Managing Partner Paul McGann gives his thoughts on what’s going on in the beers, wines and spirits industry and why you might have found your sales have lost their sparkle.

What I love about shopper marketing is the pace with which the retail landscape changes. Just when you think you know what works, the goalposts move again! From discounters to digital, Brexit to BOGOFs, it can be hard to keep up.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Beers, Wines and Spirits. These are some of the highest value supermarket categories according to Nielsen, collectively worth over £10 billion* last year. They remain stoically brand-led with mega drinks like Stella Artois, Guinness, Smirnoff and Hardys reigning supreme. We may be happy to buy a supermarket’s own label cereals, cakes or ready meals, but we prefer a glass of plonk from a brand we know well and trust thank you very much.

Or do we? The last couple of years have seen some seismic shifts in the shopper buying behaviour and drinking habits of the Great British public. There has been a surge of new brands launched driven by the trend towards craft brewing and a desire to try something a bit different. Brewdog has been prolific. Punk IPA grew by more than 102%* in 2017 – a sales statistic that would have any shopper marketing manager salivating. Brewdog’s drive for domination continues with its new ‘try me free’ campaign, which aims to give away one million bottles of Punk IPA.

As shoppers switch to more frequent top-up grocery missions, smaller beer and lager pack sizes and singles seem to make more sense. The move to smaller cans and bottles is further amplified by shrinkflation; paying the same or more to get less of your favourite tipple is increasingly the norm.

In fact overall, we’re drinking less lager*, whilst spending more on it. Standard multipacks are feeling the squeeze as shoppers put more provenance brands into the trolley. Fosters, the amber nectar, (brewed in the UK) will sell you 18 large cans of lager for just £11* in Tesco. That is just 79 pence per pint! Yet it has had a torrid time in 2017 with supermarket sales down over a third. We seem to be choosing perceived quality, over quantity. And to create shelf space for all these exciting craft lagers, beers and spirits, grocery retailers have been busy delisting mainstream brands and rationalising pack formats.

So just what do you do if you are a mainstream beer, sprit or wine brand? What strategy do you pursue in grocery? Is it time for a radical brand reinvention? An influencer strategy? Deep price cuts? Interactive packaging? Or a more added value approach to promotions?

To get the latest insights and make sense of it all, Brass asked a nationally representative sample of 1,000 shoppers. The findings were really quite unexpected. I’ll be sharing more about the big opportunities for BWS brands on my blog over the coming months… once I’ve spoken to some of the brands in question!

*Sources: The Grocer Top Products Survey 2017. Nielsen. March 2018.
(Lager category -1.6% volume and + 3.5% value in 2017)