Soft drinks producer Britvic has revealed that with healthier and on-the-go lifestyles very much on the agenda, there is plenty of opportunity for growth of the soft drinks category in the convenience sector.

In its latest review of the soft drinks market, the company reported continued growth in importance of soft drinks among shoppers in the channel, ranking it as the third most important reason shoppers visit a convenience store - overtaking bread for the first time and making it the fourth consecutive year that soft drinks grew as one of the main reasons to visit a store. Growth in the channel was predominantly driven by three major sales drivers in 2016: the continued rise of health and wellness, the desire for immediate refreshment and the maximising of occasions.

The report says that with health the hot topic of 2016, there was huge consumer interest in low- and no-sugar soft drinks, which saw sales rise to account for 11% and 18% of the entire convenience channel’s soft drinks sales respectively. Figures show that many retailers successfully tapped into this opportunity in 2016 with brands such as Pepsi MAX, which grew by +16.2% to £70.1m value sales. However, with the impulse market currently under-trading in low-calorie soft drinks versus the grocery mults, and the soft drinks industry levy on the horizon, the take-home message for retailers is that there is a huge gap to be filled through healthier soft drinks in convenience.

With 29% of shoppers consuming immediately on purchase , the on-the-go nature of shopper lifestyles presented significant sales opportunities for retailers in 2016. This increasing consumer appetite for immediate refreshment encouraged savvy retailers to revaluate the premium chiller space and adapt their ranges according to the specific needs of their customer base. This approach increased wider profits, as soft drinks shoppers were shown to spend more, visit the store more often and have a bigger basket size, compared to average convenience shoppers .

Trystan Farnworth, commercial Director, convenience & impulse at Britvic, commented: “The channel has seen some extremely fierce competition over the past year as more channels, such as foodservice, strive to cash in on consumer demand for convenience. Despite this, convenience maintained a steady performance in soft drinks thanks to the growing consumer demand for on-the-go solutions that fit in with busy schedules, as well as the increasing focus on healthier lifestyles. With the health trend continuing to gain momentum, and convenience under-trading in no- and low-sugar soft drinks, retailers should see this as a major opportunity and the perfect time to take stock and ensure their range is fit for the future.

“Competition for the shopper pound looks set to increase in the year ahead, what with predicted inflation rises, convenience channel competition increasing and uncertainty over Brexit. But with soft drinks growing year-on-year as a footfall driver to convenience stores, the category will have an integral role to play in helping retailers attract and retain shoppers within the Convenience channel.”

Paul Graham, managing director at Britvic GB, said: “At Britvic, we recognised the impact of the healthy living trend early on and we’ve led the industry in recent years when it comes to adapting to meet consumers’ needs. We’ve taken bold steps to help consumers to make choices that are better for them, removing 19 billion calories per year from our portfolio since 2012. We will continue to keep our commitment to providing consumers with inspiring choices that deliver on taste at the heart of our strategy in the years to come.”