As undergratuates all over the country pack up their toasters and laptops to start another year at university next week, we look at what they really want from a pub these days
David O'Donovan is the new manager at Hawthorn Leisure's recently refurbed Huddersfield pub, The White Swan, and he knows what students want.
"I was a student at Huddersfield University, so I know the town well and what students want from a pub," he says.
That students want anything at all from a pub these days, might come as a surprise to those of us who believe the hype around teetotal youngsters who prefer the gym to the bar and coffee to cocktails but those closer to the market, including David, argue that the pub remains important to today's undergraduates.
"As well as screens showing sports, we're introducing games including giant Jenga and Connect 4, plus board games such as Scrabble and Monopoly. There'll be live entertainment at weekends, student open mic nights on Wednesdays, plus regular quiz and poker nights."
As for food and drink, the pub will be offering popular draught and bottled lagers, cocktails, ciders, a selection of gins and, of course, coffee – which will be on sale from 10am.
As if students going to the pub for coffee wasn't enough to make us oldies recall our raving days through pink-tinted spectacles, then low and no alcoholic drinks are also a must stock for today's studious youngsters.
"It's common knowledge that young people are drinking less than they used to with almost a third of 18 to 24-year-olds now teetotal (stats from University College London 2019)," explains Jerry Shedden, category and trade marketing director at Heineken UK.
Luckily this is a booming category at the moment, with alcohol-free beers, ciders and even spirits now available (search here for more inspiration).
While it's true that today's students have a different relationship with drinking and with pubs from previous generations, what remains the same is that when they are out on the lash they like pretty much the same drinks students always have.
"Cider and spirits are the most frequently consumed alcohol categories among 18 to 24-year-olds," confirms Jerry.
"Unlike with beer, both male and females in this group are more likely to drink cider and spirits than the average consumer in the on-trade (Kantar World Alcovision, March 2019). However, cider and beer occasions still account for a third of alcohol drank by this age group in the on-trade. Cider, in particular, has increased in popularity and now accounts for 40 per cent of serves for 18 to 24-year-olds compared to 21 per cent in 2010 (Kantar)."
Flavoured cider has long been popular with this market and continues to grow.
CGA stats suggest that 195m pints of flavoured cider are now drunk in the on-trade, so "adding it to your range can encourage 18 to-24-year-olds across the threshold," says Jerry.
"Outlets who have added a flavoured cider to their bar are reaping the sales benefits. In fact 70 per cent of the volume delivered by adding a flavoured cider is incremental to an outlet's cider sales – an additional £340m to the on-trade," he adds.
Always ready to drink
As well as fruity ciders, RTDs of course, have long been popular with students – and remain so. Already the biggest RTD brand in the student sector (CGA MAT 2019), VK is well placed to be sought out by students during Freshers Week and beyond – particularly as 66 per cent of students are influenced by their peers at university, according to a 2019 study called Inside the Minds of Modern Students by Media Chain.
Christian Sarginson, brand controller at VK owner Global Brands, explains how the company has been a success with this market.
"VK continues to engage with its young adult audience and has built an unrivalled understanding of students, which has been key to its continued success. With student activity making up a major part of the brand's plan, in university cities VK has a student ambassador scheme, working with 20 ambassadors across the country to raise brand awareness and drive consumers into local VK-stocking venues.
"Highly interactive student venue tours also take place every freshers period, with the sell-out events building hype in the respective cities and increasing bar sales," adds Christian.
Some things remain the same, however - and drinks promotions remain as key to attracting students in 2019 as it was in 1999, particularly with those students who live in university halls of residence, the NUS Drinks Tracker report shows.
"A good range of RTDs, spirits and beers was named as the second most important factor when choosing where to drink," Christian continues.
"The average price consumers expect to pay for a bottled RTD is between £2.48 and £2.69, a price point licensees should keep in mind when creating their RTD offer (figures from the NUS Drinks Tracker)."
Some things never change
However, they have evolved over the last few decades, the class of 2019 and their peers remain hugely important to the UK on trade. Research shows that almost a quarter of 18 to 21-year-olds go out two or three times a week and 46 per cent of students who drink state they drink an alcoholic beverage at least once a week in pubs and bars (Deltic Night Index Report, June 2019).
Moreover, the average amount of drinks imbibed by students on a night out looks to be increasing – up from 5.96 drinks a couple of years ago to 6.27 drinks in 2018, according to the NUS Drinks Tracker.
Students enjoying a big night out, choosing flavoured ciders, RTDs and looking out for price promotions – perhaps today's students aren't that different from the generations that went before after all.