The festive season is a key time for the beer category as most shoppers ensure they have a merry Christmas by stocking up fridges with cans and bottles. But with the multiples so desperate to snare shoppers through multi-pack deals – particularly in the first two weeks of December – what can c-store retailers do to make sure they’re still full of Christmas cheer?

For a start, stock at least some of the new products out there, such as Fosters Scuba 4%, Kronenbourg Dynamo Système 5%, Becks Vier and Stella Artois 4%. 

“This will be the first Christmas that the Heineken Draught Keg has been in widespread distribution and the first Christmas trading period for our new canned lagers,” says Carol Saunders, head of customer marketing at Scottish and Newcastle UK, who believes consumers will be seeking pub quality beer this season.

Courage Directors ale in a can is an even newer offering from Wells and Young’s. Director of marketing Chris Lewis says, “Courage Directors was one of a small number of brands not to have a can format in the off trade. The new product will help to drive sales in both markets.”

The ale market is traditionally strong in the winter, peaking during the Christmas and New Year celebrations, and with Newcastle Brown Ale available in a single 550ml bottle and a four-pack, the brand is urging retailers to use the Christmas trading period as a key opportunity to up-sell from standard pack sizes. 

It seems the big brands all want to make sure you’re selling what people know, while buyers and smaller brands reckon Christmas is also about giving shoppers inspiration to try something new.

Independent retailers can maximise the festive beer sales opportunity by focusing on big brands, high-impact display and chilling, and by offering shoppers good value, according to InBev UK. It has price-marked packs on leading brands such as Stella Artois, Beck’s and Tennent’s Lager. 

Other promotions this Christmas include Carling 100% British Barley floor stackers and pos, set to go into chains such as Nisaway and Costcutter. There’s also pos for the new Coors Light bottles featuring cold activated labels that turn blue to signal when the beer is ice cold. Meanwhile, Caffrey’s Win 1 of 10 Dublin Weekends competition pos will be in c-stores promoting the new serve-cold packaging.  

Diageo is investing more than £5m in Guinness this Christmas, with TV ads, sampling and new seasonal pos for the off-trade, which features the gates of St James’ Gate Brewery in a snowy, winter setting. 

“The Guinness Christmas consumer is extremely valuable to retailers, driving value across the beer category,” says Richard Barlow, Guinness senior brand manager at Diageo GB. “Guinness consumers spend a remarkable 71% more than the average alcohol consumer and 34% more than beer shoppers during this period.” 

Simon Harrison, commercial director independent off trade at InBev UK, believes there’s an opportunity to declutter the fixture in the pre-Christmas period, freeing up space for brands that really do the business at this time of year. 

Retailer comment
“Sales won’t go down this Christmas – people still find the money for drink, whatever the economic climate.”

Sheffield retailer Mandeep Singh Kharia is bullish about the next couple of months, because he has a few tips up his sleeve to ensure the tills keep ringing at his two stores.

“We’ll undercut the supermarkets on Baileys so shoppers will come in for that and then buy beers which can cost a bit more,” he says. Advertising featuring beer brands is stepped up from the usual 2,000 leaflet drops to 10,000 before Christmas, while in-store TV screens show beer adverts. 

Mandeep also makes sure he gets the beer reps to provide free gifts. “We use the gifts as giveaways to encourage people to buy. They’ll buy an eight or 23-pack to get free glasses and won’t look at the price.”
“Major brands are the big performers over the pre-Christmas period because they have a large number of loyalists who buy them on a regular basis,” he says. “This is boosted at Christmas because a large number of occasional beer buyers come into the market and tend to look for brand names they know.”

However, c-store retailers should dedicate more space to value-driving segments within the category, such as world lager, believes Cobra Beer’s channel controller grocery and convenience Tony Cleeve.

“For many brands, the holiday season provides a huge number of opportunities to increase sales and consumer awareness. Cobra as a premium world lager is a brand that has traditionally done well cross-siting with food, and especially with seasonal party food,” he says. 

Shoppers often experiment at Christmas and as families get together they want different products and a change from the usual, agrees Steve Howarth, Spar’s trading controller beer, cider and spirits. “The festive season is a good time to encourage shoppers to expand their drinking repertoire and try something different.”

Howarth adds that it’s not just about buying in for Christmas Day; in the run-up to Christmas, impromptu social gatherings can mean consumers want to buy alcohol locally. Take advantage, he advises: “Make it logical and simple to find. It’s about checking the out of stocks three times a day, plugging the gaps and ensuring that the entire team is able to multi-task. Make sure your team know the store layout and if you change locations of products, ensure everyone is briefed.”

This year will be about getting the basics right, ensuring that when the multiples start to suffer towards the end of week three, your shelves are filled to capacity and checked morning, noon and night. Christmas Eve falling on a Wednesday this year also theoretically provides an opportunity for some additional sales, Howarth comments.

It’s likely to be another extremely competitive period for brewers and retailers alike because the economic situation and rising food, energy and fuel prices mean consumer spending will be under increased pressure. 

Despite this, manufacturers all agree that there’s still room for optimism, as Cobra Beer’s Cleeve explains: “This Christmas may well prove to be a tough trading environment with the credit crunch still a factor. However, a focus on growth categories like world lager and in-demand brands should bring about a profitable year for convenience store retailers.”