On-trade versus online. The digital future of the on-trade

Jessica Mason

08 December 2017

Times have changed. Gone are the days people need to go out to buy food and drink. Where once we considered the internet an addition to existing businesses, it's now a – if not the – legitimate retail marketplace. So much so, going out and having fun will soon be available at the App Store. So, what does this mean for the on-trade? The industry which is all about going out out and having fun.

Mobile food and drink shopping is something the on-trade cannot afford to ignore. Stats from a PWC global survey* show 39% said social networks provide their main inspiration for purchases. Bars and restaurants have to be able to cater to the tap-once generation. In the UK, 38% of survey respondents said they buy products at least monthly via mobile or smartphone. Chances are this is actually considerably higher.

Back in the spring of 2013, The Centre for Retail Research published analysis* where analysts forecasted how UK retailing was set to change.

There was plenty of forewarning and, although this was directed at high street stores, the humble pub or bar looking to attract the same audience of locals was to also be affected.

The report declared that the 'UK is facing a crisis' and that, to thrive on the high street, businesses needed to 'either make clear strategic decisions that permit online retail to coexist and urged the high street to 'transform themselves' or risk a situation where they 'disappear or be so mortally wounded that a large minority of business categories become dominated purely online retailers.'

From this point, things moved quickly. Companies began to answer demand where bars, pubs and restaurants were standing still and shrugging. As a result, the nation now lives in the age of 'brought-to-your-doorstep' consumption.

The nation now lives in the age of 'brought-to-your-doorstep' consumption

'Particularly in London, there are a few delivery solutions that will look at what your lifestyle choice is –then your package is tailored and delivered to you,' says The Food Boss founder Kate Taylor.


Human touch 

But where does this end? And could we begin to see consumer experiences completely bypassing interaction with people in the future? There are places where this is already the case and hospitality and staff are, sadly, already obsolete.

'Los Angeles and Australia are really leading the way and we are not too far behind them. One thing that is happening in LA is they have holes in the wall where if you have pre-ordered your food online you can turn up with a little code, enter the code and open the box and in your box is the food you have pre-ordered.

'There is no person involved,' says Detox Kitchen founder Lily Simpson, explaining that 'the amazing thing about that is how you then have a data capture of all of these people who all ordered completely different things but they are catered for in the most efficient way while also creating a really interesting experience.'

An example in the UK where things have moved on includes Vanquish Wines, which is a wholesaler to some of the well-known venues include The Box London, Chiltern Firehouse, Maddox Club and the London Hilton. Vanquish turned a gap in the market into a new business opportunity and created 31Dover.com which now directly answers demand from the consumer.

'Our customers come to us for ease-of-purchase, reliability, the best prices online and (most importantly) to find the latest and greatest drinks available. 31DOVER.com also has extensive knowledge of the on-trade sector,' says 31Dover, marketing director, Marc Sanders.

Companies such as these suggest to the consumer that buying drinks online is better than selecting something from a bar by pointing out the price difference.

'You might be able to find obscure local treats in pubs and bars but you'll be paying a premium for the bottle,' says Sanders.

'Everything we sell on our site has been taste-tested and approved by our in-house industry experts and can be delivered in luxury gift packaging,' says Sanders, 'this is only the beginning for online drinks merchandising.'

Taylor agrees, reminding that there are businesses already willing to seize the opportunity and now is the time to act.

Rather than letting companies come into our space, why aren’t we [the food and drink industry] driving that solution first?

*PWC Global’s Total Retail Survey * Retail Futures 2018

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