Consumer priorities may have changed but sports and energy drinks still offer a key opportunity to charge up sales
by Gaelle Walker
After a challenging 2020, the UK’s sports and energy drinks sector is not only back on track but racing ahead as manufacturers and retailers continue to respond and adapt to new consumer demands in the post-pandemic era.
Summer 2021 witnessed high levels of innovation across the sector (but in energy and stimulants specifically) as consumers began to return to out-of-home socialising, leisure and sport, combining to give the category as a whole a welcome boost.
Impulse sales of sports drinks particularly, which according to Mintel “suffered the most significant decline” in 2020 as a result of months of lockdowns are now well on the road to recovery.
However, with the working from home trend looking well and truly here to stay and many consumers having invested in home gym equipment and entertainment systems during the pandemic, in-home consumption is expected to remain a key opportunity for the foreseeable future.
As a result, and despite the easing of lockdown, brands have not relinquished their focus on in-home and drink later occasions, with many of the big-name manufacturers having continued to invest in new pack formats, including larger sizes and multi-packs, as-well as new products designed for exercising or aiding concentration at home.
This move, Mintel says, is helping brands to establish a “fixed place” on consumers’ shopping lists.
According to Red Bull, “multipacks and larger formats have been crucial in driving category growth,” in the past year and the brand expects this to continue throughout the remainder of 2021 and beyond.
The continuing focus on drink later occasions also prompted Suntory to launched 12x330ml cans of Lucozade Energy and 6x380ml multipacks of Lucozade Zero Pink Lemonade mid-way through 2021.
Suntory Beverage & Food GB&I Channel Director, Wholesale, Matt Gouldsmith elaborates: “The pandemic and lockdown restrictions meant consumers’ shopping habits changed dramatically, with on-the-go and team sporting occasions disappearing and it’s great to see these have now returned.
“We moved quickly to better fit the shifting focus on drink-later occasions to make sure we had the right pack formats for shoppers.
“Cans proved particularly relevant, so we expanded our portfolio into more single and multipack can formats as a result.
“We suspect that many of the consumers who have bought into take-home formats over the past year will continue to do so – and we’re making sure our range of packs and formats reflects this.”
However, despite the easing of lockdown restrictions and return to a more “normal” way of life – fatigue and stress continue to dog many consumers – a fact which has led to strong sales and an innovation explosion in the stimulants category.
While working from home may well have its perks, it also throws up a fair few challenges and added pressures: collaboration challenges, technology glitches and greater trouble ‘switching off’ to name but a few.
The impact of changed family dynamics can also not be underestimated and with Covid infection rates continuing to climb, despite the successful vaccine rollout, anxiety continues to hold court at the back of many minds contributing to sleep woes and the tiredness factor.
Given all this, it’s hardly surprising then that recent research from Suntory also indicates that 75% of people are currently concerned about their levels of tiredness and stress.
Research from Barr Soft Drinks also supports this finding, as Marketing Director Adrian Troy explains: “The Energy category has always been driven by people’s needs and there are currently big sections of society that are busier than ever before.
“We may have lost the busy morning commute, which has always been a hotspot for Energy consumption, but it’s been replaced by juggling childcare and the need to catch up on work late into the evenings, which creates the need to feel alert and awake throughout the day.
In line with these trends Barr Soft Drinks launched Rubicon RAW – a new Big Can Energy drink “designed to meet the developing needs of today’s Energy consumers”.
Made with 20% fruit juice, natural caffeine, B-vitamins, ginseng and guarana, the Rubicon RAW range consists of three variants – Raspberry & Blueberry, Orange & Mango and Cherry & Pomegranate, with natural flavours and no artificial colours.
Lucozade also launched new stimulation drink Lucozade Alert earlier this year in Tropical Burst and Cherry Blast flavours.
Containing naturally sourced caffeine and vitamin B3 (which supports normal nervous system function and also fights fatigue) Lucozade Alert was brought to the market to respond “to a clear consumer need for a stimulation drink which tastes great, is low calorie and relevant to a wider audience.”
Britvic’s Purdeys brand also joined the stimulation fray introducing two new flavours over the summer: Refocus – a blend of dark fruits, naturally caffeinated and containing guarana and B vitamins and Replenish – a lighter refreshing blend of sparkling raspberry juices with rose extract for under 50 calories a bottle.
The drink is also enriched with B vitamins and magnesium “to help to restore natural balance”.
Focus on flavour
All these launches also tap into growing demand for more exciting fruity flavours.
According to Barr Soft Drinks, flavoured energy now accounts for 53% of the mainstream energy market, and is growing faster than non-fruit.
According to Red Bull: “Shoppers are buying more flavours as a take-home purchase than ever before. As well as this, tropical and exotic flavours have grown at a rate of +37% vs all other mainstream flavours on offer.”
Tapping into this trend, Red Bull’s Editions portfolio, which currently includes Coconut Berry, Tropical and Red, is just about to get another member in the form of Cactus Fruit which, following a sizzling summer of sales, is set to join the line-up as a permanent addition from December.
And Suntory’s foray into flavours certainly hasn’t stopped with Lucozade Alert.
The manufacturer has also added new flavours across its Lucozade Sport and Energy ranges over the course of the past year including Lucozade Zero Tropical and the addition of a new Raspberry Ripple flavour to its Lucozade’s Energy range.
New flavours have also been pivotal to the success of CCEP’s Monster brand in 2021, with the addition of new variants to its core, Juiced and Ultra ranges including Monster Mule, Monster Ultra Fiesta, and Monster Juiced Monarch – a combination of real peach and nectarine juices with Monster’s energy blend.
Another major consumer need which has been enthusiastically answered with innovative NPD this year is the growing demand for sugar-free and low or no calorie options.
While healthier alternatives such as low and no sugar options have been gaining ground for some time, the pandemic has shone a light on health and wellness.
Low calorie variants have also been growing ahead of sugar versions, especially in the stimulants segment the review adds – and with 27% of people actively reducing their sugar intake, “no sugar is a key area of growth for the stimulants category”.
Brands responding to the no sugar opportunity include Red Bull, which has now enhanced its portfolio to include a sugar-free variant of almost every pack in its range, a move which it says has “clearly resounded with shoppers”.
Rockstar, which was recently given a makeover including a new look, flavour reformulation and a multipack format, also expanded its line-up with the launch of Rockstar Original No Sugar over the summer.
With the same taste, Vitamin C content and functional benefits of Rockstar Original, the no sugar alternative has been designed to offer customers greater choice within the energy drinks category.
Recent months have also seen an increasing amount of innovative sampling campaigns and promotional activations from its leading sport and energy drink manufacturers.
Irn-Bru Energy is currently mid-way through a mass sampling campaign set to run until December in a bid to get more than 200,000 cans into the hands of Scottish energy drinkers.
Commenting on the campaign, Barr Soft Drinks Marketing Director Adrian Troy says: “Energy is the biggest and most profitable Drink Now segment in Scotland and Flavoured Energy is leading the charge, now accounting for 34% of mainstream energy market sales, and outperforming Original Energy.
“We know that Energy is a buoyant and fast-growing sector of the soft drinks market, but shoppers need to see more choice and exciting flavours to keep them engaged.”
Meanwhile, tapping into the in-home occasion and consumers’ growing thirst for gaming, CCEP’s Monster Energy brand recently announced a new partnership with Apex Legends.
Live now until the end of the year, the Apex Legends on-pack promotion is available on variants from Monster’s core, Monster Juiced and Monster Ultra ranges. Unique codes located under can ring-pulls offer consumers points towards exclusive Battle Pass prizes and in-game content.
This latest promo was designed to give Monster a boost at a time that it was “already on a record-breaking trajectory,” CCEP said.