For many people, their first sight of the ’Coke’s Holidays are Coming’ ad on TV is a clear sign that Christmas is nearly here. This year the iconic commercial will run from the middle of November. And the Coca-Cola Christmas Truck will then begin touring Great Britain, visiting 53 locations nationwide, helping to support retailers by building consumer excitement around the festive season.

Limited-edition Christmas packs are also available featuring the Sundblom Father Christmas enjoying a bottle of Coca-Cola. Rolling out from the middle of November, the graphics will feature on Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, Coca-Cola Classic and Diet Coke, across 330ml cans, 500ml PET bottles, 1.25ltr and 1.75ltr bottles as well as the wrapping on multipacks. In addition, to support the increase in at-home dining with friends and family during the festive season, a new four x 250ml glass bottle multipack with Christmas snowflake graphics will be available in selected retailers.

According to Nielsen data, over 95% of households enjoy soft drinks during the festive period. And last year 10.3 million more shopping baskets included a soft drink during Christmas, compared to 2015.

Amy Burgess, trade communications manager at Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP), says this represents a fantastic opportunity for retailers to boost their sales. "Cola is the biggest seller within the soft drinks sector, and this is no different during the holiday season. Worth £135m at Christmas, it is continuing to grow with 1.26 million more shopping baskets containing colas in 2016 than the previous year."

Number one grocery brand

She adds that Coca-Cola worth £1.1bn is the number one grocery brand at Christmas (Kantar data).

"Retailers make more than half of their sales and profit in the three months before Christmas, so getting your offering right is essential at this time of year," explains Adrian Troy, marketing director for AG Barr. "Soft drinks are key to the profit opportunity, as consumers look to stock up on their favourite brands, including Irn-Bru, Rubicon and the Barr range. Large pack formats and multipacks are in particularly high demand as shoppers prepare for family gatherings and parties."

Troy says flavoured carbonates, cola and lemonade are key drivers at Christmas and retailers should prominently display a range of well-known brands to deliver choice, quality and value for their shoppers.

"Irn-Bru, the UK’s number one flavoured carbonate brand (IRI), is a must-stock at Christmas as it works well as a mixer and can be enjoyed by the whole family," he adds.

Then there’s the Barr range of 14 flavours including Barr Cola and Lemonade as well as Cherryade, Bubblegum, Limeade and Cream Soda.

AG Barr is also the company behind the Rubicon brand which, according to IRI data, is the UK’s number one exotic juice drink. It’s available in a wide range of flavours, in still and sparkling variants, and Troy says it makes a great ingredient in mocktails.

Burgess agrees that choice is important: "At this time of year, when groups of friends and families get together, offering a wide choice of drinks is key, and retailers should consider the full Coca-Cola portfolio to ensure they are meeting every consumer need. In line with the rising health trend, light colas were responsible for £5m incremental growth in the cola sector over the festive period last year, so retailers should also look to stock brands like Diet Coke and Coca-Cola Zero Sugar to tap into this."

Burgess says Schweppes Sparkling Juice Drinks are also a great choice during the party season, with a particular appeal to young adults who are looking for bold fruit flavours. "With variants including Grapefruit & Blood Orange and Lemon & Elderflower, they also tap into the increased demand for lighter drinks with just 20kcal per 100ml the lowest calorie count within the adult special sector."

Sophisticated option

Burgess adds that with sales of adult soft drinks growing last Christmas, Appletiser appeals to those looking for a sophisticated option on its own or as part of a cocktail or mocktail.

"Our Appletiser Apple & Pomegranate variant offers a different flavour option for consumers over the festive period, having won a prestigious 2015 International Taste & Quality Institute award for its taste."

Trystan Farnworth, commercial director, convenience and impulse at Britvic, says it’s important to stock a full range of mixers for those socialising and making mixed drinks at home. "With frequent festive family gatherings, ensure shelves are stocked with sharing options such as multipacks, and 1ltr and 2ltr bottles.

"Group sub-categories together to make it easier for shoppers to find what they are looking for when in a rush for example, merchandise all carbonates together, or group mixers with alcoholic beverages."

Burgess says dedicated Christmas displays are a great way to drive sales in the run-up to Christmas.

"Retailers should consider displaying future consumption soft drinks like 1.75ltr and multipack formats close to the entrance of the store to encourage impulse buys as people begin to stock up for their celebrations.

"Creating eye-catching Christmas displays that showcase festive favourites can really add some in-store theatre that will build excitement in the lead-up to the big day. At this time, soft drinks could be displayed alongside other products that are popular at Christmas, such as sharing snacks.

"Retailers could offer discounts that are applied when bought together to boost sales."

Red Bull is another must-stock for forecourt stores over the festive period, as household penetration peaks in the four weeks leading up to Christmas (Kantar data).

"This increase is driven by multipacks," explains Rich Fisher, category development manager at Red Bull UK, "as shoppers not only look to this functional product to get them through this busy period, but also to use as a mixer throughout the party season."

With a third more shoppers buying Red Bull multipacks at Christmas, Fisher recommends stocking Red Bull Original four-pack, Red Bull Original six-pack and Red Bull Sugar Free four-pack, the top three multipacks in growth within the Sports and Energy sector, to help drive sales throughout December.

And, as Kantar data reveals that Red Bull consumers have the highest spend per buyer over the Christmas period versus other Sports and Energy ranges, Fisher suggests that forecourt retailers stock Red Bull 250ml Original, Red Bull 250ml Sugar Free and Red Bull Original 355ml in the chiller, to help consumers maintain their energy while on the go during this period and for those driving over the busy Christmas season.

Planning ahead

Mark Sterratt, market, strategy and planning director, Lucozade Ribena Suntory, says retailers should be preparing their stores now for the busy festive period ahead. "Shoppers are likely to be in a hurry as they complete their Christmas shopping, and will be relying on the convenience of independent stores to pick up refreshments and other last-minute items.

"The soft drinks category, therefore, is just as important at this time of year as it is when the weather is warmer. Shoppers will be looking for on-the-go single-serve formats of their favourite brands to quench their thirst while out and about as well as stocking up on larger serves to consume throughout the season with the increase in at-home social occasions. It’s essential that retailers keep chillers fully stocked and tidy even during busy times, or frustrated shoppers will go elsewhere, leading to a loss in sales."

He adds that effective merchandising and layout are key in helping consumers find the drinks they want. "We recommend allocating space according to category sales contribution, with a minimum of two facings per SKU (and more for best sellers, which should be sited at eye level).

"This optimal layout will reduce the time it takes the customer to navigate the chiller and find their favourites by up to 40% (Lucozade Ribena Suntory research).

"Drink-later formats larger bottles and multipacks are especially popular at this time of year, growing by 7% in the last three months of 2016. December, in particular, sees a spike in drink-later, when it claims the largest share of the soft drinks category. This extra demand is driven by the increase in premium social and sharing occasions in the winter months, driving people into store to fill their fridges ready for the party season. Retailers should also remember that the rise in family occasions and mealtimes also means shoppers will be looking for family and kids’ drinks such as Ribena squash and Ribena Minis."

Sterratt says retailers should bear in mind that consumers will be looking to treat themselves and are therefore more likely to trade up within the category.

"For this reason, segments such as carbonates and mixers are popular over the Christmas period, and retailers should prepare for this increased demand accordingly.

"Premium fruit carbonates, like Orangina, are essential in encouraging this trade-up and driving segmental growth in-store. It is the perfect addition to the chiller to drive incremental sales from adult consumers looking to treat themselves. Its unique flavour offers consumers a tempting option to enjoy over the festive season on its own or as a mixer with spirits like rum and gin at home."

Sterratt recommends that retailers ensure their chillers and shelves are stocked up with this brand to make the most of the seasonal sales opportunity.

A Merry Quizmas with J2O

J2O is giving shoppers the chance to win prizes this Christmas via the Merry Quizmas quiz, which can be played on Facebook Messenger. Competitors need to answer 10 questions correctly to be in with a chance of winning vouchers.
Merry Quizmas is being promoted on seasonal packs of J2O including limited-edition Glitter Berry, which is a blend of grape, cherry, a hint of spice and edible glitter.
The on-pack Christmas promotion is supported by a £2m marketing campaign that includes a combination of outdoor, digital and activation across point of purchase.
Kevin McNair, marketing director at Britvic GB, says: "We know that people love playing games at Christmas time and Merry Quizmas has been designed to be a shareable experience to help people re-discover their competitive streak when it comes to game playing."

Schweppes’ big investment

Schweppes has announced its biggest GB investment in over 200 years, which includes the launch of a new premium skittle-shaped bottle that pays homage to its longstanding heritage and a multi-million pound marketing campaign.
The new Schweppes bottle is modelled on the original Schweppes skittle, which was blown and formed in a single piece by inventor Jacob Schweppe back in 1783.
The iconic yellow Schweppes sash sits at the neck of the new bottle which features an embossed fountain design to signify the bubbles contained within the tonic. The Schweppes range is available in a variety of formats including 200ml glass bottles, 1ltr PET bottles and six x150ml and 12 x150ml can multipacks.

Juicy sales opportunity for forecourt stores

During the Christmas and New Year period, consumers are more likely to treat themselves to leisurely, family breakfasts which means there’s a big sales opportunity for fruit juice. Kantar data shows that 89% of households buy into the fruit juice category, while Nielsen stats reveal that longlife juice sales are in decline and chilled juice is on the rise.
Chilled fruit juice currently generates 60% of juice category sales (Kantar) and is worth £1.1bn annually, growing +1.7%, but sales in the impulse channel have exceeded this at +2%. Over half of chilled juice consumption is at breakfast time, with Grapefruit and Orange the most popular.
In the convenience channel, Not From Concentrate is the largest segment in the chilled fruit juice category, with PepsiCo’s Tropicana the number one brand.
Smoothies is the second-biggest segment, with PepsiCo’s Naked the number one seller. The Naked range has recently been extended with the launch of Pressed juices made using the cold press technique.
Pierre Jackson, impulse category controller at Pepsico, says: "Shoppers buying into the take-home chilled fruit juice category are valuable to the retailer as they have a greater basket spend. Shoppers will still only spend an average of five minutes in the store; therefore location, range and offer are important to drive purchase."

Christmas trading tips

Look to best-selling brands that are driving sales, and be sure to check which products are the focus of Christmas ad campaigns
Stock special Christmas editions and display these in a prominent place
Focus on sharing formats as Christmas social occasions mean that sharing formats are particularly important at this time.
Where possible chill sharing formats as many purchases will be made en route to Christmas gatherings with friends and families.
Source: Coca-Cola European Partners