled eggs and cockles. No longer the preserve of old blokes, pork scratchings are actually most likely to be eaten by 25–34-year-old pub goers, with one-in-three pigging out.
Premium, hand cooked, crisps are most likely to be bought by 25–44-year-olds – of whom 45% buy them – while nut buyers tend to be a bit older, peaking in the 35–55-year-old group where over half of people will buy them.
As such, a broad range of bar snacks is important to ensure cross generational appeal.
A pub’s snack shelf should include pork scratchings, nuts and crisps, with a range tailored to the age and affluence of a customer base as well as establishment type.
For a classic scratching, stock the best-selling Midland Snacks Traditional Scratching. However, for more premium venues, Mr Porky Hand Cooked Scratchings are the ultimate scratching.
If you have a more female customer base, consider Mr Pork Crispy Strips which have all the taste of a scratching but with a lighter bite.
To maximise profits and provide an enhanced food offer, stock premium crisps (such as food-service exclusive REAL Handcooked crisps) instead of regular varieties.
While regular crisps can be a more accessible option for younger pub goers, operators are advised to keep them behind the bar and lead with a more profitable, premium snack such as hand cooked crisps, nuts or even popcorn.
If your clientele is less affluent, consider a small range of regular crisps so that you can offer a lower-priced option, as any sale is better than no sale.
To round-off your range, ensure that you have some nuts as well as Bacon Bites and Scampi Fries on display.