Off-trade On-trade

Christmas on-trade hits high notes

Pubs around the country report having had an upbeat Christmas this year with sales up on those for last year.


Pubs around the country report having had an upbeat Christmas this year with sales up on those for last year.

Pubs around the country report having had an upbeat Christmas this year with sales up on those for last year.

The Licensed Vintners Association enjoyed a “really strong” Christmas in Dublin this year.

“The way it fell this year worked out well for both city and suburbs,” explained LVA Chief Executive Donall O’Keeffe, “As usual, it’s hard to put a number of it, but certainly low to mid-single-digit growth on the previous December which was a strong Christmas too. Most publicans seem pretty satisfied with trade,” he concluded.

Outside Dublin, Vintners Federation of Ireland Chief Executive Padraig Cribben told Drinks Industry Ireland, “The feedback from members has been generally quite positive. Activity was somewhat late starting but was good and steady when it did. The dates seemed to fall well and there was a reasonably extended trading period.

“As always the sentiment wasn’t universal but, in the main, satisfactory,” he added.

Drinks Industry Ireland spoke with Kevin Quinn in Sligo’s Embassy Rooms who reported happy Christmas trade by-and-large.

The Embassy Rooms comprises a complex of bars and restaurants including Lola Montez nightclub, The Belfry gastropub & sports bar, Kennedy’s, the Bourbon cocktail bar and The Embassy Steakhouse.

“The general feel on the ground in Sligo – not just in the licensed trade – was that Christmas was strong enough,” said Kevin, “We noticed an uplift in parties in the restaurants and bars and this started a week or two earlier – from the start of December at the weekends there was a Christmas party vibe and a bit of a lift with the late night bar as a result”.

Falling in the middle of the week (as was the case last year) both the weekend before Christmas and the weekend after it saw takings up a couple of percent over those two weeks, he added.

“The big nights for us were the 23rd, 26th and 31st of December. All were strong nights but the 31st was the first time that we filled the nightclub on New Year’s Eve since the turn of the Millennium (albeit through free passes handed out through the late night bar, the sports bar and the restaurant) so it took 20 years to recover.”

As might be expected, by the weekend following New Year that Christmas vibe had disappeared, “… but it was not as quiet as we’d expected it to be either although it was still quiet”.

Not too far away in Letterkenny Mark Crossan of Pulse & Voodoo nightclubs stated that business was definitely up on last year.

“There was no frost, no snow and no storms” he commented, “So we can’t complain at all – it was one of the better Christmases with the beer reps all saying the same.”

However he did report that while November had not been good, January “has not been too bad at all so far”.

But in the off-trade, supermarket shoppers spent €10.5 million less on alcohol in the run-up to Christmas 2019 compared with the year before, down 6%, according to Kantar Worldpanel.

Off-trade Christmas

The Irish grocery market hit a new milestone over the Christmas period, as December sales eclipsed €1 billion for the first time on record. The latest figures from Kantar show that although growth slowed in the 12 weeks to 29 December 2019, the market weathered difficult trading conditions to increase overall sales by 1.5% on last year.

Charlotte Scott, Kantar’s Consumer Insight Director, described it as a “relatively sober Christmas” as sales of alcohol dropped by €10.5 million with shoppers seeking out non-alcoholic options.

The retail analyst’s figures for Q4 2019 show consumer spend on beer down 5.3% and on wine it was down 2.2%. However multiples Supervalu and Dunnes Stores reported alcohol sales up by 3.9% and 0.7% respectively.

“It suggests people weren’t quite as indulgent this Christmas and maybe weren’t hosting as much,” she told the Irish Times recently, “Soft drinks were up, so people were potentially switching to non-alcoholic options.”

Soft drinks sales rose by 2.7% as shoppers turned to alternative, alcohol-free options.

There appears to be a shift in shopping behaviour as Irish consumers opt to spend less on alcohol and more on NoLo products agreed Karen Mooney, Nielsen’s Ireland Market Leader, which could be a reflection on wellness trends.  

“Alternatively, Irish consumers may have shifted spend in other areas” she added.

Figures from Nielsen indicate that sales of NoLo beer jumped by 27.2% during the Christmas period, reflecting this trend and valuing the market at €795,000 in the last four weeks to 29th December.

However the National Off-Licence Association suggests that the figures are not indicative of people drinking less but are instead the result of heavily discounted alcohol products in supermarkets.

The Irish Times reported NOffLA’s Government Affairs Director Evelyn Jones as stating, “We have seen a sharp rise in the value of discounts offered by supermarkets during key holiday periods, with Christmas being a particular flash point.

“It is deeply disappointing that Government has failed to commence Minimum Unit Pricing to date.”

Nielsen also reveals that alcohol – usually an area of strong growth over the Christmas period – saw a decline of 2.9%, with sparkling wine and Champagne experiencing the biggest decline of 11.3% at a time when grocery sales here jumped €32.5 million to hit the €1.2 billion mark over the four weeks to 29th December. Nielsen reports that total beer sales value also declined over the four-week period in the ale (down 2.6%), lager (down 3.3%), cider (down 4.5%) and stout (down 6.8%) sectors.

Only whiskey witnessed a sales increase of 4.3%, the only product within the spirits category in which sales grew, whilst gin, which experienced 29% growth in 2018, fell by 0.3%.

Nevertheless, Nielsen reports that the average household purchased 10 litres of beer and three litres of wine for the festive dinner.


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