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How drinks suppliers are getting pubs back in business

28 August 2020

The drinks industry has been making an effort to support both publicans and their punters, with campaigns to help build confidence after coronavirus. John Porter finds out how suppliers have helped

The old saying "a friend in need is a friend indeed", while sometimes misinterpreted, recognises that it's those who are there when you need them most who deserve to be valued. For operators, the Covid-19 lockdown period from mid-March to early July definitely qualifies as a time of need – so who were the sector's friends indeed?

The UKHospitality Quarterly Tracker shows that sales in bars, pubs, restaurants and hotels across the UK fell by 87% during the second quarter of 2020. In fact, holding on to 13% of sales, through initiatives such as stepped-up takeaway and delivery services, and ‘pay forward' gift card schemes, should probably count as a triumph for the sector.

The drinks industry faced its own challenges during lockdown. Although supermarkets saw a £1.9b increase in alcohol sales in the 17 weeks to 11 July, according to Nielsen figures, the switch to home drinking never came close to compensating for the sales lost to the hospitality shutdown. Overall, 1.3 billion litres of alcohol were sold in the UK during the lockdown period, compared to almost two billion in the same period in 2019.

So, which drinks suppliers were there for the hospitality trade when troubled times came a-calling, and which are still there to support operators as they work to rebuild their drink sales?

Supplier support

A quick Twitter survey asking those very questions found that a number of operators singled out Guinness and Gordon's brand owner Diageo UK for the quality of its support. In March, Diageo pledged £1m to support bartenders' wages, while anyone working in the drinks trade was also given the opportunity to attend a complimentary online Diageo Bar Academy Training Course.

"The rebuilding phase will bring new challenges, but we have absolutely no doubt that the on-trade will bounce back"

This was followed by an investment of nearly £30m in the Raising the Bar programme, focused on product quality, allowing for the safe retrieval of kegs from cellars, like-for-like replacement of fresh stock for all unbroached kegs, and the duty on all broached keg volumes claimed and passed back to the outlet. Carlsberg UK initially launched its Love My Local digital platform to help pubs, bars and restaurants generate income during lockdown through takeaway and donations, and then expanded the service to support reopening.

Functions available on Love My Local include taking online payments and table bookings, capturing booking names for track and trace, table service ordering tools and a postcode search so customers can pre-book tables at venues near them that are open.

Alistair Gaunt, vice-president for on-trade sales at Carlsberg UK, says: "The past few months have changed many things for us all, but we want a safe, welcoming experience to be something that doesn't change. The Love My Local platform allows both pub-goers and owners to access information and practical resources for safe and enjoyable drinking experiences."

Along similar lines, Budweiser Brewing Group's Save Pub Life platform offers operators a mobile order solution, covering pay-at-table, click and collect and home delivery, as well as practical support, such as mobile bars, buckets and coolers, and PET bottles, compostable cups and beer "growlers" for takeaway. Staff training is also available through the Stella Artois Draught Masters digital programme.

Heineken UK has launched Swifty, a payment and loyalty app offering promotions and loyalty campaigns to help encourage repeat business and drive footfall. Jerry Shedden, category and trade marketing director, says: "The rebuilding phase will bring new challenges, but we have absolutely no doubt that the on-trade will bounce back.

"Operators have proven to be incredibly resourceful and resilient during lockdown, and together we will work hard to rebuild consumer confidence, encouraging a safe return to the industry and ultimately ensuring businesses thrive."

With consumer footfall on the whole now less predictable, in its Star Pubs & Bars estate Heineken has been running activities under the Rhythm of the Week banner, with promotions during quieter periods to appeal to a wider range of consumer groups, such as remote workers, and those less comfortable visiting during peak times.

Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP) responded early in lockdown with initiatives including cashflow support for closed venues, later adding technical support and free stock offers as businesses prepared to reopen. The package has now evolved into the Open Like Never Before campaign, promoting the hospitality sector to consumers through advertising and digital marketing.

Businesses can also continue to access a range of practical support via the CCEP customer hub, including menu generator and ad generator tools, and advice and support on equipment sanitisation.

Rob Harris, CCEP vice-president for GB sales, explains: "Our focus was on communicating with customers, as every one of them experienced this crisis in a different way and we've been supporting as many as we can. Many of our customers are now opening like never before, and we're encouraging consumers to go back to the hospitality trade."

Asahi UK, whose beer brands include Fuller's, Darkstar and Meantime, as well as its flagship lager, has created a £1.5m back-to-trade support package, focused on working with operators to create a safe and enjoyable experience for consumers.

Tim Clay, managing director at Asahi UK, says: "We've been proactively preparing for this moment of reconnection behind-the-scenes for some time – whether that's the kick-starting of cask lines at our breweries, detailed demand planning prep in the supply chain, or our dedicated technical teams going into cellars across the land to literally reconnect keg lines and help get venues fighting-fit to go again. The collaboration and effort across the whole industry has been incredible."

Offering practical support of the financial kind for reopening, drinks wholesaler Matthew Clark opened up its e-commerce platform to new customers, allowing orders of up to £1,500 without an account. The business also removed its minimum order requirement for all customers, offered increased flexibility on delivery days/times, and has developed Local, an order-and-pay app.

Richard Hayhoe, marketing director at Matthew Clark, says: "By opening up our e-commerce platform to new customers who don't have an account, we're giving on-trade customers the chance to buy best-selling brands across wine, beer, spirits and soft drinks, delivered in one drop. With no minimum order value, customers can manage stock and their cash flow."

Campaigns and care

High visibility initiatives have been used by several brands to help operators reconnect with customers. As part of a range of activities promoted using the #savethenight hashtag, Mast-Jaegermeister UK put the three-strong Jägermeister Ice Cold Convoy on the road, visiting pub gardens, holiday parks and events. Staff wearing PPE serve ice-cold shots of Jägermeister and Jägermeister Cold Brew Coffee, as well as the brand's signature cocktail, the Jägermeister Mule.

Mast-Jaegermeister UK event manager, Claudia Jakubowski, says: "The vehicles are a great point of difference for operators and deliver an element of fun to customers.

The convoy also makes for a great photo opportunity and shareable content for operators and consumers to post on their social media channels."

Budweiser Budvar UK has launched the Budvan, a branded promotional vehicle that can operate as mobile bar, a delivery vehicle and a training centre for bar staff. One of its first outings was to deliver free kegs to the Forge Inn in Glenfield, near Leicester, as it prepared to reopen.

The pub is part of the Beautiful Pubs Collective, which serves Czech beer Budvar Original as its house-pour premium lager. Simon George, managing director of Budweiser Budvar UK says: "There's no one-size-fits-all solution for nursing the on-trade back to health, but whether it's staff training, technical support to ensure that consumers are served a perfect pint, or just some free stock to get the tills ringing again, we're helping where we can."

In an initiative designed to encourage customers who have become used to drinking at home to return to the on-trade, Champagne brand Moët & Chandon is working with sector technology specialist Airship to offer every customer purchasing a bottle of Moët from online retailer the Bottle Club an e-voucher for two complimentary glasses at any of the Alchemist group's 20 bars across the country.

Jenny McPhee, brand director at the Alchemist, explains: "While many people are keen to get back out, others are understandably more cautious. When guests do feel ready to return, we're thrilled to be able to offer a glass of celebratory Moët & Chandon to mark the moment."

Operators also need to adapt their drinks offer to changed consumer expectations, believes Charlotte Nielsen, founder of CBD -based soft drink Little Rick. "Something we've noticed since lockdown has been eased is the increased demand for on-the-go, or "take-home" solutions for many products which usually would be enjoyed on-trade," she says.

"We've seen beers in takeaway cups and plenty more innovation in the to-go drinks sector. For operators, I think it's key to be able to support those wanting to stay on-premise as well as those who are more comfortable taking their drink to the park or home to enjoy with more space."

Trading safely

Phil Sanders, out of home commercial director at Britvic, offers operators advice for trading in the post-Covid "new normal":

Payments Contactless payments are key for hygiene reasons. Operators using ordering apps will increase customer confidence in safety, and take payment automatically when customers finalise their order.

Bookings Booking a table, even just for a group to enjoy a few G&Ts, is far more prevalent among consumers. Operators could consider setting time slots on bookings, which will allow them to satisfy a greater number of customers while maximising consumer spend.

Service Reassuring customers from the moment they enter the venue by seating them promptly and explaining any new measures will help make them feel safe and looked after.

Suppliers

Asahi UKuk.asahibeer.co.uk

Airshipwww.airship.co.uk

Britvicwww.sensationaldrinks.com

Budweiser Brewing Groupwww.budweiserbrewinggroup.co.uk

Budweiser Budvar UKwww.budweiserbudvar.com/uk

Carlsberg UKwww.carlsberguk.co.uk

CCEPwww.cokecustomerhub.co.uk

Diageowww.diageobaracademy.com

Heineken UKwww.heineken.co.uk

Little Rickwww.littlerick.co.uk

Mast-Jaegermeister UKwww.mast-jaegermeister.co.uk

Matthew Clarkwww.matthewclarklive.com

Moët & Chandonwww.moet.com/en-int

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