E xclusive research from NOP shows wide acceptance of alcopops. During April and the first two weeks of May, a fifth of UK adults aged over 18 had drunk at least one alcopop. This shows a rise of over a third in the number of consumers, compared with the NOP Christmas drinks survey conducted in January 1997. Although the high temperatures in April may have boosted the market, the trade regards Christmas as the peak-time for sales of all alcoholic drinks. This increase in consumers seems to define the market as a growth sector in the usually static alcoholic drinks market.
Unsurprisingly, the market is fuelled by young drinkers. A third of all adult consumers are aged between 18 and 24, another third between 25 and 34, leaving the remainder scattered fairly thinly among the over-35s. Consumption centres in the youngest age group: 55 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds drank alcopops at least once in the past six weeks, compared with 37 per cent of 25- to 34-year-olds, and only one in ten of the over-35s.
Alcopops have made considerably more impact in the North and the Midlands than in the South: 24 per cent of over-18s in the former regions are alcopop drinkers compared with 16 per cent in the South. There are more drinkers in the C1C2 social classes than at the extreme ends of the scale, although this is probably linked to the age of drinkers rather than to socio-economic factors. But there is virtually no difference in alcopops’ appeal to men and women, although the highest single rate of drinking – 58 per cent – is among under-25-year-old women.
Under-25-year-olds are the most significant category of drinkers in both the on-trade and in the home. But the 25 to 34 age group, especially women, is beginning to catch up. It now contributes as many home drinkers as the under-25s. Members of the youngest group, however, are twice as likely as any other to have drunk alcopops at a party.
A quarter of adult buyers and drinkers are very occasional consumers, buying one or two bottles in the past six weeks. Roughly the same number have bought between three and five bottles, and the third quartile bought between six and 15. Sixteen per cent estimated that they had bought or drunk at least 16 bottles.
Volume consumption reflects the general bias of the market towards young drinkers.
Forty-four per cent of under-35s fall into the light user category, having bought under six bottles in the past six weeks, compared with 54 per cent of the over-35s. Eighteen- to 24-year-olds make up nearly half of all the very heavy – 16 or more bottles – drinkers. Two-thirds of northern buyers bought over five bottles, compared with just under half in the southern market.
Spontaneous advertising awareness
Given the relatively small number of drinkers, advertising awareness for alcopops is high. Just over half of all adults could name at least one brand they remembered seeing advertised in the past six weeks, rising to three-quarters of people under-25 and seven out of ten 25- to 34-year-olds. Thirty-five per cent of all adults recalled one ad, 13 per cent two ads and five per cent three or more ads.
Hooper’s Hooch, made by Bass, out-performs all others in ad recall. Nearly half of all adults named Hooper’s ads. Two Dogs (Merrydown) was the only other brand to score over ten per cent.
Buyers and drinkers had high ad awareness. Four out of five recalled at least one brand, and twice as many drinkers as non-drinkers named two or three brands. The higher awareness was particularly significant for the smaller brands, which generally doubled their recall among consumers. Two Dogs’ awareness was 22 per cent of drinkers, Shott’s (Whitbread) seven per cent. Martini Metz quadruples to eight per cent, and Woody’s to five per cent of drinkers.
The market is dominated by Hooper’s Hooch. Seventy per cent of buyers and drinkers bought only one brand in the previous six weeks, 14 per cent bought two, and only four per cent bought three or more. Women aged 18 to 24 are the most likely to drink more than one brand: nearly half of them drink two or more alcopops.
Seven out of ten drinkers have bought Hooper’s Hooch in the past six weeks, rising to nearly nine out of ten young female drinkers. Two Dogs was bought by seven per cent of drinkers, Shott’s by six per cent, and Woody’s (Beverage Brands) by five per cent. None of the other ten brands mentioned achieved over three per cent penetration.
Reasons for choosing a brand
The reasons for choice of brand reverse the usual bias of younger consumers towards greater experimentation and susceptibility to marketing. In this market, more young drinkers – 65 per cent – chose a brand because “it is one of the ones I always buy”, compared with 44 per cent of older consumers, demonstrating their longer exposure to the market.
Fifty-three per cent of drinkers bought a brand “because someone I know told me it was good”. Given the popularity of alcopops in pubs and at parties, this sort of recommendation is likely to lead to immediate trial. Recommendation is less influential among the young-est drinkers and highest among the over-35-year-olds, reinforcing the trend to market expansion outside the original core of young drinkers.
Advertising influenced 39 per cent of drinkers; television was acknowledged by 21 per cent, posters by 18 per cent and newspapers and magazines by 15 per cent. Poster advertising had more impact with the under-25s than other age groups; television was nearly twice as effective with the 25- to 34-year-olds as with the youngest consumers.
Although two-thirds of drinkers had chosen an alcopop “to try something new or different”, given the predominance of one brand in the market at the moment, this probably reflects experimentation with the product field, rather than with different brands. The impact of eye-catching packaging, which influenced 30 per cent of drinkers, reinforces trial at the moment of selection, in the pub and the supermarket. Overall, the interest in new or different tastes augurs well for the growth of the market, especially for the less well-known brands.