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‘Freedom day’ provides lift for bars

Published:  27 July, 2021

The long-awaited easing of Covid restrictions on 19 July saw like-for-like drinks sales at a GB level dropping by just 5% on the same day in July 2019, according to CGA’s Drinks Recovery Tracker.

This was significantly better than most days since hospitality reopened, but concerns about rising Covid infection rates may have dented consumers’ growing confidence about going out, said the research firm.

The bounceback effect of ‘Freedom day’ was also lower than it was on the days that venues returned for inside service in mid-April and reopened for indoor trading in mid-May, which both saw double-digit growth on 2019, with easing of restrictions not appearing to have moved the dial much on consumers’ spending.

A notable exception to ‘Freedom day’ trend was the bars segment, where drinks sales were up by 33% on the same day in 2019. 

With all bars able to trade more freely — and some reopening for the first time this year — there was a strong release of pent-up demand for the sector after 16 months of severe restrictions on capacity, trading hours, group sizes and much more, said CGA. 

The Tracker also showed that the ‘Freedom day’ new-look trading followed another tough week for the sector. 

Despite a big boost to sales from the final of the Euro 2020 football tournament, average drinks sales by value in the week to 17 July were down by 27% on the same week in 2019. 

This was a slight improvement on the previous week’s drop of 30%, but continued a pattern of trading that has seen sales pegged stubbornly at roughly two thirds of pre-Covid levels ever since reopening.

The hangover of England’s Euros defeat meant 2021-on-2019 sales were down by 41% on 12 July. They picked up slightly over the next couple of days, but were down by 33% and 37% on 16 and 17 July. 

Improving weather helped pubs (down 23%) to perform better than restaurants (down 39%).

Category-wise, cider (down 23%) was the top performer, ahead of beer (down 26%), soft drinks (down 27%), spirits (down 29%) and wine (down 33%).

“It’s been frustrating to see drinks sales lag behind pre-pandemic levels for the last three months, despite intermittent boosts from good weather, the Euros and a gradual easing of restrictions,” said Jonny Jones, CGA’s MD, UK and Ireland. 

“While ‘Freedom day’ itself hasn’t transformed the market, the more normal conditions should provide a steady lift in the weeks ahead, and the hot weather and staycations will work in favour of venues with outdoor space in particular. But so much in the next few weeks will depend on consumers’ fragile confidence, and whether or not they can be persuaded out to eat and drink.”

CGA’s Drinks Recovery Tracker service measures drinks category, supplier and brand rate of sale performance versus pre-Covid-19 sales. Daily data is reported within three days.  

In June, Britain’s managed pub, restaurant and bar groups saw sales draw level with the same month in 2019 on both a total and like-for-like basis, according to the latest Coffer CGA Business Tracker.