Be ready for last-minute soft drinks sales and you’ll find shoppers more than happy to pay extra for something special for their guests to share

Soft drinks should give retailers a reason to be jolly this Christmas. Last year there was an average of 8.6 soft drinks purchases per shopper in the run-up to Christmas (Kantar World Panel eight weeks ending 3 January 2016) with 95% of households buying soft drinks. In fact, convenience stores accounted for 39% of soft drinks sold over the 2015 festive period, generating £651m-worth of retail sales for convenience retailers (Nielsen Scantrack GB Total, Convenience & Impulse Soft Drinks £ Value 12 weeks ending 2 January 2016 vs previous year).

“With many people planning impromptu get-togethers, it’s likely that they will turn to their local convenience stores to stock up at the last minute,” says Amy Burgess, trade communications manager at Coca-Cola European Partners. She adds: “It’s important for retailers to focus on getting their range right to make the most of the opportunity.”

Sally Read, who runs a Mace store in Bodicote, Banbury, Oxfordshire, notices a big increase in the number of shoppers who choose to come into her store instead of supermarkets in order to avoid the crimbo crowds.

“We are generally a shop for last-minute buys and even more so at Christmas. People will do their big shop at the supermarket, but inevitably will forget one or two things and can’t face to go back to the busy supermarket to get those items.”

Paresh Vyas of Paresh’s in Manchester says sharing formats are essential for this time of year. “We have a lot of the big bottles for sharing at parties and we tend to sell several of these on multi-deals. People start stocking up for their get-togethers from the end of October onwards.”

Amanda Grabham, marketing director for soft drinks at SHS Drinks, agrees that consumers are choosing larger bottles for sharing, adding that this is one reason for stocking plenty of bottles of Shloer. This is backed up by data which shows 44% of Shloer Celebration purchases last year were made in the lead up to Christmas and new year (Nielsen Scantrack Total GB Shloer Celebration percentage value share of Shloer sales 12 weeks to week ending 2 January 2016).

Grabham says: “Shloer tends to be the adult soft drink brand that shoppers buy for social occasions and Shloer’s share of adult soft drink sales is even higher during the festive season. The two biggest sellers in the Shloer range are white grape and red grape so these two lines are absolute ‘must stocks’ for retailers.”

Shloer Celebration pink fizz and white bubbly feature ‘popping corks’ which make them particularly suitable for parties.

Paresh believes Shloer is also popular at parties because it acts as a good replacement to wine. “This flies off the shelf at Christmas because it’s perfect to put on the table for people who do not drink alcohol. It looks a bit like wine, with the taste of grapes.”

Burgess agrees that consumers tend to be looking for something different to their everyday drinks. “Mixers and adult soft drinks, too, are popular during this party season as consumers look to enjoy an indulgent drink that differs from what they would enjoy day-to-day, such as cocktails and non-alcoholic mocktails.”

Sales of sophisticated soft options soar

Amanda Grabham, marketing director for Soft Drinks at SHS Drinks, points out that last Christmas adult soft drinks were one of only three sectors in the soft drinks category to increase sales (+4%) versus the previous Christmas – the other two growth sectors were water and energy drinks.

Sales of adult soft drinks in the impulse sector soared during December last year, with value sales up by 16% on December 2014 (Nielsen Scantrack).

Shloer outperformed the category with sales value up by 37% in December (Nielsen Scantrack GB Impulse Defined Adult Soft Drinks Category £ value and % change four weeks to 2 January 2016 vs previous year).

Shloer white grape sales were up by 34% on December 2014, while Shloer red grape recorded a 66% uplift (Nielsen Scantrack).

Shloer was the second biggest contributor to the adults soft drinks category’s growth in impulse stores in December, accounting for more than a third of the increase in sales value (Nielsen Scantrack).

During the pre-Christmas period the Shloer range will be supported with a range of promotional activity throughout the cash & carry/wholesale sector.

SHS Drinks is providing £1.69 pricemarked packs of 750ml bottles of red grape and white grape. The Shloer PMP promotional stock can be easily identified and during the Christmas period strong added-value wholesale deals will provide retailers with the opportunity to offer the Shloer PMPs to customers at a £1.29 price point.

In 2015 the mixers category more than doubled its market value share in the build up to Christmas (AC Nielsen Total GB, week ending 26 January 2015), and the sector’s continued growth means it’s likely to be a big seller once again this year.

Sally sells a lot more tonic water, lemonade and other mixers at this time of year, along with any drink that mixes well with alcohol.

Julian Taylor-Green, who owns a Spar in Lindford, Hampshire, says he will be stocking Fever Tree tonic and mixers for Christmas, as these “are trendy in the on-trade and look quite sophisticated”.

“Gin and tonic is the sexy drink at the moment and those drinks are making their way into the retail sector,” he asserts.

At Christmas time, Sally starts to stock premium and adult soft drinks that she knows shoppers will buy especially for the occasion.

“We get in a few extra lines such as the Belvoir mulled winter punch. This is good for people going to parties and who aren’t drinking alcohol, as it’s something a bit interesting.

“We get in a number of more unusual flavours that wouldn’t sell so well the rest of the year, such as elderflower, which you can mix with lemonade or prosecco to make an interesting sparkling drink for people who are drinking and those who aren’t.”

Graham Carr-Smith, creator of the Qcumber soft drinks range, urges retailers to “dare to be different”.

“Include something new and interesting on the soft drinks fixture and, most importantly of all, premiumise the overall offering,” he asserts.

Carr-Smith points out that soft drinks is not a high-risk purchase category as people rarely encounter something “totally unpalatable” and the drinks are rarely prohibitively expensive. He adds: “The key message for retailers is to not be afraid to innovate and to stock new products. Convenience customers don’t want to see the same soft drinks range from the supermarkets replicated in their local c-store; they want to try new brands and experience new tastes.”

Inevitably, as consumers look for more interesting drinks they also tend to opt for more premium options. “People do definitely buy more premium brands at this time of year. When people have got their friends around they don’t want to look like a cheapskate,” Paresh says.

Appletiser aims to appeal to those looking for a premium soft drink. Burgess explains: “Popular on its own, or as part of refreshing cocktails and mocktails, Appletiser is a sparkling 100% fruit juice, with the original apple flavour the best-selling product. Retailers can also deliver choice by stocking Appletiser apple & pomegranate.”

Schweppes’ packaging was revamped this year to make its products look more premium and appeal more to adult consumers. Schweppes 1ltr mixers are now available with black labels created to demonstrate the brand’s long-standing heritage as the ‘creator of bubbles since 1783’. The new design includes adult humour.

Paresh says Britvic’s J2Os sell well in the run up to Christmas. “They are good for people who don’t drink at all because they are interesting and they are trendy,” he says.

Carol Saunders, head of customer marketing at Highland Spring Group, says health is another key element to consumers’ decision-making process when buying soft drinks. She explains: “Sparkling water is a popular alternative to alcohol, with consumers regarding it as something a little bit special when socialising or entertaining at home over Christmas and new year.”

R White’s gets an extra sparkle

Britvic Soft Drinks has relaunched its historic 
R White’s lemonades with a striking new design for the core range and the addition of three new flavours.

Traditional cloudy lemonade, raspberry lemonade, and pear & elderflower now join the line-up.

The new lemonades have been designed to appeal to adult drinkers, delivering a quality and flavoursome drink. The range contains up to 3.9g sugar per 100ml (making it exempt from the proposed soft drinks levy) and is available to buy in single 330ml cans in packs of 6x330ml and 24x330ml, in both standard and pricemarked formats.

Kevin McNair, GB marketing director at Britvic, comments: “With more than 170 years’ heritage, R White’s is an iconic part of the Britvic portfolio of brands and an important part of Britain’s soft drinks history. The lemonade category has evolved considerably since 
R White’s lemonade was first made by Robert and Mary White in 1845, and flavours are now driving the growth. With years of experience, a new range of flavoured variants and an attractive new look, R White’s lemonade is uniquely placed to deliver value growth into the category and further sales for retailers.”

The R White’s relaunch will be supported by a £2m media campaign in March that will raise awareness among consumers of the brand’s expertise in lemonade production since 1845.

According to Saunders, many customers are preferring to use sparkling water over soda water in cocktails and mocktails, for two reasons: “First, the minerality of sparkling water contributes to the clean and cooling flavour profile of the water and, second, the size of the bubbles which form the effervescence; the smaller the bubbles the more pleasing the texture and mouthfeel. Both are unmistakable on the palate,” she says.

“Stocking popular products such as our Highland Spring sparkling 1.5ltr bottle in ambient space, up 14.2% on value for the same 12 month period (IRI, convenience 52 week ending 10 September 2016) gives shoppers a larger size which is ideal for sharing with friends.”

Julian has been preparing for the Christmas rush by bringing a big purpose-built Christmas display to the front of his store which he is using to display his Christmas fayre. It includes spirits, mixers, mulled wine and other festive drink favourites.

“It’s right in front of the door, so that will help to interrupt shoppers and means that the drinks will be 
in several locations around the store,” he explains.

Burgess suggests that soft drinks could be displayed alongside other products that are popular at Christmas.

Paresh utilises this method and places his mixer-style drinks next to the spirits they match with. For example, tonic with gin and ginger ale with whiskey.

Burgess adds: “Christmas is a time when consumers stock up on supplies to see them through the festive break, and with soft drinks being a huge seller at this time of year, retailers can benefit from building Christmas-themed displays in-store. These could feature soft drinks merchandised alongside popular seasonal items, such as boxes of chocolates and biscuits, or share-size bags of crisps and nuts, to achieve incremental growth.”

CBL Drinks sales and marketing director Maurice Newton points out that merchandising should depend on the demographic of shoppers in your store. He says that if many of the shoppers are families, placing adult-oriented products such as mixers or adult soft drinks in close proximity to products aimed at children, such as sweets and chocolate, will encourage multiple purchases.

Clive Sheppard, director of the Chartman Group of 10 South-west Spar stores, says that multibuys are a good way of catching shoppers’ attention. For example, one of the deals within Spar’s ‘12 Deals of Christmas’ initiative has been good to get shoppers stocking up early.

“We have the 10-packs of the 330ml cans of Coke for £3, which is a fantastic deal. We’ve traditionally run that deal in the summer, but it’s also worked well as we get close to Christmas and people are stocking up ready for when they get their friends and family around.

“That deal works out at 30p per can and it’s a great pick-up item for forecourts because it’s quite easy to carry away.”

The key differences in shopper habits this Christmas will be the quantity and quality of soft drinks consumers buy. There are plenty of opportunities to sell high volume, through good multideals, and high-value items, through interesting premium brands. Locate popular mixers and festive drinks across the store and see the sales roll in.

Coca-Cola gets on track for christmas

Coca-Cola European Partners’ Christmas 2016 activity for Coca-Cola includes the return of its iconic TV ad, Truck Tour, and a charity initiative to provide meals to those in need.

The first of two on-pack promotions sees Coca-Cola partner with FareShare, the charity that fights food waste and hunger by redistributing food that might otherwise go to waste, to charities and community groups that support vulnerable people. .

Consumers can scan special labels on promotional 500ml PET bottles and 1.25ltr bottles using their smartphones, and upload the images to a dedicated website. Each image upload triggers a donation to FareShare that will provide one meal to someone in need.

Meanwhile, the Coca-Cola Christmas Truck Tour is back again for 2016. This year it will visit 43 locations around Great Britain. Samples of Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, Coca-Cola Classic and Diet Coke will be available to consumers.

The tour will be promoted on 1.75ltr bottles and 330ml can multipacks of Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, Coca-Cola Classic and Diet Coke. The promotional packs also give consumers a chance to win a visit from the iconic truck to their home before Christmas. A festive gift hamper, worth £5,000, is also up for grabs in the activity.

The promotions are designed to build excitement ahead of the ‘Holidays are Coming’ advert, which airs in mid-November.

Amy Burgess, trade communications manager at Coca-Cola European Partners, says: “Cola is the biggest seller within the soft drinks sector, and this is no different at Christmas time, with its value share of the soft drinks category in growth in the four weeks immediately before the holiday in 2015 (AC Nielsen Total GB, week ending 26 January 2015).

“Coca-Cola is synonymous with Christmas, and sales see a notable increase in the build-up to the big day with the ‘Holidays Are Coming’ ad seen by many as the unofficial start of the festive season.”