Barr Soft Drinks Taste and flavour still driving soft drinks sales in convenience and wholesale

The UK’s £2.4 billion convenience soft drinks category continues to be one of the most profitable categories for wholesalers, in summer and all year round. Barr Soft Drinks is working with wholesalers to tap into trends with a growing portfolio of bestselling carbonated and other soft drinks brands that offer choice, quality and value, combined with pack and flavour innovation.

Steven Simpson, National Impulse Sales Controller at Barr Soft Drinks, speaks to Wholesale Manager.

“Talking to people across the industry provides an insight into the challenges everyone is facing and gives you sight of opportunities you didn’t realise could be out there,” Steven says. “The market is facing a lot of change, whether that’s customers merging together or retailers embracing technology and changing how they buy. This has a big impact on our plans and how we interact. Take online for example, where one in four customers is now purchasing via wholesaler websites or apps. For a business that traditionally focused on selling activity in depot, we now have to adopt a multi-platform approach.”

Impulse has been the cornerstone of Barr’s business for many years. It has national and regional teams and specialists with experience in several sectors such as the on-trade and contract catering: “We work at head office level and also have field sales teams covering depots and end users. Each team is supported by category managers and a commercial team that ensures we create plans that relate specifically to wholesale.”

This emphasis on impulse is reflected in Barr’s sales, says Steven: “60% of our drink sales are in convenience and this ratio has remained broadly similar over the last couple of years, driven by the strength of our ‘on the go’ offering in convenience stores.”

IRN-BRU 500ml bottles and Rockstar Energy 500ml cans are two of Barr’s biggest SKUs: “It’s great to see more shoppers buying more IRN-BRU, more often, including in England and Wales. Scotland has always been IRN-BRU’s heartland, thanks to a great product at a great price, supported by memorable advertising campaigns and consumer and trade activations such as the summer BRU-NANZA on-pack promotion – who doesn’t want a win a BRU-nicorn lilo for their summer holiday? Rockstar is also known for exciting innovation, which is something we will continue to bring to the market.”

Steven acknowledges the soft drinks world is changing, with growing shopper demand for mid, low and nosugar products: “In carbonated soft drinks, low calorie now represents 47% value and 56% volume whereas last year, this was 43% and 50%, a huge shift in just one year.”

The overriding reasons consumers choose a soft drink remain constant, says Steven, whether these drinks are regular or low calorie – great taste, flavour choice and the right pack formats. Barr’s reformulation of their core brands to satisfy changing consumer needs took place over a twoyear period ahead of the implementation of the sugar levy in April 2018. The Barr range was reformulated in 2016, with KA and Rubicon sparkling changing mid-2017, with IRN-BRU Regular, Rubicon Fruit Drinks and Rockstar following in early 2018. Within the portfolio, carbonates represent 80% of sales value versus still at 20%.

Picking out particular products in the Barr portfolio, Steven says the fruit drinks part of the Rubicon brand has been challenged recently, driven by the fruit drinks category’s ongoing decline. However, Rubicon Spring, which combines sparkling spring water with fruit juice, has performed really well, meeting increased shopper demand for great-tasting soft drinks with fewer calories.

Water, infused water, energy and vitality drinks are also part of Barr’s line up: “Our water brand, Strathmore, is a pure Scottish Spring water which remains the number one best-selling water brand in the on-trade. Currently growing 25% annually, Strathmore delivers on provenance, which is important to water shoppers. “Infused water is another exciting part of the soft drinks category. As consumer attitudes and behaviours towards health continue to evolve, we’re seeing a change in shopper behaviour, where they’re looking for products with 100% natural ingredients which deliver on taste. Infused water is the fastest growing segment in UK soft drinks and Le Joli, our infused water brand, is currently the UK’s number one Infused Water brand, selling three times more than its nearest competitor.”

Le Joli is available in Mexican Lime & Mint, Scottish Raspberry & Rhubarb and Sicilian Lemon & Mandarin: “We are building the brand as this subcategory continues to grow, and getting great feedback from consumers. Infused Water is huge in the US, where it is known as Seltzers and the potential here is significant, so having the right brands in the right stores is really important for customers.”

Energy continues to be another important part of the soft drinks market, says Steven: “In convenience stores, we’re getting close to one in two drinks purchased being an energy drink. Energy drinks also deliver more profit to customers than other categories, so getting the product mix right is key. We’ve seen this part of the category develop over the last decade and the growth is coming from flavoured energy drinks.”

Barr has also launched two new energy brands alongside their bestselling Rockstar Energy range: “In Scotland, we’ve introduced IRN-BRU Energy; nearly three quarters of energy drinkers in Scotland love the taste of IRN-BRU, and now they can have the best of both worlds! We’ve also launched KA Reload, a glucose-based energy drink. 90% of KA drinkers also drink energy drinks, and we’re bringing the great tastes of Black Cherry and Mango to our consumers, in one of the most disruptive soft drinks launches of 2019.”

Barr is always looking to innovate to provide shoppers and consumers with great tasting drinks, says Steven, and spends a lot of time identifying new needs driven by developing trends and changes in shopper behaviour: “Soft drinks is an exciting and dynamic category and we want to inspire shoppers, whilst never losing sight of the key reason a shopper buys a soft drink, which is taste.”

Another trend affecting consumption of both soft drinks and alcoholic beverages is shifting shopper attitudes towards drinking, with one third of under 25s abstaining from drinking alcohol completely and 27% of adults drinking less alcohol. Steven Simpson explains Barr’s position:

“Our research suggests many of these consumers still want to enjoy the social aspect of drinking and are looking for less sweet, more adult drinks with more sophisticated flavours. Grouping a range of premium soft drinks together to create an Adult Social section on the fixture makes it easy for shoppers to find what they are looking for and offers a range of options which will ultimately drive sales.”

Barr recently launched an exciting new range of adult soft drinks, St Clement’s, a blend of bittersweet British apples, fruit juices and sparkling water. Packaged in premium 500ml glass bottles, St Clement’s comes in two delicious, refreshing flavours, Apple & Pear and Raspberry & Blackberry and has been created using reinvented, classic recipes and ingredients with great heritage as well as a decade of expertise. The interesting flavour combinations take inspiration from the most popular flavours in other fastgrowing adult drinks categories.

Barr’s adult soft drinks offering also includes Bundaberg, a unique range of craft-brewed, premium non-alcoholic beverages from Australian familyowned Bundaberg Brewed Drinks. The Bundaberg range uses time-honoured brewing methods and best quality ingredients to deliver great-tasting adult beverages. The UK range comprises six flavours, Ginger Beer, Root Beer, Blood Orange, Lemon/Lime & Bitters, Peach and Pink Grapefruit. Everything about Bundaberg is unique, from their premium brews to the glass ‘stubby’ bottle with the iconic rip cap.

The Snapple brand brings a range of fun, refreshing fruity flavours to the market for premium occasions. Snapple offers six unique and great tasting juice drinks – Kiwi/Strawberry, Lemonade, Mango, Apple, Fruit Punch, Pink Lemonade and Peach Iced Tea. With facts hidden under the lid, and the brand’s iconic 473ml glass bottle format, Snapple is a great addition to any adult soft drinks fixture.

With the new school year just around the corner, Barr’s OMJ! is a range of high juice fruit drinks in four delicious flavours; Still Very Berry, Apple Tang, Sparkling Tropical and Berry Blast, in two school friendly formats, 330ml cans and 288ml cartons. Co-created with students, the products are approved for current schools’ guidelines and satisfy student needs, driving in-school sales. OMJ! has mainstream out of school soft drink appeal too, as its exciting range of flavours delivers exceptional taste.

Meanwhile, Rubicon is reinforcing its status as official soft drinks partner of the England Cricket Team with a summer-long campaign, set to broaden the appeal of the UK’s number one exotic juice brand. Rubicon’s £2 million ‘Catch the Taste of Summer’ campaign is engaging fans with a raft of marketing activity in association with its biggest ever cricket partnership, with the potential to reach 14 million consumers. In a massive year for English cricket, consumers have the chance to win Ashes tickets on a daily basis in the Rubicon ‘Smash a Wicket, Win Ashes Tickets’ on-pack promotion. In other promotional activity, IRNBRU, the UK’s number one flavoured carbonate brand, is driving summer sales with its biggest ever on-pack offer, BRU-NANZA, with thousands of exciting summer prizes. IRN-BRU branded items up for grabs include giant BRUNICORN lilos, beach towels, beach balls and can coolers.

Plastic packaging is constantly in the headlines these days and the soft drinks industry as a whole has been coming out with sustainability initiatives regarding packaging and waste and using recycled materials. Barr is committed to playing its part in this, says Steven:

“We have always taken our environmental responsibilities seriously and believe packaging should be treated as a valuable resource and recycled, not discarded as litter. 100% of our soft drinks packaging is recyclable, with recycling messages for consumers on pack, and we support several antilittering and recycling initiatives across the country. We use 20% less material in our plastic bottle designs than ten years ago, and removed plastic sleeves from millions of bottles last year.”

Barr is further improving its sustainability performance by introducing up to 50% recycled material content into its PET bottles, starting with the Strathmore water brand, which is now in production. Whilst this remains the long-term objective, Steven says Barr has set an interim goal of introducing at least 30% recycled PET across its full PET portfolio by 2022. The company has been actively involved in the debate on how best to address packaging waste and will continue to work with stakeholders to find a sustainable and practical solution to packaging waste.