Scottish potential to pack punch with soft drinks after drink-drive change

Scotland’s more stringent drink-drive laws introduced at the end of last year appear to have added impetus to the argument that the pub trade can raise its game in the soft drinks category, CGA Peach’s latest BrandTrack research indicates.

Anecdotal evidence suggests visiting patterns are changing, with negative consequences for out-of-home drinking in particular. EPoS-based data from CGA’s Trading Index gives added insight on this step-change in trading, corroborating the view that drinks sales in Scotland’s managed pubs have been hit since the lower limit was introduced, with an apparent impact on food sales in food-led pubs too, which are more likely to be drive-to in nature. 

Beneath those headline sales levels, soft drinks’ sales mix has increased materially year on year in Scotland by four percentage points in food-led pubs. That change is evident across the trading week, but the effect is even more marked on weekdays, when concerns over morning-after driving will be more acute. 

Now evidence from CGA Peach’s latest BrandTrack, which focuses on eating out, points to other effects the new drink-drive limits are having. Scotland accounts for about 7% of the BrandTrack sample, and for a similar proportion of claimed eating out visits. But among the bigger brands, the proportion of diners who live in Scotland is as high as 11% for Brewers Fayre and TGI Friday’s. 

Scotland has a slightly lower average eating out frequency per head, with 38% of Scots who eat out doing so at least weekly, compared with 42% in the rest of the country. 

On average across all the pub and restaurant brands, 45% of brand diners in Scotland say they consumed soft drinks on their visit between 23 April and 1 May. This is no different from our October 2014 survey but the average figure across the brands in the rest of the country is 36%, down from 38% in the October survey. 

This does not account for frequency, but branded eating out in Scotland might have been a little less alcohol-linked than in the rest of the country, even before the lower limit came in. 

Overall, the evidence to date on eating-out frequency is, at the top level, at least encouraging. The proportion of people in Scotland who say they have eaten out at all in the past six months rose 2% to 91%, and within the population that does eat out, 38% say they eat out at least weekly – the same as October’s survey. 

Eating out in the rest of Great Britain was unchanged at 91% over the same period, and among those that eat out, the proportion doing so weekly fell from 44% to 42%. 

The question is: where are people eating? Narrow the view to pub dining and BrandTrack shows that claimed usage and monthly frequency in Scotland for the five main brands fell year on year, with the exception of brand usage levels for Wetherspoon, which is town-centre orientated, and therefore more readily accessible by public transport.