With the festive season very nearly upon us,c-stores will soon face the rush of customers looking for soft drinks for parties and family get-togethers. But with store space at a premium, what should retailers stock to best take advantage of the Christmas rush?

Britvic customer management director Murray Harris says that the best way to capitalise on the opportunity is to think big.

"As Christmas typically means getting together with your nearest and dearest, sharing formats are big sellers for soft drinks," says Harris. "The 2ltr size of the best-selling carbonates are must-stocks for any independent, and the main key soft drink sectors at Christmas are cola, lemonade, mixers, stimulant and squash.

"With the exception of sports drinks, sales for all major sub-categories in impulse become more dependent on bigger pack sizes at Christmas time, so it's vital for retailers to be well stocked up to ensure their customers don't shop elsewhere," he adds.

Go large

Vimto head of marketing Neil Gibson agrees that this is a time to focus on larger units of products. "Retailers should stock up on large SKUs of carbonates and dilutes so they can cater for family gatherings and parties," he says.

Household names

As well as picking the appropriate sizes retailers will also have to choose which brands to stock.Since convenience stores generally have limited shelf space, they will need to decide which will be the must-stock brands for their festive sales season.

Gibson believes that this Christmas retailers need to cut back and stock only the brands that they know will do well. "Independent retailers have to make the most of their restricted soft drinks fixtures to capitalise on consumer demand over Christmas and the new year," he says. "They need to pare down their range to stock recognised and trusted brands that are in growth, because shoppers will have to cater for a wide audience and will look for names that everyone will recognise."

Harris believes that consumers are willing to spend a little more to make sure that everyone has a sparkling time over the festive period, even during an economic downturn. "At Christmas price is less important to consumers than it might be at other times of the year," he points out. "Consumers don't want to disappoint their guests and are more likely to buy the brands that they know and trust to ensure they enjoy themselves over the festive period and to show that they are a good host."

Coca-Cola trade communications manager Selena Taylor agrees that customers are willing to spend more when buying soft drinks over Christmas. She says: "The sales opportunities for soft drinks over the festive period are significant, especially as consumers trade up to well-known trusted brands such as Coca-Cola, Schweppes and Appletiser," she says.

"Consumers are also more willing to buy drinks that they wouldn't at any other time of the year, such as mixers," adds Taylor. "According to a TNS World Panel survey, an additional 1.1 million UK households buy Schweppes mixers at Christmas, which highlights the importance of ensuring retailers stock these products in time for the party season."

Something for grown-ups

With the festive season in full swing, consumers will be socialising more and attending parties. However, not everyone can or wants to drink alcohol and this market still needs to be catered for. Volume sales for the adult soft drinks market grew by 2% in the six months to July 2009 (Nielsen Scantrack). According to this report, Shloer accounts for 29% of annual adult soft drinks sales, however in November and December volume sales for the brand increase to 46%.

Shloer marketing communications controller Amanda Grabham says: "Shloer is very much the brand of choice at social and meal occasions where consumers choose to consume a soft drink and still want to 'share the sparkle'.

"It has adult acceptability which makes it perfectly at home on the Christmas dinner table as well as at Christmas parties."

To complement its existing variants, Shloer has released a new rosé-style sparkling drink. Grabham believes that consumers who are not drinking alcohol over Christmas but want to still get involved in the fun will welcome this product.

"The demand for adult soft drinks at festive occasions has opened up a whole new avenue for us to explore, and with the phenomenal growth in rosé wines in recent years, adding a rosé variant to the range is the obvious next step in developing the Shloer portfolio," she adds.

Full of energy

Even for those who don't drink alcohol, the busy festive season can leave consumers feeling jaded and as a result customers may be looking for something to pick them up before the next party. Energy drinks have had a stellar 2009 and the holiday season looks set to be no different.

Last year the sports and energy sub-category saw a 1% increase in volume sales in the four weeks to December 29 compared with the same period of 2007 (Nielsen Total Coverage).

Red Bull trade communications manager Tom Smith says that the festive season is a key time for retailers to capitalise on energy drinks. "With plenty of parties to attend, presents to buy and long family car journeys to get through, Christmas is obviously a very busy and stressful time for many people," says Smith.

"Consumers are looking for convenient and functional products to help them get through the day, which Red Bull perfectly suits."

Smith says that consumers looking to stock up on energy drinks over Christmas will go for Red Bull's four-can multipack. "This is always a popular choice at Christmas and provides a good opportunity to trade consumers up, which will drive value sales," he adds.

By providing a tight range of products that caters for all festive occasions, from the family get-togethers to energy-sapping shopping trips, retailers can make sure they, too, celebrate this holiday season.