Soft drinks will be in big demand this season as shoppers look to either entertain or be entertained, giving small stores plenty of chances to sell.

Whether it’s something to keep the non-drinkers happy, an upmarket soft option to impress over the dinner table, or a mixer for party cocktails, the festive season provides c-store retailers with plenty of occasions that require soft drinks.

What’s more, shoppers are less likely to stint on soft drink spending come Christmas. Graham Carr-Smith, creator of the Qcumber flavoured soft drinks range, points out that consumers are prepared to pay a little extra for a more premium or unusual offering at this time of year, when they like to treat themselves or others. “It is a time for reward and relaxation,” he says.

The figures from last year also point to a festive fillip for small stores. “Last Christmas convenience stores and adult soft drinks were star performers when it came to increasing festive soft drink sales,” says Amanda Grabham, marketing director for soft drinks at SHS Drinks. “As a result, c-stores accounted for more than a third (36%) of soft drinks sold over the 2014 festive period.”

Adrian Troy, head of marketing for AG Barr, believes c-store owners need to ensure their Christmas range satisfies all bases. “Retailers should stock an exciting and wide range of soft drinks at Christmas to cater for those who are not consuming alcohol.

Winter spice

Ribena has added a Winter Spice variant to its No Added Sugar squash range. Featuring aromatic spices and an intense aroma, the new drink is best consumed hot. The firm says it works well as a non-alcoholic mulled 
wine option.

“Branded soft drinks are key to the profit opportunity as shoppers look to stock up on their favourites during the festive period to treat themselves and their guests during family gatherings and parties.”

Having a full range of soft options is particularly important for retailers in Scotland, where new alcohol limit restrictions for drivers came into force last December. Drivers are no longer allowed to have more than 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, down from 80mg.

Donna Morgan of Best-One Brownlies in Biggar says the new regulations have had an impact on the type and amount of soft drink she is selling. “After the drinking rule was established we saw an increase in the demand for more premium soft drinks and a decrease in week-day drinking. As people no longer wanted to risk having just one glass or one pint, people became more interested in finding low-alcohol wines or zero-alcohol options such as our locally-made popping cork sparkling elderflower, and Shloer variants.”

The demand for alternative soft options has also been seen in the drinks Donna supplies to local village functions, which increase considerably over the Christmas period. “Organisers used to just request apple and orange juice as an alternative to alcohol, but now there is a greater demand for premium products because even more people are staying safe and sticking to the soft stuff.”

Avtar Sidhu of Sukhi’s Simply Fresh in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, also sees shoppers trading up in soft drinks over the festive season, and caters for this with some unusual alternatives. His range includes James White British Carrot Juice and Beet It beetroot juice, Great Uncle Cornelius’ Refreshers in lemon and ginger flavours and Fentimans Ginger Beer.

Avtar is keen to make the most of the trend for at-home cocktails and party drinks and so highlights the role of soft drinks as mixers. Many of his soft drinks can also be found among the spirit bottles. “Not only are some of the drinks great alternatives to alcohol, they also work brilliantly as mixers. We tend to keep the Big Tom juice next to the vodka to trigger customers into thinking ‘Bloody Mary’, a classic cocktail/hangover cure, and Qcumber sparkling water next to the gin as it’s a great twist on the classic gin and tonic.”

Soft drinks can be found in the alcohol chillers, too. “Red Bull and Monster are our top two best-selling energy drinks and they work well with vodka or jägermeister, so we merchandise them together in the fridge, in both multipacks and single-serve variants.”

Cross-marketing with alcohol is a wise move, points out Maurice Newton, sales and marketing director at CBL Drinks. “Placing spirits and mixers together will encourage incremental and impulse sales and ultimately push up profits,” he says.

Susan Connolly, who owns four Spar stores in Wiltshire, has dual sitings of soft drinks in her stores, but she likes to take this technique one step further. “Throughout the year we always make the most of the Big Night In opportunity by merchandising crisps and soft drinks together. This year we are going to put a spin on this and tailor it to a Festive Night In, grouping together more premium soft drinks such as Shloer with alcoholic drinks and some nibbles, too,” she says.

“People are more likely to trade up to premium drinks at Christmas because of the festive spirit, which is why I believe Shloer is a good fit. However, selling something rare that consumers can’t get all year round can also drive impulse sales.”

Amy Burgess, trade communications manager at Coca-Cola Enterprises, recommends retailers stock seasonal formats and special packaging prominently to capitalise on the Christmas opportunity.

Susan stocks limited-edition Christmas Coca-Cola cans, which she says people are more inclined to buy because of their collectable and fun factor. She also stocks Glitter Berry J20 four-packs during the season “as customers are happier to pay that little bit more for something slightly more inventive and exciting”.

Highland Spring is hoping its limited-edition festive shrink wrap on its sparkling water multipacks will make it stand out.

The festive design is on the shrinkwrap of 6x500ml, 12x500ml and 4x1.5ltr Highland Spring Sparkling packs. The artwork has been created to encourage consumers to relax, unwind and escape with a guilt-free glass of Highland Spring Sparkling this season.

Andrea McQuaid, head of brand marketing at Highland Spring Group, says: “We know that consumers look to purchase more sparkling water at this time of year, and retailers can capitalise on this. Guaranteed to secure standout on shelf, the festive shrink illustrates the brand’s unique provenance and luxury positioning by depicting the landscape that is the source of Highland Spring’s pure sparkling water.”

Pack size is another area retailers need to address as shoppers often buy larger sizes for sharing. Burgess says the Coca-Cola 1.75ltr PET bottle is the ideal choice for catering for large gatherings. “Retailers should consider keeping these larger bottles chilled if possible, for those hosting a spontaneous get- together where the drink will be consumed straight away,” she asserts.

Multipacks of the 330ml can format are a popular choice for social occasions at home during Christmas, Burgess adds, as the individual nature of the cans means they are suited for one person, but can also be shared with another.

Susan says she stocks a lot more multipacks at Christmas. “People tend to pop in to buy a few bits on their way to a friend, or an event, and often buy multipacks or the large bottles. But the benefit of a multipack is that it is portion sized.”

Regional preferences

For Donna, making sure she has plenty of Irn-Bru in-store is a must at Christmas. She says it’s a staple drink all year, but sees even greater sales over Christmas. This year Irn-Bru is spending £6m on marketing during December to support its seasonal packs featuring The Snowman character.

Energy drinks can appeal to soft drinks fans at Christmas, too. Boost Drinks sales director Al Gunn says: “Energy drinks can drive potential sales with designated drivers, tired travellers and hungover partygoers needing to get through the day.”

He says that stocking pricemarked packs is a great way to draw in customers as they automatically feel as though they are getting a good deal. “By stocking PMPs retailers can show customers good value for money, and in turn drive purchasing both now and on repeat visits.”

Marketing push

Susan creates her own marketing material to highlight value and let shoppers know what she has on offer. She says: “We are going to be making a Christmas catalogue which will feature our deals and promotions set to take place over the festive period. The catalogue will also include a coupon, redeemable in-store, as well as promotional imagery to catch the reader’s attention.”

The leaflet not only features soft drinks, but promotes the extra products available over Christmas, such as from its in-store butcher.

Last year Spar Pewsey, one of Susan’s four stores, delivered 2,000 catalogues. Of these, 150 coupons were redeemed and 50 orders placed. This year they will be sending out 3,000 to build on the success of the last year.

Kishor Patel, who owns three Nisa stores in Bedfordshire, will be focusing on promotions set out by Nisa in the run-up to Christmas, which he highlights in-store and in leaflets he circulates locally. “The Nisa promotions are really good so I don’t have to worry too much about creating my own. From experience I know that Nisa likes to focus on promoting Christmas soft drinks as much as they can, so I will support this by creating some in-store displays and theatre with the promotional products. Hopefully, I will be able to keep some of the displays in or close to the chiller,” he says.

Some retailers, like Susan, can’t always find the space to stock large bottles and multipacks in the chiller, but she gets around the issue. “We keep some of our larger bottles and packs on the floor, stacked up opposite our single drinks fridge. Not only is it well placed to encourage people to trade up, the products also stay colder opposite the fridge, yet aren’t taking up valuable space inside it.”

Having the right range is all well and good, but for Avtar availability is the most important element. “What’s the point in stocking a great variant if you don’t have enough to go around? Customers will start going elsewhere to find it,” he says. And with so much to lose, no one can afford that.

Merchandising tips

Christmas provides the perfect excuse to freshen up the soft drinks category, encouraging consumers to browse the section for longer and re-evaluate what’s on offer. Here are some top tips on how to get the most out of your soft drinks offering:

Make use of festive POS material. Many suppliers are offering retailers the opportunity to make the most of the soft drinks category with specifically tailored POS material. The Christmas Irn-Bru range, for example, is to be backed up by a suite of merchandise including posters such as The Snowman pictured left, encouraging people to have a ‘phenomenal Christmas’.

Sample new products. Susan Connolly likes to give her shoppers a chance to try out new lines, which she says usually helps increase her sales. “We are going to run tastings of some of our Christmas-specific products such as the new Winter Spiced No Added Sugar variant from Ribena. I hope it will give customers an idea of what is available when they seek a warming alternative to mulled wine. Holding this event should not only entice people into the store, but help lock in a few extra sales, too.”

Maximise your sales space. Donna Morgan will be putting her strongest soft drinks offerings in prominent positions around the store at Brownlies Best-One in Biggar. “We will create displays on gondola ends and try to be creative with our chiller set up, where space allows.”

Catering for the grown-ups at Christmas 

One-third of adult soft drinks sales take place in the 12-week festive period (Nielsen Scantrack), according to  Shloer, and the firm believes there is plenty of opportunity for impulse retailers to get more from the category.

 Amanda Grabham, marketing director at Shloer, says: “We think there is a big opportunity for impulse retailers to grow sales even further this Christmas if they put more focus on adult soft drinks both in terms of the range they stock and how they promote adult soft drinks.” 

She adds: “More than one in five adults (21%) don’t drink at all, and with more purchasers than any other adult soft drink, Shloer is the most popular choice for adult soft drink shoppers.”

In fact, Grabham points out that more bottles of Shloer were sold than turkeys last Christmas. As such, she recommends using Shloer as the signpost for adult soft drinks within the soft drinks fixture.

Shloer Celebration Pink Fizz and White Bubbly, sparkling grape juice-based soft drinks, have been given a makeover in the lead to the festive party season. The bottle’s shape takes its cue from the style associated with Prosecco sparkling wines. The popping cork has been retained, which Grabham says “brings fun and theatre to special occasions”.

The redesign is being supported with a consumer press and social media campaign. The ‘Say it with Shloer’ social media marketing campaign reinforces Shloer’s association with gifting and social occasions and is giving consumers the chance to win bottles of Shloer Red, White or Rose Celebration in gift bags.