A sea of green washes over large cities and tiny villages around the world, as parades sweep down high streets, jigs are danced, giant hats are donned and merriment abounds.
And Guinness is ubiquitous. A can of the black stuff is as ingrained in the fabric of the day as a shamrock, and other brands such as Murphy’s and Jameson enjoy a healthy boost.
St George’s Day celebrations are a damp squib by contrast, so it is hardly surprising a 2013 survey of 1,700 English people revealed that just two in five could name their national saint’s day – and more knew when St Patrick’s Day was.
Think tank British Future, which commissioned the survey, argued the English are “too scared” to celebrate St George’s Day as the St George’s Cross has been hijacked by far right groups like the English Defence League. Some store owners have been ordered to take it down for fear of upsetting racial minorities.
A 2010 survey by This England magazine found the English to be the least patriotic bunch in Europe, with Ireland, Scotland and Wales all in the top five. But the tide has turned. The London Olympics, the Royal Wedding and the birth of Prince George have combined to instil a swelling sense of national pride.
An ICM poll of 2,300 people, conducted six months ago, showed three-quarters wanted a bigger deal to be made of St George’s Day and for more English flags to be flown, while David Cameron and Boris Johnson have encouraged people to champion the event and help it rival St Patrick’s Day.
St George’s Day is April 23, in case you didn’t know, and it represents a strong opportunity for retailers to boost sales. POS should inform shoppers when the day is and there is scope to whip up excitement around the fixture.
All you need is a drink to wrap it around – something to rival Guinness on St Patrick’s Day, Scotch on St Andrew’s Day and, um, Welsh cream liqueur on St David’s Day.
Gin and cider are strong contenders, but the off-trade’s star performer is currently premium bottled ale, with value sales up 10.8% in the past year (Nielsen, year to January 4).
The top 10 brands list, as ranked by Nielsen, is bursting with names that conjure up patriotic sentiment – Old Speckled Hen, Newcastle Brown, Spitfire, Hobgoblin, London Pride, Fursty Ferret, Old Peculier, Bishop’s Finger, Black Sheep – while the likes of Bombardier, Iron Maiden’s Trooper, and Hog’s Back’s Traditional English Ale bolster the theme.
“The Tesco Drinks Festival will be running over St George’s Day and this year ale plays a key part as we have a huge amount of faith in the popularity of this style of beer,” says Tesco beer buyer Chiara Nesbitt.
The patriotism will show no sign of abating as we move into June. The St George’s Cross typically only makes an appearance en masse when the England football team makes it to the finals of a major tournament, and this summer’s World Cup in Brazil will be no different.
“The next big beer-focused event for 2014 will be the World Cup and we will be offering ales in a variety of pack formats,” says Nesbitt.
“Over the past year Tesco has introduced a selection of interesting new ales, which are the perfect ‘next step’ for the traditional lager consumer who is looking for something with a fuller body and more flavour.”
One recent addition is the Revisionist range. Produced exclusively for Tesco by Marston’s, it is a seven-strong selection of ales offering customers something a little bit different.
Suppliers are equally keen to capitalise on the opportunity. “Lager has been the major beer category for these sporting events – it’s heavily supported and it achieves high sales,” says Neil Jardine, retail sales director at Old Speckled Hen brewer Greene King. “But we have seen lager sales slowing and ale sales growing.
“It might be ambitious to ask retailers to stock ale ahead of lager and wine but the point we make is that this category delivers higher cash spend through the till. The benefits are far more compelling. Margins are higher.
“We might not be able to compete at pure volume but we can punch above our weight when it comes to price, margin and profitability.”
The key for Jardine is getting ale away from the main fixture and on to gondola ends and promotional bays during key trading periods such as the World Cup.
When asked if he was happy to take the hit on the brand’s image, he said: “There’s always a balance between brand equity and building sales. But one in four people buy into ale, so that leaves three of four to seek out and appeal to. We have to ensure we get that trial, so if we have to offer some kind of discount that’s fine.”
Marston’s is also on a quest to convert more shoppers, with Hobgoblin’s Bringing Taste to the Nation campaign touring in a bid to create legions of ale lovers. Marketing director Chris Keating says: “It’s building on the Lager Boy campaign, telling people, ‘if you drink lager, come and have the opportunity to try real beers’. It brings people to the category.”
New Kantar data shows more consumers shop for Hobgoblin than any other ale brand, and Marston’s believes the big ale brands justify shelf space during key footfall periods.
Carl Middleton, head of take-home, says: “The recent inclusion of mixed packs such as Classic Ales and multipacks of drive brands like Hobgoblin and Old Speckled Hen in event aisles and displays have been instrumental in recruiting more shoppers, who normally wouldn’t seek out the bottled ale fixture.”
At the last World Cup in 2010, beer enjoyed its best performance since the previous World Cup (BBPA) and ale is set to cash in this time around.
Retailers and suppliers will just have to pray the sea of red and white endures and Roy Hodgson’s men make it all the way to the final.