Pub sector offers fresh promise for distributors

Distributors may want to look more closely at the pub sector, as its food offering is booming.

Figures from research company, the NPD Group, show that pubs are increasingly more a place for eating and less a venue for ‘a quick pint’.

Half of the British population now visits a pub at least once per month. This is a higher visitor measure than quick service burger restaurants (45%) or coffee shops (44%). Pubs have been particularly successful at boosting breakfast business. Visits to pubs at breakfast have grown by 128%, up from 44m for the year ending December 2008 to 100m during the year ending December 2014.

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New catering equipment could be vital if the figures continue to grow at their current rate, with pubs running promotions to encourage ‘food-led’ repeat business. For the year ending December 2014, meal deals including a beverage were used in 18% of all food-led pub visits (in which food is purchased). This is up from 15% for the year ending December 2008.

Creating a ‘casual dining’ setting to attract families for this trial-and-repeat strategy has proved successful for many chains. They are creating environments that successfully fill the gap between traditional ‘full service’ restaurants with waiter or waitress service, and the most popular fast food chains.

The growing importance of many pubs as a place to eat means for the year ending December 2014 less than one in 10 pub visits (8.4%) exclusively featured beverages. This is down on the year ending December 2008, when around one in eight (12%) of pub visits were exclusively for drinks.

However, it is not all positive news. At the same time, Britons are visiting pubs less frequently than 7 years ago. British consumers went to a pub on average of 3.9 times per month in 2008 but this is now down to 3.5 times per month in 2014. This means the average Briton now goes to the pub once every 8.6 days, compared to once every 7.7 days in 2008. For the pub industry, this means 47m fewer visits in the year ending December 2014 than during 2008.

Alcohol is still important in pubs and there were 456m visits to British pubs where alcohol was purchased for the year ending December 2014. But alcohol consumption in pubs has declined in recent years. Servings of alcohol in pubs are down 28% since 2008, while consumption of hot beverages and soft drinks in pubs is up (+11.4% and +6% respectively).

“Pubs are learning more and more that food is the gateway to commercial success,” said Jack MacIntyre, NPD Group senior account manager, foodservice UK. “Chain-led pubs pull in the customers by appealing to a range of consumer motivations – from ‘quick drink’ to ‘family meal’. The striking increase in breakfast visits to pubs over recent years shows how well pubs have diversified into a very food-led occasion. Breakfast is an area in which pubs at one time had a zero presence.

“But they have done so well with food that they now find themselves competing directly with the top foodservice players. So pubs have to respond to the fast-moving, innovative and growth-oriented quick service food concepts that are doing so well on Britain’s high streets. Pubs need to keep on adapting so they offer a great experience, with a great range, at a great price.”

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