On-Trade vs Off-Trade: Understanding Key Terms in the Alcohol Industry


On-Trade vs Off-Trade: Understanding Key Terms in the Alcohol Industry

Delve into the alcohol industry's language as we break down the critical terms 'on-trade' and 'off-trade', shedding light on their meaning and the role they play.

In any industry, understanding the jargon is key to navigating the landscape with confidence and clarity. The alcohol industry is no different. Two terms that are essential to grasp are "on-trade" and "off-trade". While they might sound like industry insider talk, they're actually straightforward once you know what they refer to. Let's dive into what these terms mean and why they're important in the world of alcohol distribution.

What Does On-Trade Mean?

In the context of the alcohol industry, the term "on-trade" refers to venues where alcohol is sold for immediate consumption. This includes places like bars, pubs, restaurants, nightclubs, and hotels. When you sit down at a bar and order a craft beer, a glass of wine, or a cocktail, you're participating in the on-trade market.

The on-trade market is a vital part of the alcohol industry. It's often where consumers first encounter new brands or types of alcohol, making it a key channel for brand building and product discovery. Moreover, the on-trade market can offer higher margins than other sales channels, making it a lucrative avenue for producers.

What Does Off-Trade Mean?

Contrastingly, the term "off-trade" refers to outlets where alcohol is sold for consumption elsewhere, typically at home. This includes supermarkets, liquor stores, online retailers, and any other place where you might buy a bottle of wine, a pack of beer, or a bottle of spirits to enjoy later.

The off-trade market tends to focus more on volume sales. Prices are usually lower than in the on-trade market, reflecting the different service levels and experiences. However, the off-trade market can offer broader reach and greater accessibility, making it a critical channel for most alcohol brands.

The Importance of On-Trade and Off-Trade

Understanding the difference between on-trade and off-trade is crucial for anyone involved in the alcohol industry. Each channel has its unique characteristics, opportunities, and challenges, and a successful brand strategy usually involves a blend of both.

For instance, launching a new product might involve a focus on on-trade outlets to create buzz and allow consumers to try the product in an engaging setting. Once the brand is established, the focus might shift towards off-trade outlets to broaden reach and drive volume sales.

Similarly, different types of products might perform better in different channels. Premium products, for example, often do well in the on-trade market, where consumers are willing to pay more for a high-quality drinking experience. More mainstream products, meanwhile, might find their largest audience in the off-trade market.


On-trade and off-trade are fundamental concepts in the alcohol industry. They describe two key channels through which alcohol is sold and consumed, each with its own dynamics and market forces. By understanding these terms, you can make more informed decisions about your distribution strategy, product positioning, and marketing efforts. Whether you're a craft distiller looking to break into the market, a wine producer eyeing international expansion, or simply an enthusiast eager to understand the industry better, you’ll likely run into these terms on your journey!