The black and white view of the world which is sent out by market research companies being skewed to present the view that was required by the client is something we are all used to.  This week it was claimed that pubs lose £700m in sales by giving out tap water.  The survey was commissioned by a soft drinks company who makes flavoured water with “depth, intrigue and complexity”.   I’ll pull this up on the most obvious point, water is not inherently interesting to drink, it is necessary for us all to survive past the end of the week, so adding hints of a few “zingy” fruit flavours isn’t much of a bonus.

Throughout time people have found ways of making it more interesting, and of course beer is just one of those ways, although an excellent one at that.   There were times when beer was drank by the whole family (with the children having a low strength “small beer”) instead of water because of diseases carried by the native liquid.  Reports say that manual workers in the 18th century were given up to 10 pints of this “small beer” during an average work day to keep them hydrated.

But lets get back to the cynical marketing from Zeo which apparently comes from “the edge of Russia”.  I’ll quote a line from their website “Russia doesn’t dabble in quaint or half-hearted! This is a vast untamed wilderness where wolves and tigers still prowl free, with a reputation as a hot bed of ingenuity, imagination and revolutionary ideals”.   When I think of orange, lime and lemon flavoured water, tigers and bears really are the first thing to jump into my mind.   The only bit of that I agree with is the first 8 words, especially when it has Vladimir Putins’ signature at the bottom of the document.

But look past just this product and the numbers don’t stack up.  They say that 33% of people who ordered tap water were not offered an alternative and would have upgraded and that 45% of those people would stay longer in the pub if they had a better choice of soft drinks.   Most bars now stock J2O, fruit juices and syrup mixers such as Coke and Lemonade, quite a number offering warm drinks as well.  With this choice, why would a flavoured water make £700m difference, it wouldn’t at all.  The second point is people stay in the pub for a reason, whether it be the beer, the wine, the food or the company they are keeping.  It certainly is not for the soft drinks, and lets be frank the company is king, even if you are not with anyone else and drinking solo, the ambiance from the staff and other customers affects your decision to stay.

What else they are ignoring is that there is a requirement in the Licensing Act 2003 (enacted 2010) that tap water be offered free if alcohol is served.  If people want water, they will ask, they have brains to make decisions.  Nobody is that feebly minded they are only having water because they were not offered an alternative.  Finally If I am going to spend £1.50 to £2 on a soft drink, I’m going to get something with a bit of flavour, not pay for what is effectively a pre-mixed fruit cordial where I could buy a splash for a third of the price.

The company behind Zeo, Freedrinks said “A desire for healthier food and drinks, a fall in alcoholic consumption per capita and evidence that people are disappointed with the current soft-drinks offer”.  Lets get a reality check here, most people go to the pub to drink alcohol, whether be a single pint, go on a session, enjoy a bottle of wine or a couple of G+T’s.  Soft drinks, both hot and cold compliment these core offerings, giving a choice to non drinking members of the party and young family members.  If you didn’t want to drink alcohol you would probably go to a coffee shop and judging by the number on our town centre streets, many people do so often.  Coming back to my point earlier, if you are in a pub drinking soft drinks collectively as a party, then the staff, customers or event are what bringing you there, not the drinks.

Pubs, as they are today, came about as there was such a demand for alcohol that the thousands of front rooms in the 18th century being used to serve home made beer needed to be brought under controlled legislation.   People hunt out pubs for their beer, both range and quality, it has always been this way and always will be.  Amen to that.

  1. Jolly Jock says:

    I’ve got to admit that I felt I needed to find out more about Zeo after reading your piece. At 1.29 for 275ml (think 2.70 a pint) in Tesco, the research has not stretched as far as drinking the stuff. I hate to admit it, but it sounds like I might like it, but if I’m paying, let’s face it, north of £3 in a pub, I expect a bit more than a dribble of liquid however tasty (fine wines and spirits excepted!).