You can’t talk about soft drinks at the moment without mentioning the sugar levy, which was announced in March’s Budget. In his speech, Chancellor George Osborne announced the new tax as the "right thing for the next generation". He said it would not come into force until 2018 to give companies time to make changes to their ranges and there would be two bands covering drinks with more than 5g of sugar per 100ml and more than 8g sugar per 100ml. It is expected the levy will add 18p per litre and 24p per litre respectively.

But whether you agree with this or not, there’s no disputing the fact that already the major manufacturers have made great strides in removing sugar and calories from many of their drinks. Indeed Osborne insisted on ’giving credit where it was due’ to Robinsons, for removing all added sugar from its range. Britvic says the delisting of added-sugar Robinsons is expected to remove 6.9 billion calories from the soft drinks market. In total it says last year there was a 5.8% reduction in the average number of calories consumed per serve across its entire portfolio, achieving an average calorie count per 250ml serve of 35.4.

Meanwhile, Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) issued a statement saying it understood obesity was an issue that needs to be addressed and that it would continue its work to reduce the sugar and calories consumed from its drinks. It went on: "We have already done a great deal and our actions are doing more to reduce sugar and calorie intake than a tax will. It’s disappointing that the government has chosen to single out soft drinks in its attempt to tackle the problem. If the aim is to reduce obesity, this levy flies in the face of evidence from around the world which shows taxes do very little, if anything, to reduce sugar and calorie intake or obesity levels but do add to people’s cost of living."

Cola is the drink most often rolled out to illustrate the amount of sugar there is in many fizzy drinks. Indeed, during his Budget speech, George Osborne said a can of cola typically had nine teaspoons of sugar in it. But, of course, that cola would be full-sugar cola whereas consumers have a choice with many diet and zero versions available too. Indeed Diet Coke has been around for more than 30 years. However, diet drinks with artificial sweeteners are not to everyone’s taste, which is why CCE launched Coca-Cola Life back in 2014, containing a blend of sugar and stevia plant extract. This year, the company announced that it has reduced the sugar content of Life even further so that it contains 45% less sugar and calories than regular (full sugar) colas. The drink is still sweetened with a blend of sugar and stevia plant extract but the recipe has been changed to include more of the latter. This means a 330ml can of Coca-Cola Life now contains 76 calories and 19g of sugar.

CCE general manager, Leendert den Hollander, says: "We’ve had a really positive reaction from consumers since we launched and it has been encouraging to see how many households have gone on to buy it again after they have tasted it. We think it will continue to appeal to consumers who are looking to reduce their sugar and calorie intake but do not want to switch to a sugar-free cola.

"Coca-Cola Life has an important role to play as part of our overall strategy to offer choice and raise awareness of our lower- and no-sugar options. In addition to regular Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola Life, we also offer two variants with no sugar Diet Coke and Coca-Cola Zero.

"Investing in reformulation is just one of the actions we are taking to help people reduce their sugar and calorie intake alongside offering smaller pack sizes, putting colour-coded nutrition labels on the front of all our bottles and cans, and increasing the marketing investment in our no-sugar colas."

That investment in reformulation continues with the news that Coke Zero is being replaced by "new and improved" Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, which is said to taste even more like the original Coca-Cola, but without sugar. Its launch will be supported by a £10m marketing campaign designed to get more people to choose ’no sugar’. This is Coca-Cola Great Britain’s biggest marketing investment in a new product launch for a decade and will include TV, out-of-home, digital advertising and experiential activity. The campaign will encourage consumers to try the new and improved Coca-Cola Zero Sugar by highlighting that it ’tastes more like Coke and looks more like Coke’ than the original Coke Zero. This move is a deliberate attempt to change the mix of the company’s portfolio between sugar and no sugar drinks and is the latest part of the company’s £30m reformulation and new product development programme.

The new name Coca-Cola Zero Sugar and packaging have been designed to make it even clearer to consumers that the drink is sugar-free. That’s because consumer research found that five in 10 people did not know Coca-Cola Zero contained no sugar. Coca-Cola Zero Sugar will be available across Great Britain from the end of June.

Currently, 43% of Coca-Cola sold in the UK is lower or no sugar and the new marketing strategy is designed to increase this figure to more than 50% by 2020.

But across the market there is still a lot of work to be done to persuade consumers to switch to less sugary drinks. Britvic’s latest Soft Drinks Review states that the low-calorie segment benefited from the trend for healthier soft drinks, achieving 4.1% growth (to £567m), versus full sugar soft drinks which grew by 1.7% (to £2.5bn) in convenience (Nielsen), but those figures still show a huge sales gap. Two-thirds (60%) of this low-calorie soft drinks growth was seen in energy (up 10% to £56m) and cola (up 2.7%).

Forecourt focus

According to Nielsen data for the 52 weeks ending March 13, 2016, soft drinks sales in forecourts were down 2% in value. Colin Falconer, director convenience at Britvic, says there’s no one reason for this and it could be down to a number of factors including fewer visits thanks to more fuel-efficient cars.

When thinking about the forthcoming sugar levy, he advises retailers to think about it and build an appropriate strategy by providing consumers with a choice.

"At Britvic we’re in a very strong position as we over-index in non-sugar drinks. Plus we have been behind some major innovation such as Cherry Max, 7Up Mojito and Drench."

Britvic’s GB marketing director, Kevin McNair, says the relaunched Drench brand taps into the trend for adults looking for more sophisticated soft drink choices. "We know that the typical adult consumer (aged 30-plus) is leaving the soft drinks category in favour of healthier options such as tea, coffee and water so there is certainly a need for a relevant grown-up solution to keep these drinkers in the category. We’re confident that the reformulated recipe and extensive development that we’ve put behind the relaunch of Drench will drive sales for retailers."

A new and improved recipe, which includes no artificial sweeteners, colours or flavourings, uses a combination of juices and spring water.

Naturally sourced stevia sweetener is still used in the drink but it has been reformulated to contain less sugar than before in response to the target consumers’ preferences. As a result, the front-of-pack traffic-light labelling on the new variants is now amber.

Two new flavours: Peach & Mango and Strawberry & Lime have joined the reformulated Pear & Blueberry variant, all of which have been specially developed in line with consumer feedback to appeal to a grown-up taste palette. There’s also new packaging.

The relaunch is supported by a £2m consumer campaign which will see national outdoor and in-store activation launching next month.

Meanwhile, 7Up’s new flavour is also expected to be a hit with adults. Described as "crisp and refreshing", 7Up Free Mojito taps into growing consumer interest in cocktail flavours by combining the popular minty flavour of the classic cocktail with the citrus zest of 7Up. Launched in France in 2014, the product has already proven popular with consumers and accounts for 15% of 7Up sales across the channel.

Falconer says forecourts do very well with male-orientated energy drinks but should also look at ’better-for-me’ products, which tap into the vitality trend. He suggests Purdey’s and V water for this. He points to new Purdey’s Edge, which is vitamin infused, contains no caffeine and counts as one of your five a day. Then there’s sugar-free V water, which was one of the first products to use stevia. "It’s all about understanding the market and following the trends," he says.

Catering for men is essential as they buy 65% of soft drinks in the forecourt/travel sector. Pepsi Max is a strong seller in forecourts and messaging that’s focused on ’Maximum Taste, No Sugar’ has helped sales. "Pepsi Max is popular with men, and is a big driver of bringing men into non-sugar drinks. It’s got quite good distribution in forecourts but there are some gaps around the cherry variant. It’s a no-brainer retailers need to close down those gaps so they are providing more choice for guys who are looking for a non-sugar option," says Falconer.

Overall, Britvic reports that Pepsi was the number one brand contributor to convenience channel soft drink growth, up 10.4%, adding £16.4m to the channel.

Falconer also stresses the importance of format, saying that within cola, 64% of buyers only buy into 5/600ml bottles and 20% only buy into cans. Seventeen per cent of buyers will consider buying into both formats (Kantar Worldpanel data). "As we know this to be the case, then it makes sense to stock Pepsi Max in a can," he says.

And CCE’s operational marketing director, Caroline Cater, says it’s a myth that men don’t drink diet drinks. She confirms that around 45% of Diet Coke consumers are men and with Zero, again it’s a near 50:50 split men and women.

Meanwhile, Falconer says that NPD is massively important for forecourts as last year, £4.4m of sales through petrol and travel outlets came from NPD (IRI 52 weeks to March 13, 2016.)

"My personal advice is to make the most of NPD and drive awareness as it’s the job of the retailer to ensure customers can find the products easily."

It’s a sentiment echoed by CCE’s operational marketing director, Caroline Cater, who says: "The biggest single frustration for me is not seeing new lines stocked especially given all the support that’s behind them. Smartwater is responsible for massive growth in water but has incredibly low distribution in forecourts most don’t stock it so it represents a huge opportunity. Monster Ultra with zero calories is another case in point it’s got a great taste and should be perfect for a forecourt’s customer profile but so many are not yet stocking it. Retailers really need to get behind NPD." She adds that Coke Zero Cherry is new and so needs to be stocked. Coke Zero Cherry was launched in single packs (330ml and 500ml PETs) earlier this year. Cherry flavours have been part of the Coca-Cola portfolio since 1985, but according to Nielsen data they are still showing 22% growth.

Space issues

Cater certainly has a point about NPD but many retailers say they don’t have the space for all the new lines that are coming out.

However, Cater’s colleague director for the cold channel, Rob Harris, has some advice: "We encourage retailers to look at their range and identify what’s not selling to clear the clutter and use that space to bring in NPD and also ensure there is enough space for the fast-moving, popular products. What sold well two years ago might not be selling as well today, so range definitely needs looking at."

Harris also advises retailers to look at the rest of the marketplace and what they are stocking as well as which different occasions customers are buying for.

"This will all depend on the local environment the forecourt operates in. If it’s on a main road, it will probably be for immediate consumption but if it’s more of a neighbourhood store then it might be an item someone has forgotten to pick up at the supermarket. Or it could be a drink to go with food.

"Each forecourt is different and it’s up to retailers to assess how they can maximise their sales. They need to ask why do shoppers come to this forecourt?"

Much has been said about the take-home opportunity in soft drinks for c-stores but Harris says again that for forecourt stores, it is very much dependent on location ie whether you’re on an A-road or are a neighbourhood store.

Cater says CCE’s reps are available to advise independent forecourt retailers on allocation of different types of drinks according to the needs of their customers.

But Cater thinks there’s still work to be done on selling drinks for immediate consumption. "There’s definitely an opportunity to grow sales. If you go into a quick-service restaurant you will always be asked if you want a drink with your food and that’s what forecourts need to be doing too. Some operators have fast-lane chillers so if the person on the till asks the question, the customer can easily pick up a drink. Things like this really work."

The sugar tax - your view

Susie Hawkins, Simon Smith Group:
"When you look at drinks like Coca-Cola and Red Bull, we are still selling the same amount in our shops, so I’m not sure that a sugar tax will have a massive impact. Ultimately we all should be eating and drinking more healthily but will a tax make us do that? I don’t know, but if it can change habits then it could be a good thing.
"I’m not worried about the effect a tax would have on business because people will always drink something so they will move to things like water. The impact will be on moving from one drink to another not on total sales."

Gillie Chiarella, Cotgrave Service Station:
"I think the sugar tax is a waste of time it won’t work. If you compare it to smoking, no matter how much they put the prices up if people want it they buy it!
"Coke and Red Bull are still our best sellers. We do stock light and zero variants but many people just prefer the full-sugar drinks."

Marcus Burnley-Lowe, Spar Battlefield:
"Potentially, a sugar tax could work and change habits but as retailers I think we’d initially take a hit on it re the pricing as it would be hard to put prices up overnight. But the good thing is that in forecourts, people still expect to pay a bit more.
"Our best sellers are red Coke followed by Diet Coke. Over the past few years I’ve noticed that people have changed to drinking the diet variants but there has not been a spike more recently.
"The trouble with a sugar tax is that you start thinking where will it end? Which product will be next?"

Chill out

Don’t underestimate the importance of offering chilled soft drinks.
That’s the message from AG Barr’s head of marketing, Adrian Troy. "Drink sales now account for more than three-quarters of all soft drinks sales in impulse and consumers prefer these drinks to be chilled," he explains.
"Chilled availability is the key driver for soft drinks sales, particularly during the really critical summer months. Shoppers consume 21% more soft drinks during the summer with water, juice drinks and other flavoured carbonates benefiting most (IRI data).
Forecourt retailers who adapt their ranges to reflect this range, particularly in the chiller, will benefit significantly."
Troy recommends open-deck chillers to encourage people to buy more soft drinks as they are easier to shop and they enable you to display a large choice of chilled products.
But he adds: "You can make soft drinks work for you from the main fixture as well. Take-home products account for 24% of sales and remain hugely important as they are higher value items which encourage footfall and loyalty."


Slush drinks continue to be popular with consumers of all ages, particularly when the weather heats up, and they offer great profit margins for retailers. To capitalise on this demand, Hancocks has added a range of slush syrups and machines to its Kingsway range.
The Kingsway Slush syrups come in 13 flavours including: Strawberry, Blue Raspberry, Bubblegum, Iron Brew, Lemon & Lime, Sour Apple, Mango and Cherry.
With a seven-to-one ratio of water to syrup and the 5ltr tubs costing £10.99 each, retailers who sell 126 cups at the rrp of £1 can earn margins of 90%.
Also available are the Kingsway Slush Triple and Twin Machines, with packages consisting of the Slush machine, syrups, cups and straws.

Mars milks it

The flavoured milk market continues to grow. According to IRI data, value sales have increased by 2.2% over the past year to reach £297m.
Chocolate remains the category’s favourite flavour with a 32% share, followed by fruit (24%) and specialised flavoured milks (22%).
But while the chocolate milk market shows an overall decline of 2.5%, Mars Milk is enjoying value sales growth of 15.4%. And the sub-category showing the most growth (19.6%) is specialised milk, which now accounts for £64.6m (22%) of total value sales. Capitalising on this, Mars Chocolate Drinks and Treats introduced Mars High Protein and Snickers High Protein milk drinks to the category last year; each containing 22g of protein to reflect consumer interest in protein-based products.
The company says its 350ml milk drinks range is the must-stock pack for forecourts because the size gives a clear point of difference to other brands and enables the retailer to provide an on-the-go format for consumers. A new Mars ’No Added Sugar’ version has just been added to the 350ml milk drinks range.
Meanwhile, the 750ml Mars Milk is good for retailers looking to appeal to consumers who are after a take-home purchase.

Where the market’s at

Britvic’s Soft Drinks Review of 2015 revealed that soft drinks increased by 2.2% to be worth £3.1bn in the convenience channel. And this was ahead of the total soft drinks market, which was down by 0.6%.
Britvic says the channel benefited from changing shopper behaviour, where longer working hours, lengthy commutes, as well as an increase in smaller and solo households, prompted more unplanned purchases.
Top-up and on-the-go missions led the way in attracting shoppers into convenience stores, and while many other categories focused on one shopper mission, thanks to their versatility, soft drinks played across key growth missions, top-up and on-the-go, with take-home and single-serve offerings showing growth (single-serve increased to £2bn (up 2.5%) and take-home increased to £1bn (up 1.6%) .
As for soft drink sub-sectors, 99% of growth in convenience was driven by water, water-plus, energy and iced tea and coffee.
Britvic’s GB commercial director out of home, Nigel Paine, comments: "Thanks to its positive performance within convenience in 2015, soft drinks grew to become just as important as bread and was ranked the number one category bought for a food-to-go mission, ahead of other impulse categories such as snacks, crisps, confectionery and sandwiches.
This highlights just how pivotal soft drinks were within the convenience channel and what crucial sales drivers they became for retailers in 2015.
"With predicted growth of 17% we have expectations that the channel will grow to become worth a quarter of the total market by 2020. It is expected that this will be predominantly driven by the continued rise of top-up and on-the-go missions, as well as meal for tonight.
The versatility of soft drinks, together with the evolution of shopper missions and macro trends impacting the channel, place the category in good stead to drive growth in 2016 and beyond."

Anniversary promotion

Grace Foods UK is celebrating the 35th anniversary of Nurishment Original, the UK’s number one nutritionally enriched milk drink (IRI data), with the brand’s biggest ever on-pack promotion.
The Nurishment Anniversary Arcade promotion gives consumers the chance to win hundreds of hi-tech prizes including leading brand tablets, smartphones, games consoles, headphones and music vouchers.
The promotion, which also offers Nurishment-branded merchandise as prizes, goes live this month and runs until the end of November on vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and banana flavours.
Grace Foods UK head of marketing, Nyree Chambers, says: "We’re giving away a minimum of one prize a day, offering highly desirable, aspirational prizes that we know will appeal to Nurishment drinkers and ensure that people return to the fixture time after time."
Consumers can play the Nurishment Anniversary Arcade game on a dedicated microsite ( where they enter a unique code found on the side of the can and try to match four flavours. Winners will be notified automatically.
The promotion will be backed by a long-running social media campaign.