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Brands Report 2018

For the fifth year running Club Mirror and CGA Strategy published the Club Mirror 2018 Club Brands Report where the Top 10 club brands in six categories were exclusively revealed. The annual report identified which are the recognisable - and numerous - club stalwarts, which are the new favourites and which are earning their place on the club bar.

Clubs are now the third biggest sector in the on trade, representing 20% of all licensed premises and 17% of volume sales. The role that brands play at the club bar is a huge factor in this. 

Overall, there are more than 2,500 identifiable clubs across Great Britain representing 20% of all licensed premises. This is the third biggest grouping in the on trade. In terms of drinks volumes the club sector is at 17% of drinks volume sales, making it the third biggest sector, helping to underline its continuing importance in broader terms. The club market continues to see change. Much has been reported on the Pubs, Hotels and Restaurants sectors, but the world of clubs is no different in its transformation. There is much activity and exemplary quality offerings for on trade customers with the quality of clubs rising continually as exemplified at the 2017 Club Awards. The future of the club sector remains bright, there is much ongoing activity to improve the quality, support the market, and extend the offer and appeal of clubs to the most important element of all – the consumer.

The battle for the leisure pound is well documented. But what’s not so well documented is what a good job clubs are doing in the fight. Nevertheless the challenges are all too apparent to clubs. And they’re clearly rising to this, providing more and more reasons for members to visit their club – an essential now, given statistics from ONS (May 2017) that one in five UK adults state that they no longer drink any alcohol at all. Those that do, are doing so in greater moderation with more emphasis being placed on quality than volume, according to the same source. In many instances the brands that are adapting to this changing market and providing support to their customers are the ones that continue to perform well. At the club bar, however, club stalwarts remain an essential key to success, all supported by innovation and new serves.


If you lived your life on social media and never actually entered a club or a wet-led bar you’d be forgiven for thinking that craft beer was all that existed in this country. It continues to dominate beer conversations and news articles and has been largely responsible for reinvigorating the category. However, craft remains the cool kid in the corner and is still comfortably outnumbered by mainstream products.

Jerry Shedden, Category and Trade Marketing Director at brand owner  Heineken  UK, says: “There’s no doubt that the British beer scene is more exciting than ever before with more choice than ever, but it’s really important to keep perspective on those beers that are loved by millions.

“If craft beer was grouped together as one brand, John Smith’s would still be bigger – it’s the number one ale brand in the UK.”

And it remains the number one cask or keg beer in the Club Mirror 2018 Brands Report, leading the way from other perennial favourites such as Guinness, Worthington’s and Tetley’s.

Customer loyalty is a key factor here, and according to Shedden, when John Smith’s is removed from the bar, total draught sales drop by 20 per cent.

Loyalty is a two-way-street and John Smith’s has supported the sector with campaigns such as the Paddy McGuinness-fronted Only Ordinary by Name, which searched for pubs and clubs with amazing stories. Venues are also supplied with quiz and darts kits to help drive trade, along with a customer loyalty scheme to rival anything the coffee shop up the road might be doing.

It is the traditional brands that dominate in lager as well, with Carling leading the way from Foster’s, Carlsberg and Stella, on draught.

One significant mover on the bar is Marston’s Pedigree, which has jumped a couple of positions in this year’s report. It is up in both keg and cask formats with a rebrand giving Marston’s a good opportunity to discuss the beer with customers.

Thom Winter, Marston’s category manager for the on-trade, explains that cask can be viewed as the craft beer of clubland. He says: “Cask is down in clubs in terms of volume, - 2.4 per cent, however value is up +3.3 per cent, which is impressive in comparison to the rest of the GB Market. Where craft is considered to be predominantly keg in town centre/city centre bars, the flavour profile and pour of cask suits the drinker more in clubs and is largely considered as their craft beer offer, so the challenge should be seen more as potential, as all drinkers now seek better, more premium products.”

Keeping cask in prime condition is essential to its success but so too is providing options for customers. Thom adds: “Range is one of the most important aspects of a venue and will help recruit new members. Providing a breadth of beer categories rather than a depth of one specific category is the easiest way to get more value through each tap.”


If you compare cider to beer you can swap the term ‘craft’ for ‘flavoured’ and see clear parallels. Yes, fruit variants in both bottle and draft are driving growth in the category but mainstays still provide the bulk of the volume.

One significant difference between cider and beer is that there is growth in the on-trade, whereas in beer, the growth in the overall category is underpinned by strength in the off-trade.

Strongbow is the dominant performer, with Original the number one brand in clubs. Dark Fruit is at number three –impressive considering it was only launched in the on-trade four years ago.

Jerry Shedden explains: “Although flavoured cider continues to drive the draught cider market, apple still continues to lead the charge in terms of volume. Club owners should therefore remember that although consumers want to try new flavours, they don’t want to be challenged every time they go for a drink.”

The loyalty to Strongbow is similar to that seen with John Smith’s and Carling. It is trusted as a product and a brand. This is backed up by support such as SmartDispense which sees Heineken provide help around temperature, glassware and the perfect pour.

Another good summer will no doubt return more impressive numbers for cider, which saw 14m extra pints sold in the last 12 months.


The balance of power has shifted in RTDS, with VK climbing above the long-time category leader WKD.

Jen Draper, head of marketing at Global Brands, puts the success of VK down to providing value and support to customers as well as investing in the future of a category that has been in decline.

“We try to be as bespoke as we can and we try to deliver brand messages that can be delivered in different ways in different environments. What we do in the late-night environment doesn’t necessarily translate to a circuit bar or social club,” she says.

And it isn’t just VK. Jen says the sector is brimming with innovation. “RTDs had become a bit of a dirty word. What we are trying to do as a company is get people to think differently about RTDs, in terms of both trade and consumers. Cocktails in cans are RTDs. We have a premium G&T in a can with Franklin & Sons and Portobello Road, we have the All Shook Up espresso martini. “We have the Crooked Brew Company which is 100 per cent natural flavours and colourings. It’s not as sweet but it is craft soda within RTDs.”

Spirits and Soft Drinks

‘Not as sweet’ is also a key phrase for soft drinks with the sugar tax and consumer demand leading to recipe changes at companies such as Coca-Cola European Partner (CCEP) and Britvic. The former alone has reformulated or introduced 32 lower-sugar drinks since 2005 

It is a sector in growth and one that is of increasing importance to clubs. But once again, while the shift is evident, the number one brand remains a classic.

Amy Burgess, Trade Communications Manager at CCEP, says: “For all consumers, choice is key, and licensees should look to stock a variety of options, whilst offering lighter variants of their best-selling drinks where possible. Cola remains the biggest seller, with more than half the share of the market and the Coca-Cola portfolio continues to be Britain’s biggest soft drinks brand in the GB on-trade.”

She adds that clubs should also think about different drinks for different occasions. “What a consumer wants to drink on a Saturday night is very different to someone visiting an outlet at 11.30am on a weekday to catch up on emails,” she says. “As such, ensuring a quality experience for soft drinks as well as alcohol is critical so that they don’t miss out in what is an extremely competitive landscape for day-time, out-of-home moments.”

Premium serves are another way for owners to increase returns, evidenced by the variety of mixers now available in the market. This has helped the spirits sector, where Diageo dominates with brands such as Smirnoff Red, Gordon’s and Captain Morgan leading the way. “Premium and super premium spirits are seeing a rise in popularity with tipples such as gin, dark rum and vodka the front runners of the trend. This has influenced the mixer market with people looking for premium products to pair with their favourite spirits,” says Amy.

Top 10 Club Spirits Brands

There are few better ways to lift the spirits of bartenders and members alike than to have a robust and diverse range on the back bar. And the club market is no exception to this.

With the range of spirit-based trends we are seeing in the wider market, not least the Gin Revolution and growing Cocktail Culture, any stockist can seek to capitalise on these by ensuring the right range of spirits. An increasingly competitive market means continuing to appeal to customers and recruiting new ones is becoming more challenging by the day. That means that the range at the bar becomes ever more important. Whether this is done by stocking a premium gin or two, offering a single malt as a trade-up to the staple blended whisky, or maybe getting in that bottle of Sambuca, clubs can feel the benefit of offering a good spirits range.

Top Club Packaged Beers, Ciders and RTDs

While cask and keg beers are crucial to the clubland market, packaged drinks also remain hugely important to many sports and social clubs, with the fridge being a key focus to many customers.

Whether it’s fruit cider, world lagers or RTDs (Ready to Drinks) the evolution of the packaged drinks market sees many new brands come and go over time – but there is no doubt that tradition, along with a nod towards new trends, is the most important element for the sports and social club market. Indeed there had been only one change in rankings since last year’s report (which is VK overtaking WKD in the Packaged RTD category).

The report splits out the key sub categories, from packaged world lager to RTDs, stout and low/ nonalcoholic beers. Where applicable, either a top ranking or a single key brand – depending on overall category size – is included.

Top 10 club draught cask, keg, ale and stouts.

Keg and Cask beers’ popularity remains broad with interest in all core styles from bitter to stout, and with craft beers making something of a mark as the overall interest created in the sub category remains strong.

Keg and Cask beer very much remains the bedrock of the club sector offer. Indeed, generally speaking, most of the key players are continuing to enhance their overall importance in the marketplace. However, the one thing that can be guaranteed is that the traditional players in the market very much retain their overall dominance and even with some small ranking changes, the classic brands continue to dominate.

But while the Top Four in 2017’s report remain at the top in 2018, there has been a noticeable shift in rankings 5-10, with Doom Bar rising from 7th to 5th, Marston’s Pedigree from 10th to 8th and Belhaven Best making an appearance, in at number nine. Greene King IPA: has dropped from 5th to 6th spot, Fuller’s London Pride from 6th to 7th and Molson Coors’ Brew XI from 8th to 10th. The rankings are based on GB MAT volume performance for each brand by aggregated cask and/ or keg variants.


Top 10 club club draught lagers and ciders. 

Draught Lager and Cider are, along with Cask and Keg ales, a bedrock upon which the clubland drinks offering is built, providing both tradition and innovation at the club bar.

Lager continues to follow traditional trends with classic brands such as Carling, Foster’s and Carlsberg still the ‘go to’ draught options for many customers in the sector. With Cider, although fruit styles continue to be the headline grabbers in the wider category, apple remains the dominant force in draught – both in clubs and the wider UK market. Cider is a category soaked in the same heritage and quintessential Britishness that is at the core of the club industry itself. 

Therefore, having at least one draught cider on the taps should be an essential in any outlet. The following total top 10 list contains the key top six lagers and top four ciders in their categories.

Top Club Wines 

Wine may not be at the top of the best-selling category list for some sports and social clubs, however it is a ‘must have’ option and ripe for growth.

Miniatures are popular options for those clubs where wine consumption is not as regular as it might be for, as an example, cider and beer. This allows for easy stocking options and minimum waste. As a result of the above, many of the biggest wine brand players are more traditional mainstream products that offer alternative serve – such as mini bottles and draft – and the reassurance of a well-known brand name. 

The huge increase in popularity of Prosecco and sparkling wine in the on trade generally, is also impacting clubs and there have been uplifts in popularity for the style overall, with other alternatives such as Cava continuing to perform fairly well. This is definitely a trend worth watching and is a popular addition to any bar.

Of all the brands identified, the Jack Rabbit brand family is the biggest mainstream brand by volume in the GB on trade. Providing a selection of classic key varietals, from Pinot Grigio to Merlot, Jack Rabbit remains very much a go-to option for many of clubland’s wine drinkers. Other classic brand names such as Stowells, Blossom Hill and Oliver & Greggs also perform well at this level. 

Top Club Soft Drinks

The world of soft drinks is dominated by Coca-Cola and Britvic. Cola and lemonades are still by volume the favoured soft drinks – Coke and Diet Coke lead Pepsi, whilst Schweppes head R Whites in the lemonade category. Britvic’s J2O leads the juices sector, with Red Bull well to the fore in the energy sector. Schweppes head Britvic in Mixers, although some of the newer premium type offerings (such as Fever Tree) are showing increasingly strongly as their popularity continues to rise in most key on trade sectors.

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