Despite the economic challenges, sales of soft drinks kept their place on people’s shopping lists and remained among the top three beverage categories for social occasions, according to the 2012 Britvic Soft Drinks Report.

The resilience of the soft drinks category led to a value increase of 4% to £9.7bn, with a volume increase of 1%. Although retailers had to work harder for their share of shoppers’ grocery budgets with more and better promotions, the strategy paid off. Sales in take-home grew 7% by value to £7bn, with volume increasing by 1%.

The report revealed that impulse sales kept pace with the grocery multiples, both growing by 7% in value. The top three suppliers Britvic, Coca-Cola and GSK together accounted for almost half of the take-home soft drinks market. Almost 50% of the take-home soft drinks total value belonged to the top 10 brands with Coca-Cola and Pepsi unchallenged at number one and two.

Murray Harris, customer management director at Britvic, said: "Consumers continued to face an extremely tough time in 2011, meaning they were careful with their spending and looking for great deals. However, the growth of the soft drinks category demonstrates that they are considered an affordable treat, supported by suppliers continuing to innovate throughout the year, driving interest and trial among consumers.

"Instead of sticking with one retailer, shoppers used a variety of grocery outlets: the major supermarkets for the trolley shop and smaller local shops to top-up on essentials; with the impulse channel matching the grocery multiple channel’s value growth of 7% for take-home soft drinks." Worryingly for forecourts, Harris said online sales of soft drinks increased by 12% in 2011, "proving a way of saving on fuel and allowing consumers to see and control what they are spending as they shop".

Within impulse, the multiples (chains with more than 10 shops), accounted for the lion’s share of growth, up 9% by value and 5% by volume. The small independents fared less successfully, with value rising just 1% and volume falling by 2%. The report said independents faced stiff competition as Tesco Metro, M&S Food and Sainsbury’s Local became very present on the high street. Impulse outlets particularly took advantage of the rise of the small basket shop by improving their promotional offerings. Smaller stores and the larger symbols increased their branded support.