Rail strikes stall but don’t de-rail On Premise drinks sales

Whilst recent rail strikes have caused chaos to commuters and travellers, drinks sales in the On Premise haven’t ground to a standstill, although CGA by NielsenIQ’s latest data underscores marked location-based levels of impact.

The average city centre rate of sale on strike dates during the period of December 2022 to February 2023 was -20% compared to the same average days in July-November 2022. It’s an unsurprising dip, confirming the expected avoidance of central destinations on strike dates by city centre workers and tourists.


Yet there’s stark contrast beyond the major centres, reflected in just -1% in rural locations and 3% uplift in the suburbs and towns where people have remained in volume on strike dates.


What’s more, the rail strikes haven’t caused an outright whitewash in city centres. Certain strike dates have seen city centres outperforming other locations, particularly during big World Cup match weeks and on key Christmas party dates in December 2022. These results are especially encouraging, bearing in mind the pressures of the cost-of-living crisis, soaring energy costs and other supply chain issues that continue to persist.


Other traditionally difficult dates for city centre wet sales have been even more challenging, with total wet sales on Christmas Eve down -72% versus a convincing +29% in rural locations and a hefty 40% in the suburbs. Plus, midweek ‘back to work’ dates after Christmas, such as 5th January, was down -58% in the cities, compared to -31% rural, -29% in the suburbs and -32% on town centre high streets, reflecting a less harsh impact elsewhere.


Breaking down the impact across categories, spirits and wines were particularly hard hit at -9% and -16% respectively in the cities, although this was counterbalanced by 9% and 15% rurally and 16% in both categories in the suburbs.


Cocktails and long alcoholic drinks (LAD) categories suffered the greatest losses in city centres, at -20% and -24% respectively. Similar sales performances seen elsewhere meant the trend was slightly bucked by 3% rural cocktail sales, and flat 0% town centre sales for the LAD category.


So, what does this data, combined with the prospect of ongoing rail strikes in 2023, mean for drinks brands and operators in the On Premise?


The metrics demonstrate that rail strikes have had an inevitable, but less severe impact on total On Premise wet sales across the average. More positively, consumers still prioritised visiting the On Premise on strike dates, adjusting their visits to suit their locations when working from home and refraining from travelling further afield for leisure purposes, resulting in a stronger performance outside city centres.


As a result, brands and operators are equipped to pre-empt gaps and windows of opportunity, such as category-led activations and / or promotions in the specific places where footfall is likely to be lower, plus upselling enticements in places where footfall is likely to be higher on strike dates.


Paul Bolton, Client Director – GB Drinks said:While the data does suggest some negative impact due to the rail strikes, understanding the performance of categories across city, rural, suburban and town centre locations during rail strikes means suppliers and operators can look to put measures in place to mitigate sales losses. This entails ensuring a suitably targeted drinks range for consumers to maximise On Premise wet sales based on the trends we’ve seen so far across the latest series of rail strikes.”


Suppliers and operators that want to track drinks sales, benchmark performance or identify changes in trends and consumer preferences should contact Paul Bolton at Paul.Bolton@cgastrategy.com.

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