The beer marketplace is changing: not just in terms of number of breweries but also sales channels. For the first time in the UK, there is reportedly less beer sold for consumption on the premises e.g. pubs or restaurants, than in retail outlets without a license e.g. supermarkets or shops. With this increasing emphasis on off-trade, some intrinsic influences on consumer choice will need to be embraced.
A common explanation for consumption ‘in the home’ is price, but there are several other aspects of consumer choice which I summarised in the Beer Means Business book as follows:
[Beer] is presented to the consumer in different formats and different ways. The packaging and accompanying service (…) contribute to the sensory experience of beer through look, touch, smell and taste. The act of consumption is also likely to (…) carry an emotional surcharge through the atmosphere inherent in the place of consumption or the conditions under which the beer is consumed. All in all, there are plenty of factors to the experience the physical product delivers.
When you choose between products, you choose those that are expected to give you the most satisfaction through the factors mentioned above relative to the sacrifices required. In this sense, sacrifice is more than just price. Any effort that needs to be made to obtain the product, including transport, waiting time, etc., is taken into consideration, either knowingly or unknowingly, rationally or irrationally.
The current trend in sales distribution between on- and off-trade suggests that the overall satisfaction with beer relative to the ‘sacrifices’ improved for consumption off-premises. This can partly be explained by some obvious evolution in the marketplace: ‘non-macro’ beer is available from more and more outlets, furthermore innovative delivery methods for online purchases allow for inexpensive and fast delivery – measured in minutes in some places. This enabled purchasing patterns that might require the adaptation of brand building strategies.
On-trade venues have traditionally been considered the primary place for impulse purchase and thus brand conversion. The simple reason for that is the confined choice of products, in other words, if there is one tap, the one beer on tap will be your draught beer choice unless you choose bottles/cans or something else instead of beer.
However, the importance of off-trade retail in brand conversion is increasing. Within the ‘non-macro’ segment, consumer choice is rapidly expanding and can be overwhelming. Retailers though inevitably undertake curation and ease the navigation of the beer scene in this channel as well.
- On the one hand, they are forced to only list products with a good fit for them in terms of capacities and sales.
- On the other hand, some retailers might be willing to run subscription beer clubs or somehow highlight particular products.
Despite the more obvious influence by the retailers, there is space for spontaneity. This space is still limited in online purchases as they are either planned or simply more rational and likely to involve browsing, comparison and reading reviews. Actual ‘offline’ stores, on the other hand, allow for more impulse purchases.
The idea of ‘shopping’ cannot be underestimated, and shops are increasingly accommodating and cater for an experience. Producers will need to embrace this too, and drive choice towards their brands through scrupulous selection of points of sale (incl. events), evolved trade marketing techniques, merchandising, etc., This area of business is likely to gain further emphasis with the saturation in the marketplace.
However, the ‘offline’ channel carries an inherent influencer of choice: convenience. According to our initial Twitter poll, 36% of respondents choose cans over bottles in a shop merely out of convenience. This finding shows a great contrast with the reality of most new or smaller producers whose products most often are only available in bottles.