Ten things we learned at CGA’s Insight 2019

CGA’s Insight 2019 Conference brought together a sell-out crowd of leaders to discuss the hot issues in marketing and consumer engagement. Here are some of the top takeaways.
CGA’s Karl Chessell speaking about the changing out-of-home market at CGA Insight 2019

1. Brands need to think hyper-local

Karl Chessell, CGA’s business unit director for food and retail, gave the conference an overview of turbulence in the eating and drinking out market over the last year—including retrenchment in managed restaurants and huge churn in city centres. Uncertainty makes it more vital than ever to have both a deep understanding of consumers at a local level—something CGA’s consumer segmentation tools can help with—and an awareness of which high streets are failing and which are regenerating. “It’s really important to workout what makes a vibrant town… you need a hyper-local understanding.”

2. We’re not a nation of teetotallers yet—but we are foodies

To judge by some media reports, Britons have been turning teetotal in their droves. But CGA data shows that while sales or low and no alcohol drinks have increased, they still account for only a tiny proportion of the market, and people are moderating rather than abstaining. “We’re not becoming a nation of teetotallers… but we’re definitely seeing moderation,” said Karl Chessell. “People are still going out, but they’re not always drinking at the same rate.” What consumers are doing is getting ever more interested in food—a point driven home by the fact that exactly half (50%) of JD Wetherspoon customers think of themselves as ‘foodies’ now. “Being a foodie isn’t a niche club any more—it’s mainstream.”

3. Now is the time to invest

Molly Johnson-Jones, head of strategy and consumer at Stone & River, gave Insight 2019 a first look at the findings of the 2019 Brand Momentum Report, produced with CGA. It shows that the operators with most momentum—including Greggs, McDonald’s and Miller & Carter—are often the same ones that are investing heavily in their brands and offers. “Big companies are choosing now to invest because they know it’s a critical time,” she said. “The outperformers are the ones who aren’t standing still—they’re acting now.”

4. Be fanatical about the fundamentals

Marcel Khan, veteran of rapidly expanding operators including Nando’s and Five Guys, and now working up Thunderbird Fried Chicken, gave a lively presentation about how to grow a brand. It boils down to a relentless focus on the basics, like food, service and cleanliness, he said. “You need to be almost a fascist—the right sort of fascist—when it comes to operations… concentrate on what’s important and the market will recognise it.”

5. ‘You’ve got to grind it out’

Amid the challenges facing casual dining brands at the moment, the macroeconomics of the industry are still pretty strong, said Azzurri Group CEO Steve Holmes in a conference head to head with CGA vice president Peter Martin. “There’s still a good market for operators that do relevant, interesting things for consumers.” But he added that every scrap of market share was hard won. “You’ve got to grind it out… it’s about making sure that every restaurant is giving every customer the best possible experience every time.”

6. Marketing needs to be more segmented

Businesses that properly segment their marketing are invariably more effective, said Wireless Social CEO Julian Ross in a panel session on data. “Segmentation is massively successful: that’s categorical.” David Charlton, commercial director of Zonal, agreed: “Being able to send personalised messages in real time, when done right, is really powerful.” Jamie Campbell, chief commercial officer at CPL Online, made the point that data analysis should have an operational as well as marketing focus—by identifying areas for improvement in staff skills and engagement, for example.

7. Channels are changing, but mentalities aren’t

A panel session on communications charted how much has changed in the way brands and consumers interact—but also how much has stayed the same. “The human psyche hasn’t changed that much. How people take on board communications has, but people love and hate things in just the same way they did in the Stone Age,” said Ann Elliott, CEO of the Elliotts agency. Getting up close to people to understand them is crucial, she said—staff as well as consumers. “Speaking to operations people is vital if you want the whole picture—they’re the ones who look into your customers’ eyes.”

8. Communications should be collaborative

“Businesses have become much more communications-centric—all brands have to tell their story now,” said Fleet Street Communications MD Mark Stretton on the panel session. As that shift happens, traditional boundaries between marketing, communications and PR break down. “We’re increasingly having to sit together and work it all out… to make [the message] as good as possible we have to be collaborating.” Brands also need to make storytelling a two-way thing, said Supersonic Inc CEO Mark McCulloch, and listen intently to feedback and opinions, especially on social media. “Every single person has to get on the digital bus or your business is going to die,” he warned.

9. Premium drinks are now standard

CGA’s commercial director Graeme Loudon told Insight 2019 that premiumisation and innovation were among the factors driving 2.6% growth in drinks sales in the last year. And the market has embraced higher-end drinks, said Mitchells & Butlers’ divisional director Susan Chappell. “We’re seeing premium brands become our mainstream—drinks that we didn’t even have in our portfolio a couple of years ago are now among our top two or three sellers.” But pubs, bars and restaurants need to set their premium ranges and pricing in a very consumer-focused way, Loudon said—and shouldn’t neglect longstanding big brands. “As much as we talk about premiumisation, mainstream brands are what drives the cash into most of our tills.”

10. Draught cocktails and canned wine: the next big things in drinks

A ‘Science behind the bar’ panel gathered expert tips for big drinks trends of the future. London Cocktail Club founder JJ Goodman said demand for on-tap cocktails was stepping up, and also backed rum to follow gin’s upward trajectory. “It feels like it’s time to have some fun [with spirits and cocktails] and rum plays to that.” Chappell tipped tequila as well as rum, and said All Bar One would be experimenting with canned wine this year. Kate Eastwood, sales and marketing director at Revolution Bars Group, said another big factor in 2019 was speed of service—something draught or batch cocktails can support. “You’ve got to stay focused on what matters to your customers… and speed is definitely a really important thing.”

Insight 2019 is supported by: CPL OnlineFishbowl, HRC, Merchant’s HeartOdgers BerndtsonWireless Social & Zonal.

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