Beer? What’s the occasion?

Drinks manufacturers are targeting special occasions, in the belief that consumers will be feeling self-indulgent and willing to spend more money

Consumers are increasingly rejecting mass-market goods and demanding products that fit their lifestyles. A Datamonitor study on “occasion drinking” finds that targeting a particular event adds a useful dimension of “where” and “when”. Associating a drink with a particular occasion is beneficial as it makes the brand more obviously relevant to consumers’ wants.

Analysis of product development in the alcoholic drinks market reveals that meals, parties and drinking for leisure are key occasions targeted by manufacturers. In many cases, occasion targeting will expose the product to an entirely new audience, which can be lucrative in itself. Datamonitor’s research highlights that targeting occasions will also tap into consumers’ desire for self-indulgent consumption, which is good for both sales and image since indulgence is associated with premium brands.

For large brands, creating different formats to suit different occasions can be a way of increasing sales. But for smaller brands or new entrants to the market, occasion-specific targeting could be a way to find a niche in the market.

Datamonitor believes that a major force behind the growth of occasion targeting is the emergence of the “debits and credits” lifestyle system, where consumers balance periods of fun and indulgence with periods of discipline and health. Manufacturers are trying to tap into this pattern by targeting consumers during their moments of indulgence.

Another major force is the changing drinking habits of consumers. They have abandoned their loyalties to single brands and now vary what they drink depending on the time and place. Datamonitor’s research suggests this new trend has emerged in response to consumers’ desire to identify themselves with a combination of brand identities rather than conforming to a single product’s image.

The alcoholic drinks’ consumer base itself is changing. Datamonitor has found that female consumption growth far exceeds that for males, and in many cases shows positive growth in markets which are declining overall. Many manufacturers have already launched products specifically targeting women – with mixed success – and many large brands have modified their marketing in order to appeal to both sexes.

Drinking among the young is also growing quickly. New on-trade establishments, such as themed bars and nightclubs, are emerging as increasingly important channels, in terms of volume sales and marketing communication for reaching this group.

Brands such as Stella Artois and Hoegaarden are also trying to position beer as a meal accompaniment by launching larger “meal-sized” bottles. Marketers have found that positioning beer as a meal accompaniment in a shareable, one-litre bottle, is a good way to target female drinkers.

The success of restaurants such as Belgo in London highlights the fact that speciality beers are increasingly popular as an accompaniment to meals. Datamonitor’s research highlights Cobra as one example of a beer positioned in this way. Cobra was launched as a beer to accompany curry, capitalising on the British love of Indian food. Marketing for the product never focused on the inherent qualities of the product as a standalone beer – the focus was on its suitability with food. The strategy followed by Cobra is an example of “niche” strategy, targeting a particular occasion to enter the wider market.

The trend towards purchasing beer in larger pack sizes has grown as social drinking moves from on-trade establishments into homes. Carling, among others, is capitalising on this trend by targeting occasions such as parties. Carling’s kegs are basically improved versions of the “Party Sevens” that were popular at house parties in the Seventies. Such products try to recreate the on-trade experience for home consumption.

In the face of competition from at-home drinking, pubs and bars are rejuvenating the image of on-trade establishments. This has been partially driven by the need to justify high on-trade drinks prices. The result has been the development of “enhanced” on-trade drinking establishments, such as themed outlets.

Drinking games are being used in on-trade outlets to capitalise on the “group” atmosphere. Kleiner Feiglings vodka is an example – each bottle is numbered, so after drinking the product a range of games can be played on the basis of having a certain number at the bottom of the bottle.

The common denominator of all the occasions being targeted by alcohol manufacturers is that they are seen by consumers as being “special” occasions, implying consumers are likely to be in a self-indulgent mood. Datamonitor believes that this makes occasion-specific targeting potentially very lucrative because of the higher volumes consumed and the higher margins made on premium drinks.

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