Soft drinks feature

FEATURE: Go hard on capturing soft drinks sales

By Phil Mellows

- Last updated on GMT

How to improve your range of soft drinks and sell more

Related tags: Soft drinks, Social responsibility, Multi-site pub operators, Pubco + head office, Tenanted + leased, Branding + marketing

It’s an old conundrum for the publican. You’d like to sell more soft drinks. You’d like to stock a bigger range. You’d like to offer your non-drinking customers something a little more interesting. In an ideal world. But as you may have noticed lately, the world is far from ideal.

Britvic

Bittersweet.Raspberries

Adam Russell, director of Leisure & Licensed at Britvic gives his top tips on maximising sales:

  • The importance of presentation - ​The minimal extra effort of creating a visually appealing mixed drink or mocktail is far outweighed by the trade-up opportunity it presents and is more likely to inspire repeat purchases – try out our simple recipes for non-alcoholic drinks such as Bittersweet Raspberries or French Passion using our Britvic Mixers and Juices range [recipes available on https://sensationaldrinks.com/​].
  • Deliver great tasting drinks with permissible health credentials -​ When dining out, many guests will treat themselves, but others still search for healthier options. Offer great tasting, low and no-sugar alternatives to cater for these customers. Pepsi MAX® is a perfect no sugar option, delivering on taste without compromising on health.
  • Link soft drinks with food - ​Make sure categories are helping to boost each other by creating cross-category promotions or training bar staff to suggest food and drink pairings, customers want to be inspired to order something different, 71% would do so if they were made aware of it*
  • Contactless payment –​ As mobile ordering and payments have surged; they are no longer ‘a nice thing to have’ but are now an absolutely necessity. When reopening your venue, ensure that you are prepared and familiar with the technology by using a trusted provider, utilising experts to create the perfect user experience and promoting the implementation of the new form of service to your customers.

Bittersweet Raspberries

Ingredients

  • 20ml Teisseire Mojito Syrup
  • 20ml Teisseire Strawberry Syrup
  • 40ml Britvic Soda Water
  • 1 lime
  • 4 strawberries
  • 8 mint leaves 

Method

  1. Cut lime into quarters.
  2. Add lime, strawberries, Teisseire Mojito and Teisseire Strawberry to a highball glass and muddle together.
  3. Add mint leaves and gently press with a spoon.
  4. Add crushed ice to the glass.
  5. Top with Britvic Soda Water.

Garnish

Garnish with a sprig of mint and a wedge of lime.

* HIM on-trade research

And for pubs, the problem is space. Space in the fridge, space on the bar. It’s a question of priorities, and in the competition with alcoholic drinks, softs often lose out. You’ve got craft beers to consider, fancy spirits and the rest. Something’s got to give. But does that always have to be soft?

As we emerge from the miserable constraints of a pandemic, evidence suggests opportunities to make a good profit from soft drinks and mixers are greater than ever.

Pre-Covid trends have been amplified, and those months of lockdown have incubated a desire for quality drinking experiences from which those who choose not to drink alcohol are not immune.

The challenge for the licensee, though, is to balance that against a continuing need for good value and the reassurance of established drinks and brands.

Three trends

Adam Russell, director of foodservice and licensed at Britvic, (pictured below) believes pubs should base their soft drinks strategy on three main trends.

“The first is a consumer desire for the serves, the flavours, they can’t get anywhere else, that they can’t recreate at home. People planning visits to the pub want experiences, a theatrical edge.

“We’re seeing a rise in premium products in general, that people are prepared to pay more for. Soft drinks have so far lagged this trend. Only 7% of on-trade sales are premium compared to 50% of beer and 25% of spirits. But it’s growing.

“What’s important is that pubs provide a range of products at different price points. Lots of people are willing to pay more for an affordable treat.”

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The second trend, amplified by the pandemic with awareness heightened by proposed legislation, is healthy eating and drinking, especially among younger generations.

“It’s important for pubs to stock and to talk about low sugar options that don’t compromise on taste or the experience,” says Russell. “All the innovation we’re seeing in soft drinks is around lower sugar and lower calories, creating more choice in flavours.

“Cocktails are becoming more innovative, too, with a wider range of ingredients. These are things you can’t create at home. That’s perhaps the biggest win to come out of the pandemic - soft drinks as cocktail ingredients.

“There’s also an interest in functional drinks that promise positive health benefits. Sales are still very low, but it’s one to watch.”

The third trend to impact soft drinks is sustainability. With consumers seeking information on the sourcing and packaging of the brands they buy, Russell sees an important place for draught dispense, reckoned to reduce packaging, compared to bottled drinks, by a hefty 96%.

“Dispense will play a big role in 2022,” he says. “It creates space in the fridge and there’s a margin benefit for licensees.”

Britvic has launched its premium London Essence tonic brand on tap with five flavours served from a single unit, and it’s already in 1,000 sites.

“It has to tick the boxes of the first two trends as well, so it looks great, has theatre and it’s low in sugar.

“The challenge is finding space on the bar, so we could see more technical solutions for that, a smaller footprint. And pubs may have to educate consumers who are used to bottles. There is a perception of draught as low-quality. Yet it’s easier to achieve the optimum temperature, and if the taps have the right look and feel, it gives confidence.”

Premiumisation brought forward

Along with opportunities come challenges, of course, and the cost-of-living crisis that’s set to deepen over the coming months will affect soft drinks as much as anything else.

“People still want to be out enjoying themselves, but they’re prioritising their spend,” says Russell. “There’s an opportunity in soft drinks that comes down to how you promote them and get people to trade up more often.

“Visibility is important, on food and drink menus, suggesting pairings, and staff are important in this, too. They are your advocates, so they must be well-trained and knowledgeable about products and the margins. Glassware is also key. It can be expensive, but people are prepared to pay more for the presentation.”

Fever.Tree.table resized

Oliver Winters, communications director at mixer producer Fever-Tree, agrees the pandemic has accelerated trends towards premiumisation, in particular, drinks with “a focus on provenance”.

“Demand for lighter, longer serves also continues to grow. Our latest products, such as Rhubarb & Raspberry Tonic or Italian Blood Orange Soda, were created with this in mind and have proven to be popular.”

Colas, lemonades and mixers

coca-cola signature mixers resized

All this excitement around innovation should not distract publicans from getting their core range right. As Amy Burgess, senior trade communications manager at Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP) points out, “Pre-Covid, 69% of soft drinks sales in hospitality were in colas, lemonades and mixers. With this in mind, our advice to operators is to focus on their core range and serve it well.”

She recommends as “must-stocks” CCEP’s Coca-Cola Original Taste, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, Diet Coke, Schweppes Classic Tonic, Schweppes Slimline Tonic, Schweppes Lemonade and Appletiser.

“Using glassware and garnishes to execute the perfect serve will give people something special they can’t recreate at home, reigniting their loyalty and encouraging them to keep coming back,” she adds.

Mixers need to match the premiumisation seen in spirits. “Most consumers are saying they prefer a smaller quantity of a premium spirit to a larger quantity of a standard. As a result, they’re looking for premium mixers that can help elevate their drink.

“Alongside Schweppes, our Coca-Cola Signature range provides mixer options for the discerning dark spirits drinker. It includes Smoky Notes with warm brown spices, Spicy Notes with lime and ginger and Woody Notes with patchouli and basil.

“Adult soft drinks like Appletiser can also offer a sophisticated option to enjoy while others may be drinking beer, wine and cocktails, appealing to the health-conscious.”

For pubs, “choice is key – offering the staples as well as twists to classics and more experimental mixed drinks. Consumers have come out of lockdown with a broader knowledge of the world of long mixed drinks, so it’s important to stock products that complement different spirits and occasions.

“As the demand for spirits grows, educating consumers on pairings and making it easy for them to choose long mixed drinks is critical to gaining incremental sales. People are craving elevated experiences and socialising again, so there’s an opportunity for serves that can make their time out unforgettable.”

Family-owned on-trade specialist Hartridges is building back sales following the lockdowns, having rebranded its mixed juices and juices in April, and adding a raspberry lemonade to its traditional range of sparkling drinks.

“It’s been difficult to read the room, but people are becoming more adventurous now, so we’ve refreshed our products and are getting back to business as usual, talking about new product development again,” reports managing director Ed Hartridge.

“Premiumisation is more important than ever. There’s a great space for experimentation, for the more specialist and interesting products people can’t get in the supermarket.

“Pubs can be more adventurous – but they don’t want their fridges full of soft drinks,” he adds. “You’ve got to mix bottles with draught, making sure they complement each other.

“It’s more about premiumising than diversifying. For example, Hartridges mixed juices offer more margin because they can be sold at a higher price. Consumers want a brand with a story, something authentic and flavours that they know, feel comfortable with. Then you can have a couple of SKUs pushing the limits.”

With table service more prevalent, Hartridge believes it’s a chance for pubs to communicate brand information on menus – “a sentence, a flavour profile, to tell consumers about what they’re drinking.

“Licensees should also be training staff to make customers aware of their soft drinks offer, and to perfect the serve. You need nice, soft drink-specific glassware, and present the drink with the bottle – because the brand story is on the label.

“That all adds massive premium to the serve, and to consumer perception – which means you can charge more. Some pubs are frightened to do that, but the consumer is aware of the costs of running a pub. You should be aiming for 75% GP.”

hartridges resized

Sights on destination pubs

Frobishers has bounced out of the pandemic “stronger than ever” according to sales director John Breading, and has just launched a new range of sparking drinks, all fewer than 65 calories a serve.

“We’ve focused on the premium end of the market – the pubs that got going early after lockdown, the ones with outdoor spaces. Frobishers lends itself to food-led destination sites, where customers will pay more for better quality.

“Yet there are beautiful pubs with great menus that still have sub-premium soft drinks. It’s amazing they can spend months designing a wine list and a food menu, then forget about soft drinks! But if you’ve got nice food, you want a nice soft drink to go with it.

“That’s especially important with younger people. They want a healthy option and need a better choice. The days are gone when that was diet cola.

“We need to give people information, and we work with pub staff to show them what the brand is all about. They’re the ones with the job of upselling their customers to a premium quality drink.”

Pev Manners, managing director of Belvoir Farm, which is stocked in groups including Brunning & Price and Brasserie Bar Co and regional brewers such as Butcombe, Frederic Robinson, Adnams and Fuller’s, is confident there’s a “massive opportunity” for pubs.

“The on-trade is flying for us. A lot of people are not drinking, a third of the adult population are reducing their alcohol intake, but they still want to go out and they’re looking for something nice. They want an occasion and pubs can tap into that if they give soft drinks a sense of occasion.”

To that end, the company has launched fun flavours such as Peach Bellini and Passionfruit Martini, now its fastest growing product.

“Premiumisation is what operators want,” declares Bert Claes, who heads the firm’s on-trade channel. “People are tired of colas, they’re looking for something different.

“Because they’ve been stuck indoors, going to the pub is a treat occasion, and they are willing to pay a bit more, especially in a food-led venue. On a treat occasion they’ll be experimental, and try something new. We want to feed those new flavours into the on-trade.”

Elderflower is performing well as an alternative to tonic, he says. “Not everyone likes the quinine in a tonic, elderflower is sweeter, and it’s good in cocktails.

“It’s the versatility of our products that appeals to pubs. Their fridges are only a certain size, and it can be a soft drink, a mixer or a cocktail ingredient. It ticks a lot of boxes, and that’s what gives it traction in the on-trade.

“One of the main challenges is that soft drinks don’t always make it onto the menu. People are looking for premium options, so operators should be highlighting them. Otherwise, the only way they’ll know is by going up to the bar and looking into the fridges. Or they’ll default to what they’re used to.”

Targeting health

Ful PiQi Danyel

On the fringes of the soft drinks market, but attracting a lot of interest, are functional products that promise more than mere refreshment.

FUL is a sparking drink made with spirulina, an alga packed with nutrients. And it’s blue. Co-founder Julia Streuli believes that, for pubs, it can double as a mixer, replacing tonic and soda, and as a soft drink on its own.

“Consumers are becoming aware they can have their cake (or in this case, soda) and eat it (or in this case, drink it), too. A new wave of better-for-you beverages are coming out that taste just as good without sugar and artificial ingredients, and even with some key health benefits, such as gut health, immune support and natural energy.

“And who doesn’t love a blue drink!” she says.

FUL can also help pubs introduce new twists to classic serves. “We’ve reimagined rum and cola, gin and tonic, mojitos, Moscow mules and vodka and soda with FUL, allowing consumers to anchor in something familiar while offering a compelling and values-aligned upgrade.”

Wider appeal

One pub that’s pushing the boat out with a functional soft drink is the New Inn at Clovelly, North Devon, the first in the country to stock PiQi, a fermented water kefir drink, rich in probiotic bacteria.  

Managers Danyel Bettelli (pictured above) and Brad Brunsdon have introduced all four flavours to their fridges – Original, Grapefruit & Cardomom, Ginger & Lemon and the striking purple Butterfly Pea – and Bettelli has worked with PiQi founder Aksana Fitzpatrick to develop new mixed drinks with them.

Fitzpatrick describes kefir as “lighter, less sour, than kombucha”, another traditional fermented drink that’s becoming fashionable in the UK.

“We think it has more appeal for a wider public,” she explains. “We’re aiming it at premium bars and pubs where it can be a natural complement to the food.

“It’s healthier than sugary and alcoholic alternatives and there’s an opportunity to create interesting cocktails that are lower in sugar, have good margins and a story behind them, in that it’s small batch production.

“People are thinking twice about what they’re putting into their bodies – but they still want the experience, not plain water. PiQi still a treat – and you’re treating your body, too!”

“We decided to try PiQi because other mixers can be sweet, and it gives us a nice variety,” says Brunsdon. “We both drink kefir ourselves, and it’s very good to mix with gin to create something different. Butterfly Pea is the most eye-catching, but the Ginger and Lemon is more versatile.”

As well as serving PiQi at the bar as a mixer, the New Inn includes it as a premium alternative to juices at breakfast, and as an accompaniment to a vegan supper.

“Now we’re looking forward to summer – it will show the potential for these kinds of drinks.”

Related topics: Soft & Hot Drinks

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