Pubs and bars hit back at New Year health campaigns with ‘Try January’ push

The bar and pub industry is hitting back at January abstinence campaigns by encouraging people to try new food and drink items instead of stop drinking during a season when alcohol sales consistently drop.

“Try January”, which applies to both alcohol and food, is a response to Alcohol Concern and Public Health England’s “Dry January” campaign, an annual effort to challenge people to give up alcohol for the entire month.

The initiative was kicked off by the cocktail bar chain Be At One who saw the need to try something different to get people into bars during the slow time of year.

Sarah Swaysland, marketing manager for Be At One, told Marketing Week: “With everything going on about Dry January and the government backing it, we thought we’d flip it and do ‘Try January’.”

The campaign began as an effort to promote the bar’s new cocktail menu, which features lower ABV cocktails with “better-for-you” ingredients such as the Svenska Detox featuring spinach and kale.

The chain is also promoting a feature of its smartphone app called Be Appventurous, which allows guests to receive a random cocktail suggestion that they can get on offer for £5 in order to target wallet-conscious consumers in January.

Swaysland says the entire pub and bar industry is now behind the campaign, as UK beer sales consistently drop at the start of the year according to data from the British Beer and Pub Association. The last quarter of 2013 saw 7.4 million barrels sold, dropping to 5.5 million in the first quarter of 2014.

“Other operators in the sector are signing up and piggybacking onto the promotion, which is encouraging people to try new things rather than go cold turkey,” she says.

Young’s Pubs, Meat Liquor, The Craft Beer Company and Dark Star Brewing Company are among those who have joined the campaign in an attempt to lift sales.

The initiative has also been backed by trade magazine The Publican’s Morning Advertiser which has urged bar operators to promote the campaign through the hashtag #TryJanuary.

In December, Public Health England teamed up with Alcohol Concern to launch a £500,000 digital, press and radio campaign for the 2015 Dry January effort.

Cancer Research UK is also encouraging people to give up alcohol for January and raise money for the charity through their “Dryathalon” campaign.

Alcohol Concern had no direct response to the Try January campaign, but in an open letter to pubs asked them to cooperate.

“During the month’s holiday from booze, we urge people to think about their drinking and reflect on whether they have been drinking too much but to carry on with a normal social life,” the statement says. “In fact, we positively encourage people to go to the pub, enjoy themselves but choose non alcoholic beverages.”

However, Swaysland says the idea of Try January is to encourage people to practice moderation rather than stop drinking altogether.

“It’s all about responsible drinking and knowing your limits,” she says. “If you drink in moderation, you should be OK to enjoy drinking year round.”

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