The beer and cider brands that sell year-round will perform for you this Christmas, but there are also some newcomers to help interest customers. That maybe about to change.

Baby, it’s cold outside and things are pretty chilled indoors too. The general wisdom that as the days get shorter, so do the drinks, isn’t borne out by convenience retailers’ experience, and it’s likely that the same beers and ciders that filled your chillers through the warmer months will still do a good job for you as things get festive at the close of the year.

As we approach what may be the biggest ‘stay at home’ Christmas in recent memory, c-stores should be grabbing their share of the annual boost in a category that builds to a peak during December. “Shoppers will be looking to buy a range of products on impulse to cater for social gatherings and parties,” says Shaun Heyes, head of marketing for the off trade at Heineken UK. “The current economic climate means that more and more people are choosing to stay at home for social occasions, and this will be no different over the Christmas period.”

Heyes’ view is that consumers’ prudence will benefit smaller stores. “We’ve found shopper habits have changed since the credit crunch and people are now prone to shop more often but buy slightly less,” he says. “This creates a real opportunity to take advantage of the ‘top up’ shop opportunity offered by smaller pack sizes. There are also more opportunities for independent retailers to boost sales in beer and cider over the festive period as party-goers drop into local shops to buy drinks on the way to gatherings.”

That’s the amount total cider sales have risen in the past two years, according to Nielsen.

The star at the top of the tree is likely to be cider, which has led category growth over the past two years. Market analyst Nielsen puts total cider sales up by 13% in 2009 and 24% in the past two years, with six times the number of people buying into the category than five years ago. Cider has been the fastest growing of all alcohol categories in each of the past three years, and within independents, where it’s worth £304m, cider is outperforming the rest of the market at 16%.

Chris Carr of Merrydown Cider says the brand sold half a million bottles in the eight-week Christmas period last year. “In the week before Christmas, sales of our ciders were 25% higher than the average weekly sales for the rest of the year, so it’s an ideal opportunity for those who don’t stock it to give the brand some shelf space,” he says. “We’re also going to help drive sales by providing customers with some recipe ideas using cider as an ingredient and providing a creative take on the usual festive fayre.”

Ciders of Sweden brand director Darvin Nugent has seen Kopparberg pear cider storm into the convenience sector with 154% growth in the year to June, making it the fastest growing cider brand. He’s convinced the pattern will continue through the winter, and suggests there’s a shift in the taste of the UK consumer from traditional apple ciders to fruit and pear variants. “In addition to an advertsing campaign driving trial and awareness in the run up to Christmas, Kopparberg’s new variant Strawberry and Lime and two new pack sizes for Kopparberg Pear are central to our plans for this busy trading period,” he says.

Westons Cider is also gearing up, having relaunched its Henry Westons Vintage Cider last month and added apple illustrations to the label for a more modern look, which consumers prefer for a ­traditional cider, the company says.

“There has been a lot of heavy investment in the cider category to increase its popularity with women and there are specific brands that will appeal to them,” says Heyes from Heineken. “Jacques is a perfect option to stock at Christmas as its 750ml premium glass bottle makes it a great option for women to share at a party. Woodpecker also has a sweeter taste that has proved popular with women.”

He advises retailers to build their offer around Strongbow, “by far” the biggest brand in cider, but also agrees that “growth is being driven by the trend for premium ciders like Bulmers Original, and fruit flavours outside the traditional apple, like Bulmers Pear and Jacques Fruits of the Forest.”

Within beer it looks like the strategy will be about offering something different from the cheap multipack deals the supermarkets will lead with. Price will dominate in this category as the big stores aim for market share, so promotions and price-marked packs (PMPs) will lead the response. “PMPs are becoming more important,” Heyes confirms. “Shoppers see that they’re getting a great deal while retailers benefit because PMPs encourage trial and sell through faster than non-PMPs, making stockholding more efficient. We’ve introduced PMPs which will encourage sales because they make decisions easy for shoppers who are buying on impulse and look for the big name brands.”

However David Scott, customer marketing director at Carlsberg UK, warns against going toe-to-toe on price with the multiples. “Christmas will be competitive this year and we’re already seeing the multiples’ offerings crank up some are already even offering three for £20 deals. So the convenience sector should focus on its strengths small packs, and improving the range, particularly in world beer and ensuring they have a good offer in the chilled sector.”

Al Cross, brand manager for Crabbie’s, says that indulgence will drive consumers to try something different. “Consumers are moving towards sub-categories such as world beers and speciality beers like Tsingtao, while Crabbie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer is now the number-one selling ale sku (by units) in 2010.”

Then of course there’s the dark stuff. “Demand for ale goes up in winter and retailers should give additional space to it at Christmas to support this peak time,” says Heyes. “Ale is still a profitable category for retailers and recognised brands like John Smith’s, Newcastle Brown Ale and McEwan’s are the ones to offer. John Smith’s Extra Smooth will be boosted in the run up to Christmas and the New Year through the launch of the new John Smith’s advertising, featuring Peter Kay.” 

Top tips: Beer at Yuletide  

- Availability Some 57% of beer shoppers say that within their local convenience store, availability of key brands is the most important thing to them. Stock up your beer shelves regularly this Christmas to ensure your customers don’t go elsewhere. 

- Chilled Research by TNS and HIM has shown that when consumers buy beer, the majority do it to consume that day. But this trend is much bigger in the convenience sector compared to multiples. So while 64% of customers in multiples purchase beer to be consumed the same day, this number rises to 83% in independent and small stores. However, only 31% of this beer is bought chilled and HIM research shows that a chiller will drive footfall up by four times compared to an ambient fixture. 

-  World beer Consider a strong focus on world lagers during the Christmas period. Not only is this a sector in the beer market enjoying significant growth at the moment (world lager has added 38% to the beer category year on year, while it’s growing at 8.8% year on year in the impulse sector), but a third of shoppers ‘trade up’ during the Christmas period. 

- Cross-category merchandising Some 60% of beer occasions include food, and at Christmas this figure is even higher. So look for opportunities to merchandise beer next to snack categories (unless of course you’re in Scotland, where it’s no longer allowed). 

- Promotions According to Carlsberg’s research, one in three beer shoppers buy on promotion in their local convenience store. So offer great promotions and PMPs. 

Source: Carlsberg

Retailer’s view: Alan Macleish

“It’s been cider’s year. Brands like Jaques and Kopparberg have brought a whole new group of 25-35-year-old women into cider, at the expense of wine, I guess. And of course Crabbie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer, which we stock alongside the ciders, has had an amazing summer. We’re doing a two for £3 deal on ciders and have a regular two for £7 deal on four-packs of lagers like Peroni, Sol, Brahma and San Miguel. But for Christmas I think it’s going to be the larger packs that dominate - at the moment we’re offering two 15s of Tennent’sfor £20; there’ll be a similar deal at Christmas. 

“Here In Scotland we’re not allowed to cross-merchandise with offers that
link alcohol and food, and we’re limited to stocking alcohol in a single part of the store. On the other hand at Scotmid we have the advantage of the Co-op’s TV advertising to attract customers. 

“I’ll definitely be stocking stout. People love their black & tans, but only at Christmas. The rest of the time, I can’t shift it.”

Alan Macleish, Scotmid Inverbervie.Scotland

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Focus On Alcoholic Drinks - 9 October 2010