Mounting competition in convenience retailing means that forecourts are under increased pressure to rival the range available in traditional c-stores and multiples – and this includes offering alcohol.
But it has been notoriously difficult for petrol stations to secure an off licence, although an increasing number have succeeded in the past few years. The new Licensing Bill is expected to be enacted this month and it is feared that obtaining alcohol licences on forecourts could become more difficult. The Bill is complex but the main provisions are that all businesses that sell alcohol to the public will need a new form of premises licence. In addition, each premises licence will need to name a designated person – a premises supervisor – who will be responsible for alcohol sales. That person must hold a personal licence.
Licensing is currently administered by the licensing justices sitting in a Magistrates Court. In the future, licensing will fall under the remit of local councils. Within the Bill, the main obstacle to forecourts remains unchanged – retailers will still need to satisfy the new Licensing Authority that their premises are not primarily used as a garage.
“There is still a lot of prejudice against the forecourt sector,” says Robert Botkai, partner and head of property and licensing at solicitors Winckworth Sherwood. “We see lots of arguments raised against forecourt stores being allowed to sell alcohol. These range from the theory that alcohol sales in a forecourt store would encourage drink driving, to the question of supervision – eg can someone who is responsible for the supervision of the petrol pumps also supervise the sale of alcohol?”
Winckworth Sherwood has helped at least 600 forecourt stores in England and Wales obtain a liquor licence and it is thought that the sector as a whole may now have close to 1,500 licences. According to Botkai, since the new Bill was published in November last year, there has been a great influx of applications for licences and he advises retailers wanting to sell alcohol to apply now under the current system, which is a known quantity.
Although the Bill is expected to be enacted this month, the two systems will run in tandem for up to six to 12 months. The advice is to lodge applications as soon as possible because the existing system could slow down later in the year.
“The local authorities will have a massive task to effectively re-licence all of their existing licences with premises licences and to licence individual licensees with personal licences,” says Botkai. “It is possible that they will prioritise such matters over and above new applications, and inevitably this will vary from area to area. It is also important to be aware that if you have a licence granted by the licensing justices, you are more or less guaranteed to receive the new premises licence from the new Licensing Authority. You will however have to make application for the new premises licence.”
The new system, which gives local communities a greater voice, will have four key objectives: the prevention of crime and disorder; public safety; the prevention of public nuisance; and the protection of children from harm. If there are no objections to a new application, a licence will be granted without hearing.
“There are more objections to forecourt store applications than to most ordinary off licence applications and there will still be hearings,” explains Botkai. “There is concern within the trade that local councils may be more inclined to side with their local communities and there is therefore the possibility of a greater number of refusals. The problem is we really do not know how councils will react to the applications. Councillors have, of course, been objectors to applications made before the licensing justices.” Botkai also warns that the new law may allow the Licensing Authority to refuse a licence if it considers an area to already be saturated with licensed premises.
SALES ON THE UP
However obstructive local authorities prove to be, sales of alcohol in forecourts are sure to rise. In fact, Harris International Marketing reckons they’ll be 4,000 forecourt shops selling booze by 2005.
For many retailers, such as BP Connect and Total Bonjour, stocking beer, wine and spirits is a great destination pull and has brought fantastic returns. Total, for example, claims its Bonjour sites witness an uplift of four per cent across all categories when alcohol is introduced.
In fact, Total Bonjour has been so successful that its site in Kingston, Surrey won the Best Site with a Licence to Sell Alcohol award in last year’s Forecourt Trader of the Year Awards.
“It is a concept that reflects the demographics of our customers and delivers what they want,” says Iain Cracknell, Bonjour project manager at Total, which has 200 licensed outlets.
“Alcohol has been a key driver of business and we have given it a prime location reflecting its status. Alcohol is growing by 35 per cent in Bonjour outlets and over the recent bank holiday weekend, alcohol sales were up 60 per cent on the previous year.
“We have a more localised network than some other majors: the Bonjour concept has helped attract more local customers who are destination and distress purchase buyers – a perfect fit for alcohol.” Around 45 per cent of alcohol sales come from beer, with wine accounting for 35 per cent, and the remainder coming from spirits and flavoured alcoholic beverages.
“Stella Artois is the most important brand in the alcohol category and the largest beer brand in the forecourt sector,” says Cracknell. “It does incredibly well for us, and we give it the space it deserves, with a full range of packs featuring six SKUs from the 25cl stubby to the one-litre bottle.
“Consumers shopping in forecourts are in a hurry so they look for the reassurance of big brands they know and trust.”
Interbrew UK is continuing to work with multiple retailers to develop the beer category – and has also launched a strong, added-value Stella Artois promotion designed to drive summer business for independent retailers.
David Adams, national account manager at Interbrew UK, says: “Increasingly,
the development of the alcohol category is being driven by multiple operators. We are working with major operators on merch-andising and promotional initiatives. However, we are certainly not ignoring the needs of the independent retailer and we have launched a high-value promotion that is bound to prove popular with forecourt shoppers during the summer.”
He adds: “Consumer communication is a major challenge because our research shows that around 60 per cent of consumers are unaware that alcohol is available on the forecourt – retailers must make them aware of the fact. It is crucial that retailers communicate the message to them through suitable pos.”
BP is using Stella Artois 3D pos to raise consumer awareness of promo-tions. The units – a new concept in the UK – were installed in BP Connect forecourts prior to the peak Christmas period and had an immediate impact on beer sales. They are now being used to promote a summer promotion, which offers a 20x25cl bottle pack of Stella Artois for £9.99.
Adams adds: “This is a convenient pack size of the number one take-home brand that is easy to carry and ideal for barbecues. In terms of volume of beer consumed per occasion, barbecues are the second-biggest take-home occasion – a major opportunity for forecourts.
“Barbecues are often spontaneous, so retailers need to consider the availability of major brands at key times such as Saturday and Sunday mornings to prevent costly out of stocks.”
Interbrew UK also recently worked with Total to develop the gift pack opportunity around Father’s Day when the Stella Artois one-litre gift pack was stocked. This contains a one-litre bottle and two stemmed 25cl glasses with a rrp of £9.99.
Adams says: “Gifting represents a major opportunity to develop the category with added-value packs relevant to the occasion. In addition to the incremental sales opportunities, the pack will help retailers create theatre on and around the fixture.”
Interbrew UK is also helping independent forecourt operators drive beer sales with the return of its biggest-ever promotion for Stella Artois. The promotion, which is supported by advertising, enables consumers to purchase a special 4x568ml pack, which includes a branded glass. The promotional packs are housed in a branded display unit, which holds 20 consumer packs retailing at £5.99. Adams adds: “This specially developed pack encourages repeat purchase, builds brand loyalty and improves the in-home drinking occasion. It adds value for the retailer and consumer, and will drive the profitability of the category by helping retailers sell more volume at full price.”
The UK wine market is performing extremely well at the moment. Wine is not only very much in demand by consumers but it also delivers high margins to retailers.
Recent figures show Australian wine is the second-fastest growing wine category in the UK, growing by 22 per cent, second only to South African wine, which is growing at 24 per cent.
Constellation Wines, the company formed following the acquisition of BRL Hardy by Constellation Brands, offers a range of New World wines including Stowells, House of Nobilo from New Zealand, Echo Falls and Seventh Moon from California, Hardys and Banrock Station from Australia and Shamwari from South Africa.
The company sees forecourts as a key market for its wines as they are perfectly placed to capitalise on ‘top-up’ shopping and impulse purchases.
“To ensure wine sales are successful, retailers need to stock leading brand names. Wines such as Banrock Station, Hardys Stamp of Australia, Stowells and Hardys Nottage Hill are tried and tested by consumers, noted for over delivering on quality and offering value for money,” says Adrian McKeon, consumer and trade development director for Constellation Wines.
The company urges retailers to think carefully about merchandising and display in a bid to maximise sales.
“We strongly believe the future of wine sales in the independent sector lies with better in-store merchandising and display,” says McKeon. “Independent retailers are key to the future of the impulse wine market and all our brands are designed to have maximum on-shelf stand-out.”
McKeon says that in summer retailers should dedicate a chiller cabinet or part of a chiller to white wine as this is “key for impulse summer sales”.
Retailers should also aim to offer customers more in-store sampling, he says. “This not only drives sales of existing wines but will drive sales of new products too.
“It is also a great way of creating a dialogue between the consumer and retailer, and by getting to know customers, retailers will be able to fulfil their wine requirements.”