The changing face of summer drinks

soft drinks

What customers are looking for from summer drinks is evolving fast with healthier options and bigger packs driving much of the growth in the category.

With a potentially enormous summer lying ahead of us as Covid restrictions (hopefully) continue to be relaxed and consumers across Scotland looking to throw themselves back into something more closely resembling normality, there’s a lot for retailers to think about over the coming months.

Not least of those concerns will be the summer drinks category. If the next few months see another hot summer like last year, the category will be critical to local retailers in generating much-needed new footfall and in attempting to keep basket spend nice and high, as it’s been for most of the last year.

But things have clearly changed over the last year and that definitely includes what shoppers are looking for when they browse their local store in search of summer drinks. So what are the biggest changes?

Pack formats and value

Matt Gouldsmith, Channel Director, Wholesale at Suntory Beverage & Food GB&I, says: “Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, consumers have spent more time at home, leading to a greater focus on take-home drinks such as larger formats and multi-packs across the category – in fact, one in four shoppers are now consuming more soft drinks.

Suntory has seen significant increases in sales of Lucozade Energy and Ribena’s drink-later portfolios.

“Lucozade Energy is catering for this rise in in-home drinking occasions this month with the launch of a brand new 1.45L bottle, price-marked at £2,” says Gouldsmith. “This new format launch will also be joined by a Lucozade Energy 12x330ml cans pack. Research indicates that 64% of consumers would buy a larger serve pack if it were available.”

The company has also reduced the on-pack price of some of its most popular drink-later products, including Ribena 600ml squash, tapping into the continued popularity of price-marked packs, and the growth in sales of drink-later formats.

Adrian Troy, Marketing Director at Barr Soft Drinks , echoes these sentiments: “The balance of Drink Now and Take Home Soft Drinks changed during lockdown as social occasions moved to ‘in home’ and, while we expect ‘food to go’ shopping missions to recover, the warm weather, combined with sporting events and longer evenings creates the perfect opportunity for retailers to continue driving take home sales by inspiring and exciting their shoppers.”

Phil Sanders, Out of Home Commercial Director at Britvic agrees that value will be vital this summer and that PMPs will be critical in helping communicate that value.

“At the start of the first lockdown in March 2020, with people stockpiling some essentials, promotions lost relevance – but as we have moved on from this, value is becoming more important once again,” he says. “As we experience a challenging financial period, shoppers will be looking to spend wisely and PMPs can offer assurance that they are getting great value. As people start to feel more confident about returning to variations of their old day-to-day routines – whether that be attending university or working from the office more regularly – retailers will need to prepare accordingly.”

Britvic has responded to that challenges by updating its 500ml £1PMP offering across its entire no-added-sugar range.

“This is a temporary move and includes Pepsi MAX, Pepsi MAX Cherry & Raspberry, Diet Pepsi, 7UP Free and Tango,” says Sanders. “It will allow retailers to clearly communicate value to their shoppers, at a time when this is so important as a result of the pandemic. The exciting new Tango Sugar Free Dark Berry flavour will also include this £1 price mark on pack.”

Small changes, big growth

Suntory Beverage & Food GB&I recently worked with independent retailer Umesh Patel of UP1 News in East London to find out how small changes can help to grow soft drinks sales:

Block your soft drinks by category

It’s important to group the same types of drinks together. After putting all flavoured carbs together in one block in the chiller, sales in this category grew 7.1%. This will also help shoppers find what they want more easily.

Within each category, arrange by format

Range formats within each category together so they flow smoothly. Putting colas together, for example, and then segmenting tis section further into cans and formats, will improve the ‘shopability’ of the category by making it easier to find the right format.

Block energy by category and highlight your take-home offer

Energy and sports drinks account for almost a third of total soft drinks sales in convenience, so it’s an important segment of any retailers’ chiller, with drinks satisfying different shopper needs. By blocking sports and energy by need state – starting with stimulants, flowing into sports, then energy and finally natural energy, customers will be able to easily find the right drink for the right occasion.

Health and wellbeing

Suntory’s Gouldsmith comments: “When it comes to lower-sugar soft drinks, it’s important to understand that this trend is part of a wider, long-term shift in consumer attitudes as we are all becoming more aware of our health and wellbeing.

Lower-sugar soft drinks are particularly important in contributing to the growth of take-home formats, which is especially relevant after a year which saw larger packs grow.

“Low and no sugar soft drinks make up more than half (of total soft drink volumes sold, so it is an incredibly important category for retailers to pay attention to.

“To help tap into this trend, Lucozade launched a brand-new drink: Lucozade Zero Tropical. Available in 500ml bottles, Lucozade Zero Tropical is the Lucozade brand’s first ever flavour exclusive to the Lucozade Zero range.”

One brand that has long targeted shoppers looking for healthier soft drink options is Purdeys. The company has recently expanded its range with the addition of two new products: Refocus and Replenish. Both offer consumers the choice of a wider range of benefits to meet the different energy needs throughout the day and week.

Over the last year, the pandemic has accelerated health trends, creating opportunities for wellness brands. Refocus and Replenish are ideally positioned to meet these growing consumer needs by offering multiple benefits for those seeking energy but looking for a more ‘natural’ lift.

Aqua Libra has also broadened its range of infused sparkling waters with the introduction last month of a new raspberry and blackcurrant variant in single 330ml cans with a multipack rolling out in May to capitalise on the take-home occasion.

But while health is critical, AG Barr’s Adrian Troy advises retailers not to forget that balance is vital.

He says: “As the trend of health continues to grow, so does the range of products that are available to shoppers. However, taste remains the number one reason for shoppers to choose a soft drink and it is essential that retailers offer a wide choice of flavours to satisfy many different needs. Plain water was significantly hit during lockdown, both from a Drink Now and Take Home perspective, with shoppers switching their spend into flavoured sparkling water, as consumers are not prepared to compromise on taste when looking for healthier options. Flavoured sparkling water delivers 50% more value through retailers’ tills so it’s important to have the right balance of products in their stores to meet shopper needs and maximise sales.”

Make sales soar this summer

Adrian Troy, Marketing Director at Barr Soft Drinks, identifies key ways to drive summer sales:

Chilled Drinks

The importance of offering chilled soft drinks in summer cannot be overlooked. Shoppers prefer their drinks to be chilled, with ‘Drink now’ sales accounting for more than three quarters of all soft drinks sales in convenience.

Availability & Choice

Ensure that your soft drinks fixture is highly visible, well presented and restocked regularly during the summer months. If a product is selling out regularly increase the number of facings. Higher value Take Home products are also important for summer occasions like BBQ.

Health & Lifestyle

We know that the way people live is changing – health is becoming more important and, especially with younger shoppers, we’re seeing an increase in demand for lower calorie products and a significant reduction in the consumption of alcohol. Offer a good choice of low calorie products to cater for these consumers.


The role of NPD will also be critical this summer and there’s plenty for retailers and customers to get excited about. Gouldsmith says: “In terms of growth drivers, it’s important to remember shoppers want variety when buying soft drinks.

“Ribena brought its unique taste and vitamin C to the flavoured carbonates category with the launch of new Ribena Sparkling, in two flavours: blackcurrant and raspberry. Both are available in 500ml and 2l bottles as well as, newly available, 330ml single cans.

“Ribena is also helping retailers capitalise on the growing demand for interesting and great-tasting squash options with the recent launch of a new flavour. Ribena Raspberry & Rhubarb squash is available in 600ml bottles which are perfect for sharing.”

Meanwhile, Tango introduced a new sugar free Dark Berry variant last month in a range of formats, including 6-can multipacks and 2l bottles to share within the household.

For impulse purchases it is also available in singles, with the addition of a £1 PMP 500ml bottle.

One product likely to feature this summer is Barr Soft Drinks’ latest innovation, Rubicon Raw. “We’ve launched Rubicon Raw to meet the needs of today’s developing Energy consumers,” says Troy.

“We have invested heavily throughout the development of Rubicon Raw to understand the Energy consumer better, and what’s relevant in their lives today. They adopted the category as young adults, but many have matured and evolved as consumers since then, and they’re calling out for something new.

“The average age of an energy drinker is older than one might think at 31, and their needs are moving on. They are life maximisers, people who want to get the most out of life. Energy drinks fuel that lifestyle.

“The No. 1 reason consumers like Rubicon Raw is that it’s made with 20% real fruit juice, which together with caffeine from green coffee beans and B-vitamins provides a big energy hit that is full of flavour.”

The Rubicon Raw range comprises three variants – Raspberry and Blueberry, Orange and Mango and Cherry and Pomegranate, with natural flavours and no artificial colours.

The launch is being supported by a £1.5m consumer, social and shopper marketing campaign designed to raise awareness and encourage trial.

In line with Barr Soft Drink’s commitment to environmental sustainability, the Rubicon Raw outer case will be wrapped in 100% recycled film, which has more than half the carbon footprint of its virgin plastic equivalent.

The levy-free 500ml Rubicon Raw range is available in plain pack (RSP £1.29) and a £1.29 PMP with a range of in-store and in-depot POS to signpost the category and engage shoppers at the fixture.

Bullish about summer

Today Sports & Energy is worth £1.4bn, with growth totalling over £43.2m vs 2019 [Nielsen, Dec 2020]. Red Bull continues to drive growth, boosting sales by £35.4m vs YTD last year. The company says shoppers are also putting more Red Bull in their baskets, more frequently and Red Bull will continue to support this positive category growth throughout 2021.

In the latest six months, Red Bull sold 32.5% more Sugarfree volume through multipacks [Nielsen, Dec 2020] highlighting the importance of sugarfree options.

Similarly, Red Bull Zero relaunched in early 2020 with a reformulated taste profile to appeal to shopper demands and a four-pack has since been added.

Last month, Red Bull launched its latest Summer Edition, Cactus Fruit, delivering all of the functional benefits of Red Bull Energy Drink, along with a burst of berry.