Having an impressively stocked bar, a great selection of trendy cocktails and a well sourced wine list is one thing, but with the increasing number of people cutting back on drinking, or not drinking at all, then you could be missing out if your range of mineral waters is not up to scratch. Helen Arnold talks to Hildon’s sales and marketing director, James Burston, to find out more.
How much attention do you pay to your mineral water range? It’s time to take it a lot more seriously and please all those customers cutting back on their drinking and get good margins at the same time.
You’ve got the craft beers in place, the quirky cocktail menu lined up and a handpicked selection of malts and well-aged rums to whet every appetite. Your wine list is comprised of a carefully-curated selection of interesting wines by young and upcoming winemakers, which is sure to satisfy the most discerning of drinkers.
But what about your mineral water offering? Do you give as much consideration into sourcing your bottled water as you do to your wine list or cocktail menu? With an increasing number of consumers turning to good old H2O as their go-to refreshment, as alcohol consumption in the UK plateaus, you really can’t afford to ignore the category.
An increased interest in health and wellbeing, and better awareness of the importance of hydration have also helped boost the mineral water market in recent years, with little sign of these trends easing off any time soon.
But with a veritable plethora of different brands on offer, ranging wildly in price from bargain basement to ridiculously expensive, for what is, essentially, just water, how do you go about choosing the right brand to complement the rest of your offering?
Step forward James Burston, sales and marketing director at Hampshire-based Hildon Water, and former business development director at PLB who’s the man in the know, and he’s convinced that that many on-trade operators are missing a trick when it comes to mineral water.
“It does surprise me, how many top hotels and restaurants take such care in the choice of so many elements of their food and drink and yet fail to capitalise on a margin opportunity by completing the premium offering with the best quality natural mineral water,” he says. “For instance, selecting ingredients from sustainable source, using healthy ingredients with complete traceability, or top quality wines, and yet do not offer a water with similar credentials.
He concedes that some of the more astute on-trade operators use premium soft drinks and mixers like Fever Tree and Hildon as signpost brands to communicate the concept of quality in their offering, but all too many fail to do so.
He also stresses that growth in recent years hasn’t been driven by value, which suggests that decision makers are missing out on the opportunity to sell a premium water.
What water works best?
So what should you look for in a mineral water supplier? Burston says buyers should not compromise on their water selection simply to save on the cost price. “Margins can be more than made up on the RRP that premium bottle waters can dictate,” he says. “Drinks buyers should look to work with brands that invest to support their listings and that can withstand any level of scrutiny as to the true quality of their product.”
But Burston believes that buyers only need stock one brand of water, and this choice, in the end, comes down to the values and positioning of the offering to the end consumer.
“I would like to think that Hildon will become the signpost for the premium bottled water category, that should look to differentiate their offering away from the mainstream or mainstream plus brands which you see in mass distribution across the major multiples.”
Chance to educate and excite
He believes that the bottled water sector could do more to educate both the trade and consumers regarding the different types of mineral water. “It is only the most discerning of consumer who would know the difference between a single designated source natural mineral water and the majority of mainstream brands in the UK, which is the same as a consumer understanding the quality tiers of a Rioja Joven, Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva,” he says.
With this in mind, Hildon is aiming to educate and convince the trade on the entry, mainstream and premium tiers of bottled water in the market. And one of the ways that Burston thinks will help to achieve a greater understanding is to compare water with wine, and talk about terroir, which as a self-confessed oenophile and a grounding in the wine trade comes as no surprise.
“Just like on the rolling slopes of Burgundy where the terroir has a direct impact on the wines produced, the unique terroir to the Hampshire Test Valley produces a perfectly balanced water ideal to accompany these top wines.
“Having a single designated source such as Hildon is very much like the Premier Cru sub regions of the most recognized wine appellations. Natural mineral waters that cannot show their one single source and the protected environment around it would be the equivalent of a standard Chablis rather than one of the 17 premier crus which have more stringent regulations controlling their source terroir.”
Up for promotion
So how should you display water to its best advantage? And in a premium setting, what brands should you be stocking? Burston advisers displaying water in the same way as the rest of the offering, whether that be on the back bar or on the menus and wine lists.
“Just as you would showcase your wines and spirits with premium offerings at the front of mind, Hildon should also be used to demonstrate to a consumer that quality and luxury is taken very seriously.”
Burston says that Hildon can help outlets with POS that can be tailored to the individual to convey the premium message, using descriptors on wine lists for what makes your chosen water differ in terms of taste and purity, and telling the whole back story of the brand, just as you would do a fine wine or a Scotch whisky.
To boost water sales, Burston recommends that buyers ensure they are carrying the right water brand for the consumer proposition in the first place. “Don’t be afraid to get your staff to lead with the question of whether they would like still or sparkling bottled water to go with their meal. This still allows a consumer to ask for tap, but encourages the purchase of bottled water.”
The use of tent cards on the table, or adding wording to the wine lists to highlight the quality of the water and the importance of palate cleansing and hydration to the overall dining experience are both clever tricks which can further enhance sales, he adds.
So next time you’re asked if you would like another glass of water, consider the level of thought that has gone in to what you are being offered.