Soft drinks sales really sparkle at Christmas and this season looks to be no different as shoppers stock up on family favourites and grown-up treats.

Think Christmas and you probably think turkey and mince pies, but it’s Coca-Cola that’s the bigger seller. Its sales - according to Nielsen data for the four weeks to December 24, 2011 - reached £185m in the UK, whereas turkeys and mince pies accounted for a mere £52m apiece.

Coca-Cola does seem to have Christmas all wrapped up. According to ‘Coke Lore’, the Santa we all know and love today (fat and jolly, dressed in red) comes from a 1931 Coca-Cola advertising campaign. And its advertising still has a resonance today, with more than 400,000 shoppers on Facebook saying that the Coca-Cola ‘Holidays are coming’ TV ad heralds the official start of the festive period for them.

Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) trade communications manager Dave Turner comments: “The total grocery category registered growth of 5.5% last Christmas. This was fuelled in no small part by the strong performance of the soft drinks category, with growth of 10.3% and revenue of £1.1bn, which is growth of nearly £100m (all Nielsen stats).”

He adds that soft drinks was the fastest-growing category in 2011 on the back of a strong Christmas 2010, a trend he says was mainly driven by price and increased frequency of purchase. “Sales of soft drinks managed to outperform both household and confectionery categories, which generated growth of 9.2% and 7.2% respectively.”

retailer’s view

“We’ve got four c-stores, all with off licences, and all do well with soft drinks at Christmas. Two-litre bottles of Coke and mixers are our best-sellers.

“We don’t cross-sell them - we keep the alcohol in one section and the soft drinks in another - but they still sell well.

“I think it’s a myth that people trade up from items such as own label to brands at Christmas. We find people just buy more of what they usually buy.”

Ranj Hayer, Premier Hayers, Weston-super-Mare, Somerset

Sparkling drinks are particularly important over the festive season, which is why Coca-Cola is a key brand to stock. Turner says that Schweppes mixers and lemonade are an integral part of shoppers’ purchasing habits at this time of year, too, with Christmas the key occasion when light and medium buyers purchase more. He points to the fact that, according to Kantar Worldpanel, some 1.5 million shoppers prefer to only buy Schweppes at Christmas.

“Mixers and lemonade experience a strong seasonal sales uplift as friends and families come together at home for social occasions. There is plenty of opportunity for more growth, and this Christmas Schweppes aims to deliver value, volume and profitability for its customers, bringing new and occasional shoppers into the category and increasing basket spend.”

Support will include special limited-edition themed packaging across a range of Schweppes SKUs (2ltr lemonade, 2ltr slim lemonade, 1ltr tonic, 1ltr slim tonic, 1ltr soda and 1ltr Canada Dry), to help on-shelf standout, plus updated festive pos material.

Nigel Paine, commercial director for impulse at Britvic, points out that December is the biggest month for soft drink multipack sales in impulse, driven by shoppers looking for larger packs to cater for events and soft drinks for sharing (Nielsen data).

He adds: “Retailers should not forget 2ltr carbonates at this time of year, too. Not only are they drunk on their own, but there is an opportunity to upsell products such as Pepsi, 7UP and R Whites as they will be used as mixers. Remember to keep these in the chiller and cross-promote where possible.”

And for adults avoiding alcohol, Paine advises retailers to stock up on J20. “The full J2O range performed extremely well during the 2011 Christmas period, showing double-digit value growth (+11%), and Britvic attributes part of its success to the Glitter berry limited edition, which alone achieved 3% penetration, equalling 720,000 additional households (Nielsen).”

Glitter berry makes a return this year with a more refreshing taste, fewer calories and a sleek, slimmer shaped bottle. It’s a combination of red grape, cherry and a hint of spice with edible gold glitter that sparkles once the bottle is shaken. Paine says glitter berry adds a ‘touch of glamour’ to the adult soft drinks market. “In the lead up to and throughout the festive season, people are often willing to spend on affordable luxuries, and many are looking for that extra-special treat to add a bit of sparkle to their in-home socialising.”

Another adult drink with strong sales at Christmas time is Shloer. In fact, Amanda Grabham, head of brand marketing for Shloer, says that the Christmas period accounts for about 40% of Shloer’s annual sales (Nielsen).

In the 12 weeks leading up to Christmas last year, the drink’s sales increased by 12%, adding an extra £1.4m to the value of the brand. But, just like J20, Shloer’s sales were helped by the popularity of a limited edition - in this instance berry punch.

Grabham says convenience retailers who proactively supported and promoted Shloer in the lead up to Christmas last year really did reap the benefits.

“We had stores reporting sales increases of about 35-36% compared with the final quarter in 2010, driven largely by incremental sales generated by berry punch. One retailer recorded an increase in turnover of almost £2,000 from the uplift in total Shloer sales over the 13-week period.”

It’s not surprising, then, berry punch is back for this Christmas. Shloer will be supporting the limited edition with a high-profile consumer PR campaign digital activity with its 45,000 fans on Facebook and the Shloer website ( and an e-newsletter, which will be sent to the brand’s database of 38,000 consumers. Grabham says it will also benefit from the halo effect of the £16m marketing spend behind the Shloer brand this year.

From grapes and berries to apples, and CCE says Appletiser is perfect at party time as a base for creating cocktails or ‘mocktails’ at home. The brand is now available in a value-for-money 1.25ltr PET take-home pack, which offers 66% more volume than the 750ml glass bottle for the same recommended retail price.

Another adult brand that enjoys massive sales uplift at Christmas time is Bottlegreen.

According to Nielsen data, the cordial brand experiences uplifts of almost 60% in the four weeks of December, with the spice berry variety enjoying the largest increase with an additional 37,000 bottles purchased during that time.

Bottlegreen managing director Simon Speers says: “Christmas is always a key time for Bottlegreen and we are confident that the premium glass cordial sector will continue to show strong sales over this up-coming festive season.

“It is about this time that people become more focused on making a good impression and are more likely to trade up from their usual purchases, to ensure that their offerings are reflective of the occasion. Consumers don’t want to disappoint their guests and by purchasing more premium products from well recognised brands, they feel more reassured that people will enjoy the products and that it will reflect positively on them as a host.”

Speers adds that Bottlegreen’s distribution in c-stores is “encouraging and growing”.

Energy push

The run-up to Christmas can be frantic for consumers (and retailers) with presents to buy and extra food shopping to do. Plus, once the big day arrives there are the parties and get-togethers to attend right through until the new year. Consumers need to tap into extra energy reserves and this is where energy drinks can come in.

Boost Drinks managing director Simon Gray comments: “Christmas puts many demands on people’s time, with work and family celebrations often taking place day and night over a couple of weeks, so an extra burst of energy is always welcome.

“People who would not normally consume energy drinks will be more likely to do so at this time of year - particularly as mixers. This, combined with the huge growth in the market over the past few years, means that Christmas 2012 is set to be one of the biggest ever for the stimulation energy category, and my advice to retailers would be to not underestimate the demand for energy drinks as mixers this year.”

He says Boost’s most popular products for mixers are the Boost Energy 1ltr bottle and the 250ml cans, which are now available in four flavours: original sugar free cola and citrus.

Red Bull trade communications manager Tom Smith says Christmas is always a sales peak for energy drinks, and in particular Red Bull, sales of which soared last year by 32.5%, with 34 million cans sold in December alone (Kantar Worldpanel).

“This emphasises the importance of energy to the consumer and where the category fits into people’s lives at this time of year,” says Smith. “A key trend year on year is trading up, with consumers willing to spend that bit more at Christmas, so retailers are advised to back top-selling lines and premium brands to maximise sales.”

He adds: “Make sure you are fully stocked with multipacks over the Christmas period to drive trade up and increase your customers’ basket spend. Red Bull four-pack in particular performs well as a take-home option for consumers entertaining at home.”•

Winter warmers


Winter warmers

Serving squash as a hot drink is nothing new, but this year manufacturers are giving the idea an extra push.

Britvic has launched a limited-edition Robinsons red berries. The company says it has been created to “drive frequency of purchase during the winter months, by offering parents the choice of a great tasting new flavour for their kids, which can be enjoyed warm or cold”.

The label has been designed with this in mind, featuring a cosy knitted pattern and mixed berries in the shape of a mug to communicate to consumers that Robinsons red berries can be a warming winter drink. There is also a ‘Try me warm’ flash on the front.

Vimto, too, is being hotly promoted with ‘Hot Vimto’ recipes appearing in the press.Vimto brand manager Clare Pritchard says: “Using squash to make a great tasting hot drink is a trend that is rising in popularity as people look for caffeine-free alternatives when the cold weather bites. We know from social media chatter that consumers love drinking Vimto hot.”

And this year Bottlegreen’s Enjoy Hot range includes a special ‘Enjoy Hot’ product flash, which will appear on 350,000 of its cordial bottles. The range includes spiced berry cordial, which the company says makes a great alcohol-free alternative to mulled wine, and ginger & lemongrass. Both variants will be supported by marketing and PR in the lead up to Christmas.

Bottlegreen managing director Simon Speers says: “The seasonality of the Enjoy Hot range offers a great opportunity for retailers to cross-promote by placing the cordials next to other popular seasonal items that are likely to attract high footfall.”

Ones to watch

Smiles all round

A new drink to look out for is Heinz LOL, which has been launched in the UK following its huge success in Australia and New Zealand. Aimed at teenagers, it is a lightly sparkling blend of 75% fruit juice with 25% carbonated water. There are three varieties: O ranj razz bri and b current.

rrp: 99p

tel: 0800 5285757

Special cases

Pricemarked packs of Shloer red grape, white grape and rosé variants are now available in special six-bottle cases. The cases carry the message: “Buy £6.29. Sell £1.69. POR 25.6%”. Offering 60p off the usual rrp, the price sticker on the 75cl bottles is removable so consumers can peel it off before serving to friends and family.

tel: 01452 378500

Let it snow

Irn-Bru is being backed by an on-pack promotion across its range, where one lucky winner will receive a VIP tour to re-live the snowman’s journey from Irn-Bru’s Christmas TV commercial. The winner will be able to visit Scottish landmarks including Loch Ness, Edinburgh Castle and the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.

tel: 01236 852400

Glitter ball

The return of J20’s glitter berry variety will be supported with online activity, including the announcement of the brand’s return via Facebook. In addition, the ‘Cats & Dogs’ TV ad launched earlier this year will be back on air for four weeks. The special edition created for the Christmas and new year party season contains edible sparkles.

tel: 0845 7581781

Raising the Barr

AG Barr

The period leading up to Christmas is vital to the soft drinks market, says Adrian Troy, head of marketing at AG Barr. “Our advice to retailers is clear: stock the leading brands your customers want, merchandise them effectively and you’ll enjoy a bumper Christmas.”

He goes on: “On average soft drink sales increase by 11% over the festive period (Nielsen data) with consumers purchasing the brands they love and trust to stock up on at home for family gatherings and parties.

“In 2011, consumers bought four million Irn-Bru and Barr special Christmas packs which created excellent theatre and visibility in store.”

Exotic juice drinks are now also an essential part of Christmas, with Rubicon sales volume almost doubling in the past two years. Barr flavours - cream soda, cherryade and limeade - are also top performers, increasing by 31% at Christmas (Nielsen), points out Troy.

He advises retailers to make sure they stock larger pack sizes and multipacks as consumers cater for larger numbers over the festive period.

“Retailers should also take advantage of seasonal and promotional packs to create theatre and visibility in-store and generate a festive feel-good factor.

“We also recommend offering those products which represent good value for money, as value is still an important consideration for shoppers. Pricemarked packs, for example, clearly indicate value for shoppers.

“Finally, one size does not fit all. To make the most of the festive period, tailor ranges to include local brands, allowing consumers to stock up on their favourites.”