Christmas soft drinks: Let's get this party started

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Today’s cocktail-loving consumers are after mixers and adult soft drinks to make sure their festive get-togethers have seasonal sparkle.

Christmas is traditionally a time of celebration (hopefully for retailers as well as shoppers), but the way in which consumers choose to celebrate the festive period may not be quite as traditional as it once was.

Rather than hot-footing it to the pub, many people are instead celebrating at home, gathering around the telly to catch up on box sets, or tuning into those unmissable festive specials, claims Amy Burgess, trade communications manager at Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP).

“The rise of streaming services such as Netflix has resulted in more than 80% of consumers spending nights in watching movies at home each month, compared with just over half who have visited a pub or a bar,” she says. “With an average six million viewers tuning in to watch Christmas specials including Strictly Come Dancing and Call the Midwife, nights in are a growing opportunity for retailers during the festive season.

“Whether it’s a Christmas dinner party, a New Year’s Eve party, or a festive film night, stocking a range of mixers as well adult soft drinks will help boost sales.”

Trystan Farnworth, commercial director, convenience & impulse at Britvic, sees the Big Night In at Christmas trend as an opportunity for retailers and soft drinks manufacturers alike. He says: “There has been a real rise in the amount of people staying in to celebrate, with latest figures showing that in 2017, 78% of shoppers opted to celebrate New Year’s Eve at home (HIM CTP February Online Panel 2018).”

But just because people are staying in doesn’t mean they want any less excitement. “Cocktails and mocktails are an excellent way to add some sparkle to a Christmas party,” says Burgess.

“Mixers are growing in popularity. This is partly due to the popularity of cocktails and non-alcoholic mocktails, as people are becoming more adventurous with homemade cocktails. Some are even buying bar equipment and cocktail glassware such as martini glasses to recreate a bar atmosphere at home.”

To make the most of the cocktail trend, retailers should consider putting mixers alongside their alcohol, “so people can stock up on everything they need for their Christmas night in”, advises Burgess.

Val Aston, director of Proudfoots in Scarborough, took things one step further last year and ran a drinks sampling hosted by Sipsmith Gin and tonic supplier Fever-Tree, which she promoted on the Newby store’s Facebook page.

Burgess says social media is having an impact on purchase decisions, not only from a marketing perspective, but because consumers are looking for trendy products they can photograph and share with friends on Facebook or Instagram. “Because of this, factors such as stylish packaging can influence the difference between whether someone buys or not, especially during the festive season,” she claims.

“Garnishes and botanicals are also becoming more popular as people look to expand their homemade cocktail range or jazz up a classic mixed drink such as a gin & tonic,” she adds.

Coca-Cola adds cinnamon flavour to festive drinks portfolio

Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP) has created a new festive flavour for Coca-Cola zero sugar and is running an on-pack promotion across its Coca-Cola range, offering consumers the chance to win tickets to Capital Radio’s Jingle Bell Ball next month.

The launch of the limited-edition cinnamon variant is designed to build on the success of Coca-Cola zero sugar vanilla, cherry and peach, as well as tap into the rise in carbonated soft drink sales during the festive season (Kantar Worldpanel eight weeks to 31 December 2017).

Available in 1.25ltr PET packs, the Soft Drinks Levy-exempt drink will sport a new red and gold packaging design.

Coca-Cola has also announced it is offering shoppers the chance to win a pair of tickets to Capital’s annual Jingle Bell Ball, through its latest Coca-Cola on-pack promotion.

The competition will feature across on-the-go cans of Coca-Cola original taste, Diet Coke and Coca-Cola zero sugar until November 18. During the promotional period, consumers can enter a unique code online to be in with a chance of winning a pair of tickets.

Simon Harrison, customer marketing director GB at CCEP, said: “Last Christmas total colas grew by 5.4%, making it a must-stock segment for retailers (Kantar Worldpanel eight weeks to 31 December 2017).

“We’re confident that with the early arrival of our cinnamon variant and Capital’s Jingle Bell Ball on-pack promotion, the festive season will get off to a flying start for our customers.”

 

Christine Hope, owner of Hopes of Longtown in Hereford, has taken this on board and is linking products from different categories. “Our fresh apple juice is really good with gin and ginger, so we put out some fresh ginger and let people know that they can buy all the ingredients to create a drink that is a great fit for winter.”

One area that is really benefiting from the cocktail trend is adult soft drinks. “Adult soft drinks is a growing sector that is ideal for home entertaining,” says Burgess. “They are popular whether served on their own, or as an ingredient for cocktail or mocktail making.”

Val has picked up on customers looking for something different for Christmas celebrations. “We’ve seen a shift towards elderflower cordials at Christmas, with J20 and other mixers catering for the increase in demand for cocktails and mocktails.”

Christine is also finding that adult soft drinks flavours are in demand thanks to consumers’ growing interest in cocktails and mocktails. She will be playing to this trend by offering a range of premium skus and mixers. “We’ve noticed that people want more premium mixers and soft drinks to have with their alcohol over Christmas. It’s usually some kind of lemonade that has a unique flavour to it.

“Fentimans, Fever-Tree and Radnor Hills’ Heartsease Farm are our top lines. People buy them in order to recreate some of their favourite festive cocktails at home.”

Farnworth agrees that retailers should focus on premium lines during the Christmas season.

“During the festive period, customers are more likely to purchase premium products and treat both themselves and their friends and family,” he asserts.

Jen Draper, head of marketing at Franklin & Sons, couldn’t agree more. “We know that consumers are more likely to choose premium spirits – something which has more recently filtered through into mixers. In fact, research conducted by us at Franklin & Sons states that one in three drinkers now insist on buying only premium mixers.

“Consumers are becoming more experimental and are demanding more complex flavours from their drinks. As a result, modern tonic and mixer ranges must offer consumers a comprehensive selection that allows them to experiment with new and interesting spirits, such as vermouth, sherry or port.”

She believes that Franklin & Sons’ new dual-flavoured tonic water collection fits the bill, offering sophisticated flavours such as rosemary with black olive, rhubarb with hibiscus, elderflower with cucumber, and pink grapefruit with bergamot.

“There is no sign that the demand for premium drinks and mixers will decrease,” adds Draper. “The gin category itself is a strong one and is showing no signs of slowing down any time.”

However, while some consumers will be thirsty for trendsetting premium adult soft drinks, others will be keen to stick to what they know and love.

Household name Schweppes is proving a winner for Christine. She says: “Schweppes lemonade is still a massive seller for us and has been throughout the summer, so we hope this will continue throughout the winter months.

“I think customers like it because it keeps for a long time without losing its fizz, which is great when it’s being used a lot during the festive season. It’s better for those who want to mix their drinks.”

Britvic’s top tips for increasing Christmas soft drinks sales

Go premium: A third of shoppers are more likely to purchase premium products over the Christmas period (HIM December 2017 Omni Channel Barometer), presenting retailers with an opportunity to grow profits

Listen to customers: Keep in touch with the latest customer trends and adapt your range to suit shoppers’ ever-changing tastes. Enticing them with new products means you’ll boost sales

Merchandise effectively: Offer cross-category promotions linking up relevant categories such as soft drinks with snacks or spirits. By merchandising effectively in store and grouping relevant products together, or using attention-grabbing POS to highlight promotions to customers, you can encourage shoppers to buy something they might not have considered initially

Don’t stop at one format: Make sure your store is stocked with a range of popular brands, trusted by your customers, in a variety of formats, including single-serve, sharing and multipacks. This way you have a broad range to target all your shoppers, boosting the chance of a sale

Offer value for money: The festive period can be an expensive time for families, with presents, food and drink for Christmas and social occasions to pay for. During this time customers will be searching for bargains, so use promotions and pricemarked packs to build trust and show that you are offering the best possible value-for-money to encourage sales

Add a festive sparkle: Small additions such as using festive pos, decorating the store or playing Christmas music can create that festive magic, which can drive sales by inspiring shoppers to treat themselves or their loved ones.

 

Shoppers in Nisa Motherwell Road, in Bellshill, North Lanarkshire, prefer to buy from established brands, rather than being influenced by newer products.

“In the area that we’re in, it’s the old favourites that sell the best,” asserts owner Daniall Nadeem. “People tend to stick to what they know and are tight with their money, so are reluctant to try any new flavours at Christmas.

“What we’re doing in the store right now is dedicating lots of floor space to the multipacks of Irn-Bru, Coke and Pepsi.”

Take-home soft drinks packs are a huge opportunity as more people stay in to socialise during the winter months when the evenings are cold and dark, states Burgess. Her advice to retailers is to consider displaying future consumption soft drinks such as 2ltr PET and multipack formats, close to the entrance of their store to encourage impulse buys throughout the festive season.

Barr Soft Drinks marketing director Adrian Troy agrees that multipacks are big business.

“Soft drinks remains a hugely important category for retailers in the run-up to and during Christmas,” he says. “It’s crucial to get your range right, and to stock up on those best-selling brands that shoppers will be looking for in both multipack and larger pack formats, to cater to those preparing for family get-togethers and parties.”

Simon Gray, founder and managing director of Boost Drinks, agrees. He points out that Christmas is the time of year when retailers can go big on their party formats. He says: “We know that Christmas is a great time for retailers to maximise on take-home sales. Through November and December, people are enjoying the celebrations within their homes by filling their cupboards with a variety of beverages to enjoy and offer around at parties.”

Daniall certainly finds that take-home soft drinks is a strong category that sells in big volumes over the festive period.

“At Christmas, the main thing soft drinks shoppers want is big amounts. Soft drinks is something that sells well all year round, so at Christmas the main thing we do differently from the rest of the year is order everything in bigger quantities.

“They are always a great seller, but you just have to make sure you manage your stock over Christmas. For example, most people aren’t looking for the 500ml bottles or 330ml cans. The majority want the big 2ltr bottles or larger cases.

“We’ve put everything we have in the stockroom out for customers to buy on the shop floor, so we can drive sales right the way up until New Year.”

It seems Daniall’s strategy to go big on multipacks is paying off. He has already made several trips to the local cash and carry and scheduled a number of large online orders to keep his soft drinks range topped up. He adds: “I’ve already had to re-order stock five or six times so our plan seems to be working.”

Daniall’s store is in a residential part of Bellshill so most of his festive soft drinks sales are driven by regulars and those living in the nearby housing estates.

“This means we see a lot of families coming into the store,” Daniall says. “They tend to buy drinks to last the whole Christmas period. Sometimes it’s not just multipacks that they are asking for, it’s case-loads that they want.”

There are sound reasons for this. “Being in Scotland, people don’t know what the weather is going to be like. Most of our customers want to buy all the drinks they can in one visit so they don’t have to make lots of trips out, or in case they get snowed in.”

In terms of making sure his soft drinks display is looking its best, Daniall wouldn’t be without his epos system. He thinks all retailers should have a tight plan for their Christmas must-stocks.

He says: “Of course, we have our usual offers and promotions, but what’s most important for us is to use our epos system to keep track of demand and decide which lines to buy. You’re never going to be able to predict exactly what people will buy at Christmas, but the system is the best thing at telling you what people have been buying, the frequency at which they are buying it, and the amount they buy.

“What I normally do at Christmas is print off a list of the top 100 selling soft drinks lines in the store and perhaps pick between 30 to 40 of them to focus on over the festive period.”

Even if his forecasts aren’t exactly right, Daniall isn’t worried about holding a large amount of soft drinks in his store.

He adds: “Soft drinks is one of those categories that you can stock up on in large quantities and know that it will sell. It’s not a big risk when the products have a long enough shelf life to last beyond the new year.

“It’s not like fresh – we know if we don’t sell the stock this week then it will sell the next week or the next month.”

Burgess says the way in which products are displayed can also impact sales. “Creating eye-catching Christmas displays that showcase festive favourites can really add some in-store theatre that will build excitement in the lead-up to the big day,” she explains.

“At this time, soft drinks could be displayed alongside other products that are popular at Christmas, such as sharing snacks. Retailers could offer discounts that are applied when bought together to boost sales.”

Good merchandising techniques can undoubtedly drive sales, but the most important thing is to master the basics. Stock a strong range of best-selling traditional soft drinks in take-home formats, combined with an inspiring selection of adult soft drinks, and you’ll have the perfect mix for a very merry Christmas.

Make the most of teetotallers during the festive season

With a growing number of shoppers choosing to cut back on alcohol, the opportunity for retailers in the alcohol-free category is increasing, according to John Hadingham, md at St Peter’s Brewery, which produces a range of 0% abv beers under the St Peter’s Without brand.

“The soft drink category is growing up,” he says. “People want more choice and not just fizzy pop and fruit juice. With 25% of under-25s now abstaining from alcohol there’s a huge opportunity for retailers to court those Big Night In consumers who don’t drink alcohol.

“A dedicated festive range is essential and should be as visible as alcoholic ranges. Retailers should stock a good range of alcohol-free drinks in all categories – spirits, wine and beer.”

He adds: “With the government advising more alcohol-free days and increasing numbers interested in fitness and healthy eating, neglecting this opportunity would be missing a trick and retailers should certainly take a close look at their shelves and merchandise accordingly.”

Andrew Turner, director of wine for Eisberg alcohol-free Wine, agrees.

He says: “Retailers should be aware of the increasing consumer demand in the alcohol-free category, particularly when it comes to selecting products to promote during the festive period. No matter the reason for cutting down on alcohol, people do not want to feel alienated from special occasions or restricted by choice and so they should be presented with a clear alternative.

“Eisberg’s market research has shown there is a 50/50 split between male and females buying alcohol-free wine. This is no longer the drink purely for someone teetotal or pregnant, there are now so many lifestyle choices that involve consciously reducing or cutting out alcohol that it’s a drink for everyone.”

 

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