New challenges and refreshing opportunities

Woman pours soft drink

The soft drinks category has some new hurdles to jump this summer.

By Gaelle Walker

The sun is shining (or meant to be), the bees and buzzing and layers are being stripped off – it can mean only one thing… summer is here!

However, while the warmer season has traditionally served up fluid sales for the soft drinks category, this summer will also see a flow of new challenges poured into the mix.

While many of the difficulties and uncertainties that dogged manufacturers, retailers and shoppers over the pandemic years have now quietened, they have been replaced by “new obstacles to traverse,” Britvic’s annual Soft Drinks Review 2022 says.

Not only has consumer behaviour changed thanks to a new hybrid work from home dynamic, but consumer confidence is also currently “at rock bottom” thanks to the current economic squeeze.

In fact, consumers are currently £1,200 worse off on average this year compared to 2021, Britvic says.

Add in to the mix the continuing boom in online purchasing and quick home delivery services and its clear to see that in 2022, manufacturers and convenience retailers alike may have to work a little harder to make soft drinks pay this summer.

Helping shoppers to “elevate” their soft drink experiences both in the home, and out of it, via the launch of exciting new products, engaging campaigns and eye-catching in-store activations will be key, Britvic adds.

In fact, according to Britvic, despite the challenging economic situation, there remains a strong outlook for premium products that offer high quality experiences. In other words: shoppers will pay if it’s worth it.

The move towards more premium-priced options was already starting to show in 2021 with a 6% price per litre growth, primarily driven by the resurgence of on-the-go drinks and the accelerated growth of the energy drinks segment – two trends that Britvic also expects to continue throughout 2022.

Flavour innovations will be key, especially in the carbonates sector, which performed strongly in 2021, with cola sales up 4% and adding £23m in value to c-stores.

Sales through stores were largely driven by sugar-free cola, which was up by 7%.

Getting in on the innovation game ahead of the summer, Coca-Cola recently launched a limited-edition Intergalactic variant – inspired by the world of space.

The zero-sugar product is the first in what will be a line-up of limited-edition colas under the Coca-Cola Creations brand – and has been designed to offer a “refreshing, innovative take” on the classic taste, with the added bonus of a “cooling sensation”.

Martin Attock, VP of Commercial Development at Coca-Cola Europacific Partners GB, says: “Innovations like Intergalactic give us an opportunity to drive excitement, talkability and momentum around the Coca-Cola brand – engaging new and existing shoppers with innovative flavours and experiences unlike anything they’ve had before.”

Soft facts
  • Soft drinks added £182m in sales to the convenience channel in 2021, with the category now worth £2.48bn.
  • Soft drink sales in 2021 were up +11% on 2020 and up +8% on 2019.
  • Drink-now soft drink formats are currently experiencing year-on-year growth of 26%. (Source: Suntory)
  • 56% of shoppers say soft drinks are the main reason for visiting convenience stores.

(Source: Britvic Soft Drinks Review 2022 except where indicated otherwise)

Away from colas, other recent innovations in the fruit carbonates market include Britvic’s new Tango Editions range. The sugar-free, rotational flavour series is seeking to “drive excitement” in the fruit carbonates sector with its combination of “bold” flavours, liquids and pack designs.

First launched in February, the first edition ‘Berry Peachy’ offers a new Peach & Raspberry-flavoured drink with a new Edition expected to hit shelves soon.

And in yet another bid to help shoppers elevate their on-the-go hydration experiences, Britvic also extended its Robinson’s squash brand with a new range of Benefit Drops.

Available now, each of the four new mini packs offers a different added functional benefit – offering shoppers “a convenient and tasty way to gain additional vitamins while on-the-move,” Britvic’s Out Of Home Director Phil Sanders says.

“We know that being on-the-go can sometimes be a barrier for people when it comes to staying hydrated throughout the day. As more shoppers return to being on the move, as does the need for portable and flavourful refreshment options.

“Each of the four flavours in the range provides a different added vitamin combination, which is perfectly suited for shoppers looking for functional drinks to suit their lifestyle, especially considering 32% of consumers have said they would be interested in buying cordials and squashes with added vitamins or minerals,” he adds.

Similar to the existing minis range, Benefit Drops can be displayed on clip strips in the fridges at the front of stores to encourage impulse buys and keep the brand at the front of shoppers’ minds.

However, despite the trend towards more premium products and elevated experiences, retailers should certainly not lose their grip on the lower end of the pricing spectrum, Britvic warns.

Due to the current “polarisation of personal finances,” the two trends look set to run alongside each other as consumer buying habits continue to evolve throughout the summer and beyond.

With large numbers of consumers feeling the pinch from rising living costs, 43.9% of sales in the convenience market now come from PMPs – up from 38.1% in 2019, Britvic says.

Suntory Beverage & Food GB&I’s Wholesale Channel Director Matt Gouldsmith, is also keen to stress the key role that PMPs can play in convenience stores.

“Price-marked packs are incredibly important for retailers when it comes to demonstrating value to their shoppers,” he says.

“They need to be balanced alongside shopper insight and store-specific requirements in order to meet the needs of consumers. We know that price-marked soft drinks are growing more quickly than non-price-marked packs.

“To help retailers make the right choice on what to stock in their store, we offer the option of price-marked or non-price-marked packs across our range of soft drinks, including leading brands Lucozade Energy, Lucozade Sport, Lucozade Alert and Ribena.”

Retailer View

Saleem Sadiq, Spar Renfrew

“Soft drinks is such a huge category for local stores and undoubtably drives shoppers in, especially in the summer months when shoppers are in need of refreshment on the go.

At Spar Renfrew we dedicate 25 metres of chiller space to soft drinks. Energy drinks and carbonates are both in growth, especially the sugar free variants, but it’s also important to talk about water.

“Water is a massive seller in our store and we devote more than three metres of chilled space to it and are considering even more. In terms of volumes, bottled water sales are now almost outstripping energy drinks which is pretty incredible. We expect demand for bottled water to grow as we head into the summer and shoppers seek out products which offer them natural, simple, instant refreshment.”