Drinking warm lager is one of life's most soul-destroying experiences, and more and more retailers in the impulse sector are recognising that their customers want chilled products - and will frequently pay more for them.
This year's SOLTrack survey by HIM, covering Bargain Booze, Thresher and Wine Cellar stores, found that an impressive 97% of shops had chillers. Perhaps what's more remarkable is that 3% didn't: a bizarre state of affairs for any shop daring to call itself a specialist drinks retailer.
The same survey found that 64% of shoppers wanted chilled lager and 30% were happy with room temperature stock, presumably because they were planning to chill it at home for drinking later on. It emphasises, if it needs emphasising, that shoppers are demanding beer for consumption soon after purchase.
Christopher Craig at Sainsbury's says: "I genuinely believe there's a strong opportunity for chilled beer. Obviously it's more pertinent to our convenience stores than our supermarkets, but 18 -20% of
customers want to consume some of the products they purchase within about two hours or so."
S&N's Mark Gerken adds: "Our research shows that if retailers cater for the consumer by providing a good selection of chilled products, they will return to their shop on a regular basis and purchase more frequently. Around a fifth of lager buyers are also willing to pay more for a chilled product."
S&N has taken matters into its own hands with its Chill Out campaign, launched in May, which allows consumers to collect tokens from multipacks of Kronenbourg, Foster's or San Miguel and obtain branded "chiller" glasses. These glasses contain a gel
that, when placed in a freezer for two hours, keeps the contents of the glass cool from start to finish.
According to Carol Saunders, head of off-trade customer marketing: "Communicating the chilled offering has become a major focus for S&N UK and retailers can capitalise on the growing consumer predilection for creating the 'pub quality experience' at home. Research reveals that shoppers are willing to pay more for the convenience of a chilled product."
David Wigham at Coors encourages retailers to use common sense when planning their chilled lager range. "Competing for space in the fridge and being in there for long enough to chill thoroughly are key," he says.
"We introduced the temperature-sensitive indicator on Carling to help retailers and consumers know when their beer is cold enough to drink. Feedback has been excellent so you can expect to see more of this technology from Carling.
"Weather is the biggest single factor on beer consumption in the UK year on year. If the big marketing ball in the sky shines, we can all expect a rush on the beer shelves. Stock up with cold beers in the fridge - singles, small packs and mid packs."
Trends and developments round-up
Pricing: The differential between the on and off-trade is widening. The guns of the health lobby, pub trade organisations and national media are trained on supermarket beer aisles. But with consumer spending slowing, a unilateral decision to move away from deep discounting from any of the multiples is virtually unthinkable.
Euro 2008: No England,
or Ireland. Every two years the beer industry relies on a major football tournament to boost sales, but the home nations' failure to qualify means everyone has
to hold on to something even less reliable than England's ability to cope with a penalty shoot-out: the British summer.
Changing consumer habits: If you want to find rising beer consumption, look at a country with a tradition of winemaking. Now that wine is a mainstream drink in the UK, consumers don't rely on quite as many cans of beer for their alcohol delivery. They're also more health-conscious and increasingly experimental in their tastes. For many, lager isn't the regular indulgence that it used to be.
In almost every corner of the drinks industry, retailers and suppliers are reporting a consumer quest for brands with a genuine reason for being. That doesn't have to mean that they're brewed in its natural country of origin (though often it does) - indeed many retailers are cutting back on the number of bland "world beers" they offer. Consumers increasingly demand lager with character, provenance and something approaching heritage.