Rarely a day goes by without alcohol being the subject of a news story in the national newspapers. It could be about the middle classes indulging in too much wine, or the grocery multiples being slammed for selling alcohol at too low a price. But whatever the story nothing seems to scupper the UK consumer’s love of a tipple or two, which is good news for forecourts with off licences.

According to Him’s Convenience Tracking Programme 2008 (forecourt average) figures, which include data from BP, Esso, Total Snack & Shop, Jet, Spar, Londis and Budgens among others, alcohol is important to a forecourt store’s offer but more could be done to promote it.

Marketing manager Georgina Wild explains: "In our most recent survey we found that 5% of shoppers had intended to buy alcohol "here today" at that particular forecourt shop and 6% had actually bought it. So 1% were impulse purchases. What we have to ask is what we can do to increase those impulse purchases. Things like creating more theatre in store and promoting alcohol in the early evening by moving displays to nearer the till, perhaps."

Alcohol as a gift also needs to be considered, as Wild says 4% of shoppers surveyed said they had bought wine or champagne as a present for someone. "The question here is whether forecourt shops provide things like gift boxes, tags and cards?"

As for consumption:

? 94% of those surveyed said they would drink the alcohol they bought at the forecourt at home, 6% said at a friend’s house.

? 63% said the alcohol they’d purchased would be drunk by them, 37% said with friends, 21% said with their partner.

? 5% said they would start to drink the alcohol they purchased as soon as they got to their destination, 21% said within two hours, 60% said later that day.

? 76% of shoppers said they intended to buy chilled lager, 25% said they intended to buy lager at room temperature.

Says Wild: "These last figures demonstrate the importance of offering chilled alcohol in store."

Beverage Brands’ marketing director, Karen Salters, adds: "The availability of chilled product is absolutely essential and cannot be understated. For many impulse purchasers, if it’s not on sale at the right temperature, then it might as well not be on sale at all. This is true all year round, but particularly so in the summer."

Salters continues: "Forecourts really need to inform consumers about their alcohol offerings. In the landscape of British retailing, licensed forecourts are still relatively new, so consumers need educating or, at the very least, reminding that such purchases can be made both quickly and conveniently at the forecourt. Obviously, permanent store signage has a key role but, like many fixed messages, it can get over-looked over time. This is why it is so important for forecourts to use their available space to maximise pos display opportunities. This pos not only promotes the brand and offer in question, but also informs shoppers that the retailer is licensed."

== Under-age test purchases ==

An off licence may be good for business but unfortunately it does not come completely headache-free. As an age-restricted item, it is important that alcohol does not get into the wrong (young!) hands. And in an effort to prevent this from happening, the authorities often send under-age people into stores to attempt to purchase alcohol.

Robert Botkai, partner and head of commercial property and licensing at law firm Winckworth Sherwood, says a failed test purchase is likely to have serious consequences for a number of parties and the authorities may seek to prosecute.

He warns: "The premises licence could be reviewed, and steps open to the Licensing Authority on review include suspension or revocation. The authorities may elect to prosecute the cashier or the personal licence holder who has authorised the cashier to sell alcohol. Some argue that, in addition, the owner of the alcohol (this may or may not be the premises licence holder) may be prosecuted," explains Botkai.

However, if a retailer is charged with an underage sale as a result of the action of another person (normally the cashier) a defence of due diligence may be available.

Says Botkai: "Operators must ensure that they will be able to successfully argue that they have exercised all due diligence. Training procedures must be followed and implemented. All cashiers must be properly trained - particularly to insist on proof of age - and this training must be refreshed on a regular basis. Clear records must be kept, signage must be in place, refusal logs completed and checked. Cashiers must be reminded continually of their responsibilities including the legal and social reasons why sales to underage persons must be avoided. Cashiers should be aware of any licence conditions and they must be able to explain how they have been authorised to sell alcohol."

However, Botkai accepts that even with the best training, a test purchase failure may occur. "Operators should have in place a procedure that they follow immediately on becoming aware of the failure. This can be vital during negotiations with officers or at a review hearing."

In addition, a premises licence holder can be charged with the offence of persistently selling alcohol to underage persons. At the moment this means three such sales in a three-month period, but the government is looking to change this to two. There is no due diligence defence for this.

But before you get to the problem of test purchasing, for some retailers there is still a struggle to get an off licence in the first place.

"Is a licensing officer insisting that you satisfy him that the store is not primarily a garage?" asks Botkai.

He says that the government’s own guidance to licensing officers states that it is for the licensing authority to decide whether to grant the licence or defer granting the licence until the primary use issue is resolved to its satisfaction.

Botkai says Winckworth Sherwood has successfully argued that this guidance is incorrect. "The law provides that a licence application must be granted if there are no relevant representations. The Licensing Authority cannot allow the government’s guidance to supersede statute. If an application is rejected or deferred on the basis of primary use, there is no appeal as there was no legal right to reject or defer it in the first place," he explains. It is important to be aware that once a licence is granted, it will be illegal to sell alcohol if the primary use of the store is that of a garage. This applies to all licensed petrol forecourt stores.

Botkai recommends that retailers get legal advice before submitting an application for a new licence as many licensing officers will be reluctant to stray away from the guidance. "Care should also be taken with regard to the wording of licence conditions. Officers often seek conditions not relevant to the licence application and use the application as an excuse to impose restrictions on the store. Such conditions should be resisted."

He adds that his licensing team is constantly in negotiation with officers all over England and Wales with a view to securing licences for petrol forecourt stores with appropriate and reasonable conditions.


=== Brand activity ===

* Premium lager brand Stella Artois is this month taking to the skies via sponsorship of an airship. The Stella-branded airship will take off on July 10 for six weeks of flights. These can be booked at [http://www.staroverlondon.co.uk] - prices start at £180 for a 30-minute trip.

InBev UK marketing director, Andreas Hilger, says the activity reinforces the brand’s ’Pass on Something Good’ ad campaign by providing consumers with the opportunity to enjoy a pioneering experience that will enhance their relationship with Stella Artois in the long term.

* Diageo Great Britain is introducing a new bottle and outer casing design for Baileys Original Irish Cream Liqueur, Baileys with a hint of Mint Chocolate and Baileys with a hint of Crème Caramel. There is also a £1.2m marketing campaign which promotes Baileys as a summer drink.

* Bell’s is celebrating its 30th year as the UK’s number one blended Scotch whisky (AC Nielsen figures) with the launch of Bell’s Original. This updated blend will replace the current eight-year-old blend and will be available from September. Rrp is £13.84 for a 70cl bottle.

* WKD will be backed by cinema advertising from this month until December. In addition, new bottle labels have a strengthened logo with more emphasis on the flavour. New four- and 12-pack outers have also been introduced.

* Pimms is currently backed by a £5.1m national marketing campaign. Activity includes TV and press advertising, PR and events, as well as national sampling. In recent years, marketing activity for Pimm’s has been targeted at England and Wales. This year, for the first time, the campaign will have a nationwide focus.

* Diageo Great Britain’s £1.4m ’Refreshing Tastes for Long Summer Days’ campaign aims to help retailers boost both their spirits and mixer sales. The company tested the campaign in a ’top three’ UK grocer in 2007 and despite the poor weather, a 13% uplift year-on-year was achieved. The 2008 activity includes recipe guides, in-store pos and sampling.


=== Summer is cider time ===

Summer is an important time for cider with more than 25% of category volume sold during this time.

Gaymer Cider Company managing director, John Mills, says more people are drinking cider than ever before, which means it should be given more space in store. "In 2007, according to AC Nielsen, off-trade sales increased 26%. And compared to 2006, there is now a very broad range of consumers shopping in the independent sector with more ABC1s and younger consumers purchasing cider than ever before. There is therefore a clear opportunity for ’over-ice’ brands such as Gaymers Original, whose target consumers are young adults seeking premium brands."

He reckons the majority of forecourt shoppers will be buying cider for a specific occasion, such as a dinner party at home or when meeting friends, so chilling cider and having a premium offering is key to maximising sales.

He says forecourt sales tend to be more premium than those in most independent retailers, so their cider range should include premium (such as Addlestones), bottled ’over-ice’ (such as Gaymers Original) and mainstream (such as Olde English).

Mills believes that forecourts are often perceived as more expensive by consumers so it is important to have clear promotional communication.

"At this time of year, multipacks will sell well so should be placed in prominent positions in store. Limited offers such as free snacks with purchases of cider, as well as value packs and promotions will encourage bulk purchases and increase sales. Pos and free-standing display units are key to attracting new and existing category shoppers. Off-shelf display units can add approximately 100% additional sales value to the retailer."