Britvic to push serve to the Max

Related tags Soft drinks Coca-cola

As soft drinks prices continue to command a premium there is a fear that licenses are not providing the quality of serve needed to justify a high...

As soft drinks prices continue to command a premium there is a fear that licenses are not providing the quality of serve needed to justify a high price. Adam Withrington spoke to Britvic's Duncan Hay about perfect serve and how there's more to life than J2O.

Duncan Hay, business unit director for the on-trade at Britvic, is not impressed. "That's outrageous," he muses as I tell him of my friend who was charged £4.50 for a pint of lemonade and lime in her friend's local pub.

This may seem a fairly innocuous story but the fact that she sent the drink back, refused to pay and then left the pub is more interesting. Even worrying.

We live in an age where soft drinks are priced pretty highly in pubs. And that is all very well provided you can justify that price with a high quality of serve.

Duncan doesn't sound surprised that the drink was sent back. "Soft drinks are an important contributor of margin and it is a growth category," he says, "but making money from soft drinks is not a given - it's something that licensees still have to work hard at.

"We have to beware of poor consumer experiences which will make customers feel disappointed and ripped off."

It is a fair point. Brand owners, pub companies and shock, horror, even trade journalists, can be guilty of finding a profitable category or brand and then shoving it down licensees' throats.

As a result there is a suggestion that some pubs have developed a mentality that they can serve a soft drink in any fashion they like and then attach a hefty price tag to it - regardless of the quality. In the long term this strategy will simply push customers like my friend back there out of the front door of your pub.

For this reason Britvic has made a real commitment to a programme educating licensees on the benefits of Perfect Serve.

Duncan's passion for the project is engaging - not necessarily because he believes it is the most important issue in soft drinks but because it is the easiest thing for licensees to adapt to.

"Is the perfect serve message low hanging fruit? Yes. At the point of serve is it easy to execute? Yes it is. Would anybody argue with it? No. Will every consumer appreciate it? Yes. Does it cost a lot? No," he says.

"So why doesn't everybody do it? It is just about creating a habit amongst barstaff and I think in the past people have been more attuned to doing that with alcohol than with soft drinks. So is perfect serve the most important thing? No it's not - but is it the easiest big lesson to learn? Absolutely."The prime driver behind the campaign has been Britvic's desire to capture the hearts and minds of licensees in the tenanted and free trade.

"In managed estates it's much easier for us to get routes of communication, to line managers and staff in pubs," says Duncan.

"In the freetrade these routes to market are much more dispersed. Our challenge is how do we positively influence publicans in the tenanted, leased and freetrade arena to do what we would see as the right thing.

"Obviously some might not want to be told what to do by us. Others will be more open-minded and might think, it's a challenging trading environment right now and we need to be competitive and give a customer offer that people are going to come back for and more importantly pay a price for."

However, he believes there is still a huge amount of work to do. "I don't think the perfect serve message has penetrated very far into the trade. We started with small parts of the managed trade - so we haven't even got to 10 per cent of pubs yet."

If Britvic has been accused of anything in recent months it is that is has become a one-trick pony, thanks to the success of J2O. Over the last two to three years it has become the soft drink equivalent of Stella Artois - seen and stocked everywhere.

In The Publican's Market Report in August, J2O featured at number two in the most stocked list of soft drinks and also at number one in the most desired soft drinks brands chart.

But does such success come at a price? Surely it means you will focus all your time and effort on the brand making all the headlines? Duncan feels this is unfair. "I would see J2O as just one part of our portfolio. We've got some great things going on and J2O is just part of that."

Despite the big noise around J2O Duncan insists the "story" in soft drinks is still colas. "The biggest part of soft drinks is carbonates on dispense and colas is the biggest part of that."

And Britvic has Pepsi. According to the latest AC Nielsen stats Pepsi's total value share has increased by 2.4 per cent in the last year while Coca-Cola's has dropped by two per cent.

However, rather than reflect on this, Duncan is really keen to focus on what he sees as the big story in cola, and that is Pepsi Max.

"Still by far and away the consumption of cola in pubs is dominated by regular and not diet," he says. "The buyers in pubs tend to be male and males are much less concerned with diet drinks than females.

"The reason for this is either they're calorie-hungry males who don't care about diet, or they don't like the taste of diet, and that's where Max comes in. It's a rich, highly flavoured product and therefore it is extending consumer choice and the core audience for Max is young male cola drinkers - but it doesn't exclude females."

All of Pepsi's UK marketing and advertising spend in the coming year will be weighted heavily towards Max. There is also speculation that Britvic might introduce Max on dispense in pubs, although nothing as yet is confirmed.

So with Britvic spending money across the board on technology, innovation and in training programmes it would seem investment is the key theme for Duncan. He certainly believes that licensees should look to spend money to get results in the soft drinks category - in other words 'you get out what you put in'.

"I would say the most important question to ask is how can I [as a licensee] sell more rather than how can I spend less," he says.

"It is about maximising consumer satisfaction rather than reducing cost. It is in all of our interests to have an enduring and thriving pub market."

Related topics Soft & Hot Drinks

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