Toby Hill looks at how you can boost sales in line with the upcoming Six Nations Rugby tournament.
Wedged into the low-key period between Christmas and Valentine’s Day, it would be easy for wholesalers to overlook the sales-boosting effects of the Six Nations, which kicks off on 3 February. But, if last year’s sales figures are anything to go by, doing so would be a mistake.
In the first week of the 2017 Six Nations Championships, Waitrose reported that beer sales at its stores were up 5%, ‘ready to drink’ can sales were up 24%, and mixers were up 33%. CGA Peach data, meanwhile, shows that during the last Rugby World Cup, pubs saw ‘wet’ sales increase by about £1,000 on matchdays.
Considering that the Six Nations brings together all the home nations with a couple of European countries rather well-known for their food and drink, this perhaps should not come as a surprise. Running until mid-March, it provides a major opportunity for wholesalers to boost sales of alcohol, soft drinks and snack products, with many pubs packed to the rafters on matchdays.
Moreover, landlords have noticed that the Six Nations is a distinctly familial event. “It is a safe environment, rugby fans are less tribal than football fans and they are more likely to share a drink than a punch-up with the opposite side,” observes Stuart Green, owner of the iconic Cabbage Patch pub opposite Twickenham Stadium. This widens sales opportunities from the lager so central to football matchday sales to a wide array of soft drinks, wine, spirits and snacks. Here we ask experts at all points in the supply chain for their tips on how to make the most of the first big sporting occasion of 2018.
Beyond beer – and stereotypes
While some may immediately associate rugby with men and beer, tastes in both drinks and sports are extremely diverse. So when it comes to meeting boozing preferences, it is no longer enough to simply stack up slabs of mainstream lager for big sports events.
“In the wine aisle, Malbec has proven to be a standout success with male purchasers,” says Ben Smith, head of corporate communications at Concha y Toro. “One reason for this is because it is associated with (and goes very well with) red meat – steaks, barbecues – and strong sauces.”
One standout product from Concha y Toro’s range is Trivento Malbec, more than half of whose purchasers are male. Concha y Toro has even run a partnership with Premiership Rugby over the past year, helping lay the groundwork for strong sales during the Six Nations tournament.
“Rugby occasions are often built around barbecues and other big informal social gatherings, so they are perfect for wine,” Smith adds.
Faisal Naseem, owner of the Party Time off-license in Arbroath, echoes many retailers when observing that the Six Nations is popular with female consumers, too.
“Football is mainly watched by men, but I have noticed that rugby is a mixed sport, a lot of women are really into it,” Naseem says. “If Scotland are due to play, I will make sure I am stocked up on rosé wines, because I will expect a lot of women to pick up bottles to drink while watching the match.”
It goes without saying, though, that the Six Nations remains a great time to sell a lot of beer.
For retailers, slabs of lager are definitely relevant here, and core easy-drinking beers such as Bud Light and Heineken are sure to sell well. But Faisal Naseem at the Party Time off-license has noticed a trend towards other products, too.
“During the last Six Nations, there was a spike in real ale and craft beer sales as opposed to standard lagers: Guinness, Tetley’s and Brewdog all started flying off the shelves,” he says. “It is a trend that has come in with the rugby, partly because they are promoted with sponsorship, and also because people are drinking more of these beers when they go the pub to watch the game.”
The on-trade, too, has noticed a shift in consumers’ drinking habits.
“We are definitely selling less of the old lagers like Foster’s and Carling,” says Ashley McCarthy, owner of Ye Old Sun Inn in Colston, Yorkshire. “People are going for premium bottles of European lager like Peroni, Birra Moretti and Estrella. Or these days, gentlemen are quite happy to drink wine and even cocktails, which they would not have touched in the pub ten years ago. Drinking culture has changed.”
Of course, with France, Italy and Ireland competing alongside England, Scotland and Wales, there is plenty of scope to link up national beverages with their representatives on the playing field.
“Flagging up beers that represent the different rugby teams, enabling end-consumers to opt for a patriotic drink or one that suits each particular fixture, can add to the sense of occasion,” suggests a spokesperson for ginger beer specialists Crabbie’s.
Scoring with soft drinks
Big sporting events like the Six Nations are not only about getting drunk with mates. As both retailers and suppliers observe, rugby is often treated as a family event. Add to this the fact that 21% of adults now choose not to drink alcohol, and it is clear that wholesalers need to consider their soft drinks range when preparing for the Six Nations season.
“Wholesalers should monitor for occasions such as popular TV events like sporting events, and keep stocks high in order to meet demand,” suggests Amy Burgess, trade communications manager at Coca Cola European Partners. “Sharing formats like multipack cans of Fanta and Sprite are especially popular choices for consumers for these occasions.”
Beyond such basics, adult soft drinks are a vital market. Classics like Appletiser or Shloer remain good sellers, but it is also vital to tune into key trends, such as a growing market for healthier alternatives.
“With the increased focus on health leading some consumers to change their usual drink choice to reduce their sugar or calorie intake, wholesalers should look to display lower- or no-sugar variants of well-known brands,” Burgess says. “Schweppes offers a selection of Slimline products that will appeal to those looking to enjoy a lighter option. And since its launch in July 2016, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar has become the fastest-growing cola brand in Great Britain.”
Finally, energy drinks can add to the excitement for those who want a boost while watching the game without any of the woozy side-effects brought on by booze. Coca-Cola’s Monster Energy range is already aligned with sports, thanks to the brand’s partnership with F1 champion Lewis Hamilton, making it a good shout for the Six Nations opportunity, too.
Finally, effective promotion can make all the difference when it comes to big sporting events. Point of sale (PoS) material evoking the excitement of matchday should immediately catch the attention of fans engrossed in a tournament’s twists and turns.
“Promotions are especially helpful when there is a big match coming up,” says Sean Sykes, from Denmore Premier Store in Rhyl, North Wales. “Either they remind people to stock up a couple of days beforehand while they are in shopping for something else. Or people are rushing around to get some drinks and snacks on match day, so promotions nudge them to make that impulse purchase.”
Crabbie’s is specifically targeting rugby fans with its promotions, helping players in both the on- and off-trade drive sales.
“Building momentum and excitement ahead of the series will ensure you have visibility with consumers and reap the rewards,” a Crabbie’s spokesperson says. “We work closely with licensees to develop clear rugby-themed PoS to raise awareness. We have also just unveiled a Rugby Rewards pack promotion, which runs until May 2018, offering customers the chance to win prizes like TVs and fitbits, as well as to support their grassroots club through a points-for-equipment exchange.”