College daze: student bar focus

As the academic year starts, Mark Ludmon looks at how bars and drinks brands are adapting to the new generation of students

Scream bars have been serving students with beer and big nights out since the first It’s a Scream was opened by Bass Brewers in the 1990s. Now part of Stonegate Pub Company, the 44-strong chain is being revamped for a new generation who are looking for high standards and better value for money. In time for the new academic year, Stonegate has unveiled the latest new look for Scream bars at The Ark (pictured) in Glasgow, next to the University of Strathclyde.

An investment of £300,000 has seen the introduction of large tables and a new interior by Manchester-based SDJ Design that reflects the local area, including an 8ft by 5ft mural of Glasgow’s skyline and shipbuilding past. “The large tables have flexibility so that groups can congregate, such as sports societies, but also allow space for smaller groups to get together without sitting on each others’ laps,” explains Stonegate head of marketing George Wright.

Alongside the addition of a pizza oven for making fresh pizzas on site, The Ark has introduced a “small bowls” section on the menu for tapas-style dishes that appeal to students looking to share with friends but pay for items individually. Olivia Brooks, marketing manager for Scream, explains: “Students have to watch their budgets and control their money, more so than any of our other customers, so pooling together and buying rounds and then splitting the costs isn’t something that they tend to do. We’ve conducted research which tells us that they prefer to buy their own drinks and dishes so the small bowls sections mean that they can keep track on their spending whilst still sharing with friends.”

Student bars like Scream have to adapt to today’s modern students who are still looking to have a good time but are more concerned about getting the most out of the tuition fees that they have to pay, George at Stonegate points out. With free wifi, Scream bars act as an alternative study venue during the day when students, equipped with laptops, can get together and discuss course work. “Life has moved on for a lot of students,” George adds. “They are now making one of the biggest purchases of their lives so they are taking it more seriously. When they are out eating and drinking, they are looking for value for money but don’t want to compromise on quality.”

Students are also discerning when it comes to the drinks products they choose, says Debs Carter, marketing director at drinks company SHS Group whose brands include leading RTD range WKD. “Whilst their disposable income may be limited, their appetite for great nights out certainly isn’t and they favour brands which reflect their lifestyle,” she adds. “Yes, money is a consideration, but those in tertiary education are shrewd enough to work out which brands and bars are most deserving of the student pound.”

The student market has long been important to WKD, and the 2012/13 academic year is no exception. “The start of the autumn term is a key sales period and a chance for these bars to impress the new academic in-take in the quest for repeat trade,” Debs says. “Students are promotion-conscious so it’s important to appeal to this mind-set, although this can be done as much through added-value activities as it can through price.”

This autumn, WKD is targeting students with activity that uses “augmented reality” (AR) technology, giving away promotional T-shirts that reveal 3D moving graphics if viewed through a smartphone camera using an app called Blippar. A logo on the front of the T-shirts tells them to “Point phone here and hold tight”, which reveals the “hidden” content of a tidal wave of water surging at them carrying unexpected items with it.

Debs says they hope the T-shirts will become “this term’s must-have item”. AR is also being used on WKD bottle labels where an enabled smartphone will reveal cocktail recipe ideas for each variant. “Students embrace new technology and love to have something fun and unusual to share with their mates,” Debs says. “We think that the augmented reality approach could revolutionise promotions and it looks set to become a formidable new way for both brands and stockists to engage with students.”

This term is also a key period for La Fée absinthe, with a focus on the 38 per cent ABV La Fée NV Absinthe Verte which has been a particular hit with students and young adults for mixing with energy drinks. Drinks company Cellar Trends is embarking on promotional activity with student-oriented bars including student unions supplied through NUS Services Limited (NUSSL), with point-of-sale materials promoting a serve of La Fée NV with an energy drink over ice.

“With its lower ABV similar to other premium spirits, it allows for great versatility in serving options,” says brand manager Nick Barker. “It is an absinthe which can be served straight or over ice but our key serve remains NV with energy served over ice.” Introducing students to the absinthe category through the versatile NV also means they are more likely to graduate in the future onto other styles in the six-strong range such as the clear La Fée Absinthe Blanche and the traditional La Fée Parisienne which has an ABV of 68 per cent.

The student market is also being targeted by Cambridge Wine Merchants as part of the roll-out of new tequila brand AquaRiva. As one of the biggest suppliers to student union bars in Oxford and Cambridge, it has been building awareness of the brand since the spring, including serving it at the university colleges’ annual May Balls. More events are planned by Cambridge Wine this academic year, promoting the complex but accessible 100 per cent agave tequilas that were launched this summer by tequila ambassador Cleo Rocos and The Tequila Society.

Accolade Wines has been working with student union bars to extend the appeal of its alcoholic ginger beer Stone’s Ginger Joe, which was launched last year targeting men and women aged 22 to 30. The brand is now listed with NUSSL which ran a joint promotion with Accolade Wines at unions across the country offering the prize of a Ginger Joe party – won by Loughborough University’s student union.

Branded kits have also been supplied to union bars for freshers’ parties, including T-shirts, ginger wigs and moustaches inspired by the Ginger Joe brand imagery. European marketing director Clare Griffiths says: “The ginger beer category is well-suited to this consumer as it’s a perfect entry-level beverage offering at only four per cent ABV with a light refreshing ginger taste. Great for those who may not yet be wine drinkers, Ginger Joe offers something new to those consumers looking for an alternative to traditional beer or cider.”

Clare adds that Ginger Joe also appeals to this market as it is a “fun, quirky” brand with the orange moustache on the label that helps the product to stand out behind the bar. This humorous approach has also been key to WKD’s engagement with young adults, such as this month’s zombie and vampire theme parties for Halloween. Debs at SHS Group adds: “When socialising in bars, students love to have fun so to maximise sales it’s important that outlets focus on promotions which add something a little extra to consumers’ nights out.”

Case study: The Scholars, Aberystwyth

Welsh brewer SA Brain has invested in a pub in the heart of the student community in Aberystwyth. The Scholars (pictured) underwent a six-week refurbishment to open at the end of August ahead of the new academic year. Working with Cardiff-based design company DMP and Westgate Building Services, it included a new bar, allowing for a wider range of real ales and ciders, and the re-installation of a fireplace plus improvements to the stage to make way for more live acts.

Manager Tom Clarke says: “Scholars is a hugely popular pub and was in need of an update. While we concentrated on freshening up the interior and exterior, it was vital that we didn’t make any drastic changes that would affect the pub’s character.” A new menu of “accessible” but good-quality food blends homemade classic pub meals with more authentic local dishes, including the traditional Welsh broth, cawl. “Also, our Sunday carvery runs from midday until 7pm in the evening, which is ideal for students who fully enjoy the town’s nightlife on a Saturday,” Tom adds. Another highlight of the student weekly calendar is the Sunday night pub quiz.

Tom says real ales, such as Brains’ Barry Island IPA and the Welsh pale ale Dragon, are very popular with students. “We know that cask ales are gaining a lot more interest from a younger audience and so our back-bar stillage – which allows us to pour straight from the cask – offers a point of difference.”

Originally published in the October 2012 edition of Bar magazine.

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