Digital technology, implemented during the pandemic, has boosted the popularity of more premium drinks and provided valuable data for operators, MCA’s Pub Conference audience heard.

Pub Conference 2021

“We speed dated technology over the last year,” Karen Bosher, managing director of premium, urban and venture brands at Greene King told MCA’s Pub Conference. “We went through a 10-year curve in a year.

Bosher formed part of a varied panel discussing the learnings around app usage during the pandemic, appearing alongside Nick Popovici, chief executive and co founder of Vita Mojo, Mark McFadyen group operations Director at Brewhouse & Kitchen and Jez Manterfield senior category manager at Asahi.

Bosher mentioned that in some of Greene King’s wet-led pubs order and pay usage represented as much as 75% of total sales adding that at certain points during reopening the company had the most downloaded app in the UK, attracting 400,000 reviews.

Following reopening, the use of digital order technology within Greene King had declined as a proportion of the overall sales mix, between five and 20% penetration, depending on the business, she said.

McFadyen mentioned that, for Brewhouse & Kitchen, that, at its peak, digital ordering using the Vita Mojo platform, represented about 60% of the sales mix. It allowed customers to browse an online drinks menu featuring over 70 beers, helping to drive premiumisation, be nimbler, and provide a better spread of sales across the range. An example he gave was a movement away from predominately selling pints, meaning a move towards selling different size of beers, driven by a move to an online platform.

Bosher added to the point around premiumisation by stating that in wet-led pubs, the Greene King app encouraged consumers to change their behaviour and browse more. As a result of this change, the app’s functionality was adapted with the addition of photography and different serves.

Asahi’s Manterfield mentioned that trade data showed that standard beers were losing share and that trade was instead switching to super premium brands. “Consumers are treating themselves to better quality products but a lower frequency of visit, meaning it is important to optimise your ordering apps to take advantage of these trends.”

He spoke about hard seltzers as a new category which highlights a consumer preference towards moderation and raised the point that different technology trends can influence behaviour: “On a mobile app it is the top four brands that attract most of the traffic, compared to the top eight on a desktop.”

Bosher and McFadyen were asked about whether technology had created any friction. McFadyen mentioned that when it came to digital orders the sheer volume of food orders that could arrive together could potentially overwhelm kitchen staff.

Bosher mentioned that “there is a lot of localised ranging,” of drinks, which “can be a bit of a headache. Moving forward, it’s important that the technology isn’t too onerous, that its quite nimble. We want the local to still feel local, we don’t want lots centrally-driven ranging”

McFadyen also highlighted the challenge of featuring a diverse and variable drinks offer across the estate, and of arriving at an understanding of product placement dynamics. “Obviously very important to us is using our own brewed beers and giving them pride of place.”

Vita Mojo’s Popovici spoke about how data can help shape menus, the experience and engagement with customers. But it is “early days” he said. Operators are beginning to hire data scientists and begin to make sense of this data, suggesting that the next 12 months will see big steps in terms of making better commercial use of this data.

McFadyen agreed on this point, saying “there is a huge amount of data and it’s trying to work out what is appropriate. The vision is to understand the individual customer.”

Bosher added that Greene King had traditionally not used a lot of data but “over the last 18 months we have become data and insight obsessed. We are using those trends to create much more specific brand alignment and personalisation of experiences.”

Asked whether technology will continue to play a role within the pub environment McFadyen said, “The pub is about people, the people side is massively important. Some people want to use the online platform, some want to come to the bar, some to stay at the table. We want to provide the solution that best fits the individual”

Popovici agreed: “Diversification is a key part of success, it’s here to stay.”

Manterfield mentioned that in places such as New Zealand that have been less impacted and recovered faster from Covid, the use of paper menus is making a comeback. He sees technology still playing a role however at the beginning and end of the experience, in terms of booking and paying.

“If you fast forward 5-10 years in the future as the 35 year olds become 45 year olds, the percentage of people using technology will only increase,” suggested Popovici.