According to the British Beer & Pub Association, off-trade beer sales fell by 11% in the first quarter of this year, while Nielsen reports that off-trade wine sales dipped by 1% in the year to March 21 - the equivalent of 12m bottles.
However, with visits to pubs and restaurants falling victim to the economic squeeze, drinks suppliers are putting their hopes, and a good part of their marketing spend, into the take-home sector. That presents a huge opportunity to c-stores with the right impulse offering: given blazing afternoons, muggy nights, and some skilful merchandising, you'll be fully employed just keeping the chillers stocked.
"Providing a chilled offering of leading brands will help retailers profit from the barbecue occasion as the unpredictable British weather can lead to impulse purchases if an unexpected hot day leads to a social gathering," says Shaun Heyes, head of customer marketing (off-trade) and category marketing at S&N UK. He identifies two particular areas of optimism: 'pub quality' take home offers such as S&N's Foster's Scuba and Kronenbourg 1664 with Dynamo Système, and what he calls 'female appeal' brands.
Getting the girls into beer is also the aim of Molson Coors, which is launching a new 99 Calorie Carling bottle and plans to advertise for the first time in female-targeted media. "The beer remains exactly the same but by introducing a new bottle that clearly communicates the 99 calorie message, three quarters of the women we spoke to responded to the brand more positively," says director of marketing for Carling, Martin Coyle. The launch is part of Carling's aim to drag a million shoppers back into the beer aisles.
However, the pre-season money is on cider to make its claim for that same shelf space. Premium lines in particular are catching the consumer's eye - so much so that the Federation of Wholesale Distributors advises that ciders should account for at least 25% of a c-store's LADs (long alcoholic drinks) capacity.
"Never underestimate the attraction of a display of ice-cold bottles in the chiller," says Merrydown Cider's Chris Carr. "Keep the chiller fully stocked and remember to restack from the back to ensure optimum stock turnover. A reliable supply of chilled product increases sales and meets consumer needs for impulse BBQ purchases in the unpredictable English summer."
In wine, there's no sign of a let up in the rise of rosé, which grew by 17% sales volume in the year to February - not quite as remarkable as last year's meteoric 30% increase, but still a fifth consecutive year of significant growth, and a massive boost for an otherwise static wine industry.
Foster's EMEA's Nick Barker says rosé gives convenience retailers a chance to more than match the multiples, along with sparkling wines. "In sparkling, there's a trend whereby consumers are trading out of champagnes into sparkling wines, driving their growth," he says. "Sparkling is up 7% in the impulse channel in value terms and this is another area where convenience retailers can compete with grocery."
Summer is the new Christmas for spirits manufacturers. Around 32% of total spirits sales are made over the summer months.
Last month Diageo Great Britain launched its 'Bring Home the Spirit of Summer' campaign to drive sales of spirits in the off-trade for the summer season.
Russell Jones, director of category marketing, says: "We want to help retailers maximise sales by providing a campaign specifically to encourage consumers to create and try long mixed spirits drinks at home. Total off trade spirits are now worth over £3bn, so now is the ideal time."
Suppliers of RTDs are among those pinning their hopes on the barbie this summer.
Beverage Brands' marketing director Karen Salters says that the increasing costs of eating out combined with "last summer's appalling weather" will make the back garden the place to be seen in 2009.
"It's important for convenience retailers to recognise that drinkers want a range of options, including RTDs," she says.
"There's a stronger link between RTDs and barbecues than many people realise. We know that drinkers of WKD aren't ones to plan their shopping in advance; they're spontaneous in their actions and love a reason to socialise with their friends.
"They're just the types to shop in the convenience sector and it's important that retailers keep sufficient stocks of chilled RTDs. It's not just about availability, it's about chilled availability. If it's not chilled, then you really are missing a sales opportunity."
Pimm's has a new 35cl bottle size exclusively for cash & carry and convenience. Pimm's has been in 15% growth for the past three years, making it the second most valuable brand during summer after Smirnoff vodka.
Brand owner Diageo GB says the new size fits the typical c-store customer's price bracket.
tel: 020 8978 6000
Halewood International has added a rosé-styled product to the Lambrini family.
Lambrini Rosé is made using blended Italian grape juice and with an abv of 5.5% is pitched at those looking for a lighter drink. The semi-sparkling rosé is less sweet than other Lambrini variants and aimed at 18-30s.
tel: 0151 480 8800
Grand Marnier has high hopes for its Grand Esprit long mix, which combines Grand Marnier, elderflower cordial and soda water with oranges, strawberries and ice in a tall glass. Grand Esprit pos kits will be available through and
Cellar Trends will be targeting 200,000 consumers with a nationwide sampling drive.
tel: 01283 217703
Thatchers Cider has introduced is a new-style cider - Katy Rosé. Made in Somerset from Katy apples, from which it takes its rosé blush, it is described as 'soft, light and fruity pink'.
The drink combines rosé wine and cider, with an abv of 5.4%. It comes in a wine-style 750ml flint bottle and is aimed at females.
tel: 01934 822862
Ginger with a kick
Picking up the recent 'over ice' trend is Crabbie's Alcoholic Ginger Beer from Halewood International.
The product has been developed to be served over ice with a slice of lemon.
Targeted at 18-to 35-year-old men and women, it should be merchandised in the cider fixture.
tel: 0151 480 8800