Nielsen: what to stock for summer

We are heading towards the longest day of the year and I hope the sun continues to shine. We’ve had a mixed bag of weather so far and we know all too well that this can either boost or play havoc with alcohol sales. Let’s look at how the weather has impacted sales so far and predict what we can expect. 

April was unseasonably hot, with temperatures peaking at more than 28°C in many areas of the country. This was good news for alcohol sales. The week ending April 21 was the hottest of the year so far, with beer sales reaching £86.6 million, some £1.2 million more than in Easter, previously its biggest week. We saw the same thing in cider with sales reaching £24.1 million during the hottest week, compared with £19.1 million over Easter week. Interestingly, neither spirits nor wine showed a spike in sales. 

The heatwave continued into May with the early bank holiday being the hottest on record. Over the two weeks surrounding that bank holiday, total off-trade alcohol sales hit £627 million, up by 5.5% compared with the same period last year, putting it ahead of year-to-date growth of 4.8%. Again, sales of beer and cider were boosted to a much higher degree than spirits and wine. When the sun shines, British shoppers reach for long, chilled drinks. 

But not all beers are equal. Sales of lager have been growing steadily, with nearly every week in 2018 performing ahead of last year, and the biggest driver of this is down to the weather. The beers which show the biggest sales response to warm weather are those you might turn to when you’re on holiday in a hot country, not ales or stouts. With the 2018 football World Cup rapidly approaching, beer, especially lager, will continue to be important over the summer. 

While beer and cider are the forerunners, some spirits do see a sales boost when the sun’s out. Gin has seen relentless growth over the past two years and the warm April week and early May bank holiday registered some of the highest weekly sales figures of the year, outside of Mother’s Day and Easter. Unsurprisingly, tonic water shows a similar pattern, as do premixed cans of spirits and mixers. The same is true for some of the lower-alcohol spirits categories, such as speciality drinks, whereas dark spirits, such as rum, brandy and whisky, don’t see any benefit. 

So, what do shops selling alcohol need to do to maximise sales? Keep an eye on the weather forecast. Long alcoholic drinks are clearly important over the summer, especially when the sun shines. Ensure shelves are well-stocked, particularly with beers, ciders and premixed drinks, selling from chiller cabinets wherever possible to optimise sales for consumption in the near future. In spirits, the lighter products are likely to sell well gin – not forgetting tonic water and ice – vodka and some of the lower-alcohol speciality drinks. Remember those who don’t want to drink alcohol, and offer plenty of chilled soft drinks. 

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