Emily Garside

30th April 2020


Alcoholic drinks companies look for smart alternatives to reach locked-down consumers

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With the government recently announcing an extension to existing lockdown measures across the UK, there will be little to celebrate for the nation’s pubs, bars and restaurants. But while sales of alcohol in these establishments may have taken a hit, at least temporarily, some traders are seeing a huge boost in sales thanks to a consumer base that is not looking to change what they drink – just where they do it.

Alcohol sales have risen sharply since lockdown measures were introduced, and while some have put this down to a bored, socially distant consumer base, other research claims that after an initial surge, retail alcohol sales are actually expected to decline over the next few months as consumers adjust their habits and “panic buying” decreases. While both are possible, there is arguably a wider trend at play that was already taking hold long before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

The recent success of online wine merchants such as Laithwaite’s Wine and Roberson Wines suggests that consumers are not just looking for cheap booze at a wholesale price. Instead the lockdown has prompted consumers to further explore the advantages of online retail.

While unable to socialise in pubs and bars – and making less frequent trips to supermarkets – shoppers are feeling the appeal of wider variety and bespoke recommendations as well as the convenience of half-sized bottles, hand-picked crates or monthly deliveries from the comfort of their living room. These are all advantages that a mainstream pub or supermarket cannot offer – lockdown or otherwise.

Looking at almost every other retail sector across the UK – as well as food delivery, video streaming and a whole host of other online services – would suggest that we should not be at all surprised by this shift. But analysing how certain businesses are reacting to the lockdown is a good indication of how well they can adapt to changing habits and therefore ensure success longer term. For example, subscription service Beer52 recently organised a Virtual Beer Festival to support independent breweries, while Camden Town Brewery has temporarily rebranded its flagship lager and is donating proceeds to NHS charities. This goes in stark contrast with pub chain Wetherspoons, whose controversial reaction to the lockdown measures may have a longer lasting negative impact on their brand.

As always, there are many factors which could influence the longer term outlook of the alcoholic drinks sector. The eventual length of the lockdown will be hugely significant, as will the ability of online retailers to cope with demand while remaining cost-effective. But if consumers do make a longer-term shift to online delivery services and subscriptions, to what extent could this new way of drinking replace an evening at the local pub, even after the lockdown is lifted? Only time will tell, but alcoholic drinks traders could put themselves at a significant advantage by following these trends closely and reacting to change as creatively, and as early, as possible.

For any business leader or decision maker in the alcoholic drinks sector, Plimsoll has a range of industry reports to monitor both company and industry trends at the click of a button. Visit the Plimsoll website for more information about the Wines & Spirits Wholesalers, Beer Wholesalers or Pubs & Bars market reports.

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