Soft Drinks Focus: Step up the soft

Related tags Soft drinks Soft drink Coca-cola

Soft drinks have been generally a bit of a blind spot in our country's pubs. It's all too often that they're treated as an afterthought in the bar's...

Soft drinks have been generally a bit of a blind spot in our country's pubs. It's all too often that they're treated as an afterthought in the bar's offering, and by keeping things this way publicans are missing out on a valuable sales opportunity.

In 2009, the UK soft drinks market grew by 1.7 per cent, according to figures in the British Soft Drinks Association's 2010 UK Soft Drinks Report. Despite the fact that the alcohol mandatory code now means that pubs must serve water free of charge, brands are investing in new soft drink launches. The demand is growing.

So it's clear that the days of soft drinks being little more than a token fizzy pop are over - but why are pubs less keen to reflect these changing tastes in their offering?

Marvin Henshaw, Pago's UK manager, agrees that pubs are missing a trick when it comes to soft drinks. "Premiumisation has swept through all other drinks categories but many operators are still defaulting to tetra packs and concentrate for their mixers and soft drinks portfolio," he says. "Where is the theatre or integrity in that?"

With a growing variety of soft drinks available, and an increase in their popularity, there are plenty of reasons to start stocking a more diverse range.

The rise of food

The increase in soft drinks sales has been linked to the rise in pub food sales. This year saw a revolution in the industry when The Publican reported that food sales surpassed drinks sales in pubs for the first time.

According to Ian Patefield, channel marketing manager for licensed trade at Britvic, "the growth in family-friendly establishments has increased the market for soft drinks, which may help to explain the category's resilience". Because of the popularity of soft drinks as a complement to food, meals present the perfect opportunity to increase sales of premium soft drinks with a high mark-up.

And Britvic has noted this opportunity in its products, through the introduction of a new J2O range this year, J2O White Blend.

Ian explains that the company worked closely with wine and food pairing expert Chris Scott in an effort to create the perfectly blended drink to accompany food. Ian explains: "J2O White Blend offers publicans the chance to capitalise on soft drink sales in line with the growing focus on food, where soft drinks are commonly purchased as the perfect accompaniment." To that end the range includes White Grape & Kiwi, which was created to work well with white meats and savoury and salty snacks, while Red Grape & Blackcurrant, with its fruitiness and spicy notes, complements stronger, more complex foods.

For the health-conscious customer Premium soft drinks present the perfect opportunity for pubs to steer customers away from the standard request for a jug of tap water too. This is especially the case for brands that have seized the chance to produce healthy drinks to match the nation's increasingly health-conscious attitude. So for customers looking for something a little bit lighter, there are soft drinks like Appletiser.

Dave McNulty is the trading director for on-premise at Coca-Cola Enterprises, which owns Appletiser. He says: "Appletiser contains 100 per cent juice, no artificial colours, flavours or added sugar and counts as one of your five a day." And the healthier soft drink approach seems to be paying off. Dave says that the range has achieved on-trade distribution growth of 6.2 per cent in 2010.

And fruit juices have diversified too. Consumers are keen to get their 'five-a-day' from more interesting avenues than just orange juice, which has sparked the launch of Pago's 14 different flavours of premium fruit juices. Described as a 100 per cent natural drink with no artificial ingredients, Pago is available only in the on-trade. This year has seen the launch of a new Cloudy Apple flavour, which contains 10 different apple varieties.

And recently, in a move borrowed from the guest ale market, Pago has provided stockists with a mixed case of juices with 40 sample cups and promotional literature in a bid to allow consumers the chance to try before they buy.

"We realise that purchasing cases of new flavours is a risk for stockists so we devised this idea, making it an easy and unique mechanic for the retailer," explains Martin Henshaw, Pago's UK manager.

But even more traditional juice companies like Tropicana have been innovative in keeping the sector, shall we say, fresh. Tropicana has noticed the nation's health kick, noting consumer "desire to eat and drink healthily is continuing to drive the category, along with an increased emphasis on value". This year Tropicana has responded to the diversification in the juice market with the introduction of three new 'orange plus' flavours; Orange & Passionfruit, Orange & Lime and Orange and Watermelon. And adding a twist to a classic juice, it launched Tropicana Extra Juicy Bits, which contains 50 per cent more pulp than Original.

And the sales speak for themselves in this category. Steve Cooper is the marketing director and co-founder of The Feel Good Drinks Company. He explains: "We have more than doubled our on-trade business in 2010 against the previous year. This has been prompted by our launch of a new 275ml on-trade pack and a consumer move to 100 per cent natural drinks and juice drinks, which have no added sugar or artificial nasties."

Designated drivers

Christmas time is synonymous with a crackdown on drink drivers. But there's only so much cola that those staying away from booze can drink in one night. So with more designated drivers than ever avoiding the hard stuff this Christmas, it's a perfect opportunity to cash in by offering a diverse range of soft drinks.

And this year saw the launch of a new soft drink hellbent on seizing this opportunity. Independent drinks manufacturer Halewood International launched Iron Press in June. Billed as a 'soft drink for real men', it comes in lime and apple flavours in 500ml bottles.

Armed with research that identified that 50 per cent of men are disengaged by the soft drinks category, which prevents them from enjoying a night out with friends if it's their turn to drive, the guys at Iron Press announced a pre-Christmas push to keep designated drivers at the bar during the festive season.

They discovered that, of 2,000 men surveyed, 42 per cent said they would rather stay in than face an evening at the bar with a cola or lemonade.

Richard Clark, head of innovation at Halewood International, described the drink's appeal to the male market. He says: "It gives men who don't consume alcohol the opportunity to enjoy a soft drink that looks like a beer." What's more, it has less fizz than other carbonated drinks, so will not leave customers feeling bloated.

And the team at Halewood will try to build further on the success of Iron Press over Christmas, as the 'Iron Press Designated Driver Campaign' will roll out over the next few weeks. As well as a point-of-sale reward scheme for pubs, the sales push will be supported by a sampling, PR and social media campaign. The campaign is aimed at promoting the choice men make if they drink Iron Press on their night out.

Richard explains the edge that Halewood believes Iron Press has over competing soft drinks. He says: "By making soft drinks more accessible for men through taste and presentation, the monotony associated with the usual cola or lemonade when out with friends will be removed. Iron Press looks like a beer and pours like a beer but it is also extremely refreshing." So it's ideal for customers who don't want to drink alcohol, but don't want to stand out from their friends who are drinking.

And noting the importance of designated-driver sales opportunities, drinks giant Coca-Cola is also encouraging is soft drinks sales for this market. Building on the success of last year's Coca-Cola Designated Driver push, this year's campaign has more than 8,000 participating outlets, rewarding drivers with a 'buy one, get one free' offer on Coca-Cola and die

Related topics Soft & Hot Drinks

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