For once brewers will be placing their hopes on more than just sunshine for an uplift in beer sales this summer. UEFA’s Euro 2012 (with Carlsberg as the official beer of the England team) is just one of the big opportunities coming up, along with the Olympics and the Queen’s Jubilee.

Marketing and on-pack promotions for these events should help give the category a welcome boost and welcome it will be after yet another poor year for beer.

“The beer category has been lame for the past two or three years,” admits Warwickshire Thorougoods retailer Jimmy Dhaliwal.

But while the category has struggled to clock up much value growth, there are some positives for the year ahead.

The ongoing fascination with lower-alcohol beers is one trend that looks set to continue. The successful 4% abv brand Becks Vier was recently launched into bottles for the first time. The 175ml bottles are available in four- and 12-pack formats.

It follows the July launch of Molson Coors’ 4% abv Animée range, aimed at women, and the debut in March of Carling Zest, a limited edition 2.8% abv lager, brewed for the summer. Incidentally, Zest sits alongside another recent Carling extension, the 4.8% abv Carling Chrome (launched in August 2011).

However, despite the proliferation of variants, the move towards lower alcohol lines has largely been driven by the manufacturers, and not consumers.

Fuller’s national account controller Bill Simmons points out that the wave of new products is a result of government action on lowering duty rates for lower alcohol beer, rather than any specific consumer demand. He adds: “It remains to be seen whether there is sustainable demand for these products.”

Retailers are altering their ranges to take in the newcomers, though. At Knights’ Budgens in Hassocks, West Sussex, for example, the super-strength lagers have been removed from the shelves, with a much greater focus on lower- strength varieties.

“We stock things such as Stella 4% from our fridges in a four-pack and they sell exceptionally well,” says owner David Knight.

Jimmy believes that price has become more important of late in his store. So much so that it has affected the range of pack sizes on the market, he says. Traditional 330ml bottles are now sitting alongside smaller 245ml bottles because they allow for a more favourable price for consumers who want to stick to a budget.

“It is all about the price point - people just don’t have the money any more,” he points out.

David says there has been an increase in sales of pricemarked fridge packs in his Budgens store. “Ten-packs and pricemarked six-packs have moved very well, which is an indication of the times - people feel more confident with the pricemarked packs.”

A six-pack of Stella 4% is pricemarked at £6.49 and these have been very popular, asserts David. Lager on promotion is also doing exceptionally well, he says.

“We have never seen beers on promotion doing so well as in the past few months,” he says. One example is San Miguel, which is currently on offer at £10 for a 15-pack of 275ml bottles.

World lager

There are other sectors of beer that are worth keeping an eye on, too, such as world beer.

San Miguel is growing 40% year on year, according to Carlsberg UK director of marketing David Scott. And the brand’s popularity has inspired its first brand extension - San Miguel Fresca.

The brewer has been expanding its world lager offering in general over the past few years. “For example, we now have the Czech beer Staropramen in our portfolio - a beer with huge amounts of heritage and craftsmanship,” says Scott. “It’s showing strong growth in the off-trade in value (9.7%) and volume (13.8%) according to Nielsen (year to March 3, 2012).

Meanwhile, Molson Coors has also been ensuring it has a strong world beer collection, with brands such as Cobra, Corona and Singha.

“Customers want to re-create the feeling of adventure and exploration that they experienced abroad, in their own homes,” says a spokesman for Molson Coors.

And Miller Brands has also reported success with its world beers, such as Peroni Nastro Azzurro, Tyskie, Lech, Pilsner Urquell and St Stefanus.

Peroni, in particular, is doing well, recording a value increase of 15.4%, according to Nielsen (MAT to February 4, 2012).

“Consumer demand for world beers is growing and we want to help retailers tap into this trend,” says director of customer marketing Lucy Jordan.

Global Brands can also confirm an increased consumer interest in global beers, having had a successful year for its Estonian premium beer Viru and its tequila-flavoured beer, Amigos.

“Viru’s octahedral bottle shape is eye-catching and intrigues consumers, who now want to know more about the brewing heritage and quality of the beer they are drinking,” says marketing director Simon Green.

Ales well

Ale is another sector worth exploring. The market for ale is enjoying year-on-year growth of 2.6% to £97m, according to IRI data (off-trade year to January 2012), driven by an increased demand for premium bottled ales.

“The standard can market in ale has been totally flat,” says David, “but we do about 50 local ales, which have been popular - there’s definitely a shift to premium.”

He adds: “There’s been a real interest in trying new ales and we do a lot of tastings throughout the year. We’ve noticed that pale ales are starting to appeal to more women, for example.”

At Thorougoods, Jimmy points out that the store’s biggest growth sector in beer is for English beers and ales. “People are experimenting with different flavours, so we have about 80 to 100 different bottled beers and do an offer of three for £4.50, which does well for us.”

And it’s a sector with plenty of innovation. In June, Fuller’s will be launching its Black Cab brand into Budgens and Londis, following a successful on-trade launch last November, after which it was introduced to supermarkets.

The brewer’s London Pride has also had a big year, according to Bill Simmons, and is expected to get a further boost from the Olympics.

Wells & Young’s has plenty of activity planned for its brands. “Wells Bombardier is continuing to invest heavily in TV advertising with our Bombardier William Charles Bedford, played by Rik Mayall,” says marketing director Chris Lewis.

Tetley’s has experienced growth this year, according to Carlsberg, and this is due to a high-profile Help for Heroes partnership, as well as a £5m marketing campaign on ITV4. “Having tried-and-trusted beers such as Tetley’s can help encourage new people to the category, and stocking quirkier beers can ensure ale drinkers keep coming back as they are confident the range is good,” he says.

Fuller’s Simmons agrees that there is a real opportunity within the convenience sector with premium bottled ales. “The key message I would give retailers is to look at their range differently to supermarkets,” he says. “C-stores can be more flexible with their range and can change more quickly. Look for gaps in the ranges of competitors and exploit them.”

Summer of fun

Brewers will be on hand to help retailers boost sales during the key sporting events this summer. Carlsberg, for example, claims to be one of the only brands through which consumers can still win tickets for the UEFA Euro 2012, via on-pack promotions.

“Research shows that as much as 70% of beer purchased for a major game is bought up to three weeks in advance, so take advantage of this pre-match build up and excitement, by making feature displays,” Scott advises.

At Thorougoods, the team have been preparing for the Olympics since February. “We are setting up some special deals because we are near the Coventry arena and there are 12 football matches taking place there,” says Jimmy.

With so much to play for, a fresh look at your beer aisle could be all that’s needed to get beer sales back in shape.•

Make it a cold one

Make it cold

For retailers such as David Knight and Jimmy Dhaliwal, offering most - if not all - of their beer chilled has been hugely important factor in their success. Suppliers are also keen to stress the need for chilled beer.

“Independent retailers should consider stocking a larger proportion of their beer range in fridges,” says Budweiser marketing director Iain Newell. “This point of difference from the multiple retailers gives independent retailers the opportunity to drive footfall into their stores.”

And chiller cabinets can be a good method of driving impulse purchases, too.

“We created a very successful offer with Budgens using Bengal Lancer in their chiller cabinets alongside a curry meal,” says Fuller’s national account controller Bill Simmons. “Sales of the beer more than doubled during the offer period.”

Meanwhile, Molson Coors is pleased with the results of its Cold Beer Club convenience store loyalty scheme in which retailers are rewarded for actively promoting cold beer sales. “We started it as a way to help our convenience customers make the most of the advantage they have over supermarkets, with less than 10% of big stores able to offer chilled beer,” says a spokesman.

“It’s been a huge success with members reporting a 15% increase in beer sales over the course of 2011.”

This year the company is investing £2.6m in the concept.