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Fri 23rd Jun 2017 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Attracting younger consumers to alcohol in a more adult way, how operators can avoid making Orderella’s mistakes and how networking can really benefit women in the sector
Authors: Glynn Davis, Mat Sloan and Ann Elliott

Attracting younger consumers to alcohol in a more adult way by Glynn Davis

Whenever I have beer I let my two children take a sip and I then ask them what they think of it. Regardless of the style of beer I give them – from the palest lager to the darkest stouts – their response is always the same: “It tastes like beer.” When I then ask them if they like it, the same answer always comes back, a unanimous “no”. 

This is to be expected because it invariably tastes too bitter for their young palates. Actually there was one exception – Bacchus Kriek (cherry) beer, which they consumed rather too quickly for my liking and so I tend not to furnish them with that style very often (they are only eight and ten after all). This is an educational process and liking a beer too much at this stage is not really the intention.

My children’s reaction to beer is clearly not unusual. Beer has always been bitter and a taste that has had to be acquired. During my youth the gateway alcoholic drink was Bulmer’s Woodpecker cider, simply because it was the sweetest thing on the market and so was consumed before the switch was invariably made to downing pints of bitter.

In the years since my introduction to alcohol things have changed dramatically. Myriad sweeter drinks have appeared – notably alcopops as well as a plethora of fruit ciders – that have all been used as an enticer for young people to enter the alcohol category. It’s only a short step from Coke to Kopparberg.

There have also been numerous gimmicky products launched, which seem to be reaching some sort of nadir in my opinion. Pops alcoholic popsicles are something new to me. Apparently, they are iced lollies in four flavours – Frosé, Bellini, Classic Champagne and alcohol-free strawberry and mint. The latter sounds rather like a standard lolly to me or am I missing something? In this case it really is only a short step from a Fab to a Bellini Popsicle. Equally odd to me are wine slushies, from E and J Gallo Winery. 

The sole objective of these products is to attract younger consumers into drinking alcohol – or more specifically in this case, wine, because there is recognition in the industry that hard work is required to draw in younger people. It seems there is an almost desperate desire to bring them into the category with these child-like products because the alcohol industry is fighting a trend of these younger people shunning drinking. 

Data from the Office for National Statistics have shown fewer than half of young people had reported drinking at all in the past week compared with 66% of those aged 45 to 64. And the number giving up drinking altogether has risen by 32% on a decade ago. Part of this is being put down to health reasons and also a desire to not be rebellious like their parents who might well have been on the lash in the midst of the lad and ladette cultural phenomenon. This seems rather strange to me and worrying for society because rebellion – in its non-violent forms – contributes to change being made in wider culture and potentially politics. Sat at home sipping a juice while on social media does not sound overly positive for society to me. 

There is in fact a general attempt by British drinkers to reduce their intake of alcohol. Recent figures from Harris Interactive found as many as 41% of people stated they are actively trying to drink less, up from 33% a year ago. On the face of it this is all rather worrying for the drinks industry but I reckon we can take some of it with a pinch of salt.

The younger grouping who might not have had a drink in the past week are so much more prone to binge drinking so who’s to say they are not still raking up the units. And these people also have a willingness to consume premium products so volumes might be down but spending could be holding up – or even increasing. And as for those older consumers who suggested they are looking to reduce their intake – what they say and what they do are invariably two completely different things.

How else could we explain that amid all this supposed abstinence sales of most categories of alcohol (lager, ale, spirits, and sparkling wine included) have showed increases, according to Nielsen, for the year to 8 October? I’d argue the drinks industry is in sufficiently rude health to have a beer, lighten up, and cut the desperate launches of silly products such as popsicles and wine slushies. Kriek beer aside, it is surely much better to let younger consumers come to the alcohol category in a much more adult way.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

How operators can avoid making Orderella’s mistakes by Mat Sloan

No one revels in the failure of a new technology in UK hospitality – particularly one that was once hailed the saviour of the British pub. Orderella’s premise was simple – beat the queues by letting your phone do the ordering work for you at the touch of a button. But the company has had to call time on operations after accruing £2m of losses. 
 
Whereas the app’s goal was to offer simple Uber-like convenience to users at their tables, the behind-the-scenes reality is likely a very different story. Vast complexity exists when “external” payment apps must harmonise with existing payment systems and operations. Added to that, the app itself must be easy to sign up to, reliable, bug-free and not attract a service charge to appear attractive to consumers and, crucially, be habit-forming. The challenges for an app such as Orderella to succeed were two-fold – operational and customer-led.
 
The operational challenges include:
 – Constantly changing menus (new drinks, menu items and prices) means the app would constantly need to be updated with the changes, as well as keeping track of promotions. Added to that there are the challenges of drinks that are out of stock.
– In many cases it would require a second back-end system (given it accepts payments), so staff might need to enter the order into the till themselves (as if someone had physically ordered at the bar). This can also lead to a degree of employee resistance and process inefficiency.
 
The customer challenges include:
– Downloading the app, paying for it, setting up details – the process is a perceived hassle (“by the time I have downloaded it I could have picked up the first round of drinks”). 
– Some of the reviews of the app itself talk about staff not understanding or being aware of the app. With high staff turnover this problem would inevitably persist on most estates.
– Venues could potentially not accept it so it doesn’t become a habit because of its ad hoc usage (versus, say, more universal contactless payment that has fast become ubiquitous).
 
While this mixture of proposition challenges have likely led to Orderella’s failure, in a nation driven by convenience, I believe there is still real potential in the market place – including for those customers with physical disabilities who could be served, hassle-free, direct at their table.
 
By taking a look at the best-in-class operators that lead the way in this space, you can see where that potential lies. JD Wetherspoon (full estate), McDonald’s (currently trialling) and, purely from a payment perspective, Flypay (which works with many casual dining players), all offer a seamless experience through their apps.
 
Take Wetherspoon’s, for example. Its app works well for the following reasons:
– It’s a free “in-house” branded app that draws on and builds immediate trust from consumers. A trust for the brand equals trust for the app.
– There’s never a service charge so the experience is just like ordering at the bar.
– It’s fully integrated into operations (all staff would be trained on it and back-end systems harmonised as if ordered at the bar).
– There’s a genuine consumer benefit, which makes it ideal if you’re dining alone and don’t want to lose the table or perhaps leave a young family. This isn’t unique to Wetherspoon’s of course but the app does rather cleverly mention these.
 
Perhaps the scale of the task was too ambitious for an app such as Orderella. Or maybe the consumer problem it sought to solve was not actually that big in the first instance (other than on a busy Saturday night)? Having said that, as the Wetherspoon example shows, there’s certainly an opportunity for a middle ground. Something that starts small and focused – perhaps regionally – and proves itself in a defined area first, ironing out operational niggles before expansion.
 
While queuing is still seen as a British pursuit (Wimbledon is just around the corner, as if we needed reminding!), enjoying a round of drinks in a beer garden, hassle-free, can surely only enhance the great British pub experience.
Mat Sloan is a director of Morar HPI

How networking can really benefit women in the sector by Ann Elliott

Earlier this week I held our bi-annual lunch for leading women in our sector. As usual we had an amazing mix of women there and a fantastic speaker, Sue Langley OBE, who was recommended by Roger Whiteside. Both Roger and Sue are members of The Women’s Business Council, which has a truly awesome list of members (www.womensbusinesscouncil.co.uk). 

Sue is currently non-executive chairman of AJ Gallagher UK, non-executive director of UK Asset Resolution and the lead non-executive director for the Home Office (she had some great stories to tell about that role!). She is a founding member of the government’s Women’s Business Council and a vice-president of the Insurance Institute of London (IIL). She is a recipient of the IIL President’s Award, the FS Women in the City Achievement Award and was awarded an OBE for services to women in business. 

Her speech was totally inspirational, focusing on the virtues of resilience, impact and confidence that she believes women need to thrive and succeed in the business world. One of her favourite sayings, from her father, is: “Well, how hard can that be?” This phrase has served her well. It has made her ask for work (and then even more work) to move her ahead of others who were not as proactive. It’s made her ask for roles no one may have considered her for. It’s meant she has networked with some extraordinary people who have asked her to take on positions she wouldn’t naturally have considered. She mentors 17 women in various industries and coaches them in the same way.

One attendee emailed me to say: “A fabulous venue, great group of female influencers and engaging conversations. I have to say, the best and most relaxed networking event I have ever attended. Thank you for adding me to the list and introducing me to this fabulous group of women.” Another said: “It’s the first time I’ve attended and what struck me was how relaxed, safe and empowering the room was, felt very different with only women. No real agendas but a genuine interest from everyone to chat and meet new friends/acquaintances.” It’s always great to think a small lunch can potentially make a difference to those who came along.

There are of course a number of women who couldn’t come along for one reason or another. There are no doubt women who think the lunch might be too feminist, too assertive or too anti-male for them but that’s just not the case. Instead the senior women there (in status, not age) are incredibly willing to share their experiences and help others. They don’t see men as the enemy – they simply see other women like them as potential friends.

There are others who simply hate the thought of networking. They find the very concept terrifying – the moment they walk into a room full of strangers, they want to walk back out again. To them I would say, have a good talk to yourself before you go in the room, have a positive attitude and simply be interested in others. You don’t have to say anything about yourself – you just have to let others talk. It’s not hard and it’s not frightening.

There are of course women who always say they are going to come along but cancel at the last minute. Mercifully they are very few. To them I would say buy a book called “Get Your Sh*t Together” and take its advice. Women do things differently to men – not better, not worse. There are numerous studies that show having women on a board really makes a positive difference on business performance. The more we can help other women, the better for all of us in the sector.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of Elliotts, the leading integrated marketing agency in the hospitality and leisure sector – www.elliottsagency.com 

 
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