With all of the food taken care of for your customers, it’s important not to neglect the lucrative alcohol side of things. A combination of last summer’s World Cup and fine weather fuelled a 5.2% increase (IRI total off trade) in the off trade beer market during the four weeks of the football tournament, as consumers cracked open beers and fired up their barbecues.

This summer may lack a sporting event of the same magnitude although the UEFA Champions League Final is expected to attract 5.3 million viewers nevertheless consumers will always be looking out for chilled beers, ciders and other alcoholic drinks when the weather lends itself to barbecues.

Doug Walker, Heineken UK’s head of off-trade customer marketing, says retailers should focus on stocking a wide range of beer and cider, with emphasis on the more well-known brands. “Stocking the big brands is important as in the current economic climate shoppers tend to stick to brands they know and love rather than risk untried products.” In particular, retailers should stock lagers and ciders that support the cold serve, such as Kronenbourg 1664 with Draught Systeme, Walker adds.

Providing a chilled offering should definitely help retailers profit from the barbecue season, as around one-fifth of lager buyers and a quarter of cider buyers are willing to pay more for a chilled product, according to Heineken UK research.

Richard Honey, director of impulse sales at Molson Coors, underlines the importance of communicating cold beer sales outside and inside the store. “Less than 10% of supermarkets have the capability to offer a cold beer solution, so this is a clear advantage that the convenience sector has over its competitors,” he says. Molson Coors’ My Cold Beer Club category initiative aims to help convenience stores to maximise shopper footfall by working with them to deliver excellent cold beer availability. In 2010, the stores which followed its range and merchandising principles saw category sales rise by 4%, which would deliver an extra £1,245 to the average c-store, Honey says. Meanwhile those supported at store level by My Cold Beer Club saw sales rise by over 8%, delivering £2,500 in additional sales.

Amanda Grabham, head of brand marketing at Merrydown Cider, says availability of ready-chilled cider is “the essential key to success” in driving barbecue sales.

“I can’t stress the importance of this enough,” she adds. “Because barbecues are so reliant on having good weather, they are often arranged at short notice.

“As a result, hosts and guests will want product that is well chilled and ready to drink.”

Retailers may need to be on their toes given the unpredictability of British weather, but what is more certain is that Thursday to Sunday is a key trading time, when 73% of beer and cider purchases are made, Heineken UK’s research reveals.

The company is adding a new variant to its Bulmers cider range in time for summer. Bulmers Crisp Blend builds on the success of Bulmers Summer Blend and Red Apple, and is a “blend of traditional cider apples with sharper-tasting varieties”, according to Walker.

Heavyweight digital activity for Strongbow has also been launched in a bid to maintain brand awareness during the barbecue season.

Grabham says that given the uplift in sales in the summer months, cider has to be an essential part of any barbecue shopping list. She says Merrydown is well placed to appeal to barbecue purchasers because of its distinctive ‘appley’ taste, which makes it a refreshing drink in hot weather and enables Merrydown to “complement the robust flavours of barbecue food”. In addition, the fact it is available in a choice of multi-serve bottles and 440ml cans appeals to the barbecue shopper.

“Research shows that selecting the pack format is usually the first decision consumers make before going on to choose sweet or dry, mainstream or ‘heritage’ ciders, so it is important that retailers take this into account when selecting the range and merchandising their cider fixture,” says Grabham. Walker also advises convenience store retailers to stock a large range of pack sizes, particularly during the key Thursday to Sunday trading times.

Retailers can also take advantage of National Wine Month, which is running throughout May, to come up with new ideas for the barbecue season. Under the initiative, retailers can download an online toolkit for free to encourage consumers to try something different. For barbecues, Ian Harris, National Wine Month co-ordinator, recommends wines that are light and “lowish” in alcohol, such as a White Zinfandel, which is currently popular in the convenience sector. “Also, be sure to push rosés they go well with meats and fish but be sure to feature a particular brand, not necessarily the cheapest. Go for something different,” he says.

Speaking of different offerings, he also suggests going for a slightly chilled Beaujolais, which is lower in alcohol than most red wines, and recommends putting a few bottles in the fridge. Steer clear of stronger reds, however. “Sunshine doesn’t go well with a 14% Aussie Shiraz!” Harris adds.

Another Australian wine brand, however, has launched a new range geared perfectly for the barbecue season. Banrock Station’s lighter drinking range consists of Banrock Station Moscato and Pink Moscato, both of which are only 5.5% ABV. The range is described as light, sweet and refreshing in taste “with a hint of spritz”.

Constellation Wines, which owns the brand, has identified a £200m wine category opportunity in lighter drinking, and reckons barbecue is the ideal season to grasp that opportunity.

Meanwhile, popular barbecue refreshment drink Pimm’s is being supported by a £4.6m ‘Pimm’s Summer Party’ campaign. The activity, which aims to bring people together to make the British summer “the best it can be with Pimm’s”, will be executed like a political campaign, says Diageo GB. It will include specific manifestoes, celebrity endorsers, local brand representatives, a campaign bus, party slogan, and membership to the cause. Pimm’s grew by 13.5% in volume last summer, according to Nielsen and CGA data. 

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