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Sports and energy products are a fast-moving category that has gone from strength to strength in the UK in the last two decades as consumers realise the benefits to both work and play of feeling fit and alert.

Sports products began as specialist items aimed at seriously active players and athletes. Energy products fell into two types, those for convalescents and those targeting people travelling long distances and others wanting to stay alert for longer. That was then. As our lives get busier, the Sports and energy category has gone mainstream, attracting a cross section of consumers, with huge brands with very big budgets alongside smaller niche brands with their individual propositions.

The other big factor in all this, as we’re seeing with food and drink generally in our increasingly healthaware era, is the drive to low calorie and sugar free products. NPD addressing the trend to the ‘lite’ side continues to grow, but talking to the suppliers, the core products still remain crucial to category success.

Matthew Gouldsmith is Channel Director, Wholesale at Lucozade Ribena Suntory, whose Lucozade brand was the UK’s original energy drink and transitioned over the course of several decades from a convalescent’s pick me up to an energy booster for healthy people living busy lives. His category advice is clear: “To mirror what retailers are looking for,” says Matthew, “wholesalers should allocate soft drinks aisle space in depots to what sells best. The bulk of each segment should be the biggest brands, including the UK’s number one energy brand, Lucozade Energy and the category-leading sports drink Lucozade Sport.

“Over recent years we have seen a long-term trend towards lower sugar drinks as consumers become more and more interested in living healthier lifestyles, with taste being the biggest driver of soft drink choice. Our recent reformulations mean Lucozade Energy now contains less sugar, and our core brands are also available in very low or zero sugar alternatives in the form of Lucozade Zero and Lucozade Sport Low Cal. We advise wholesalers and their retail customers to stock up on the various SKUs to drive sales from those looking for healthier soft drink options.”

NPD is key to keeping consumers involved, hence Lucozade Energy is adding a new flavour to its permanent range, Apple Blast. Apple flavour first launched in August last year, as part of the brand’s partnership with the Lara Croft franchise which saw Lucozade become Larazade to mark the game release of Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Lucozade Energy Apple has driven over £2M in sales for retailers, the brand’s biggest launch in three years. Apple Blast is available now in 380ml and 500ml bottles and will be backed by a consumer marketing campaign later in 2019.

“Taste and refreshment are always going to be key drivers in soft drinks,” says Mark Bell, Strategy and Planning Manager at Red Bull UK, “however busier lifestyles and increasingly time-poor consumers mean that the market is looking for more all the time. Products that deliver added value for a range of occasions, such as multi-vitamins, protein or a functional energy boost, continue to be popular.”

Red Bull is growing +8.4% in value and +12% in volume, performing well across all channels, in particular Take Home. Growth is being driven by the iconic 250ml Energy Drink pack, Sugarfree range and Energy Drink alternative size options.

Growing 7.1% to £31.9m, Red Bull Sugarfree 250ml is the UK’s number one low kcal sports and energy drink in the UK. Red Bull Energy is also available in 355ml and 473ml cans, with 355ml growing value at +27.6%.

“With the heightened importance placed on the health agenda over the past year and the Soft Drinks Industry Levy in place, consumers are swaying more towards sugar free options. “So it’s imperative,” says Mark, “that wholesalers offer a low kcal alternative, with a higher proportion of space dedicated to low kcal products.”

Flavoured energy drinks’ sales in Britain have grown over £24million in the past year, says Amy Burgess, Senior Trade Communications Manager at Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP), with consumers stating taste is the main factor when buying an energy drink. 2019 was a milestone moment for CCDP’s Monster brand, which achieved over £200m sales in Britain for the first time, becoming the UK’s eighth largest soft drinks brand.

Amy says this has been achieved by growth within the core range, engaging loyal fans through exciting promotions with complementary brands, and investing NPD, from flavour innovation in flavours to more zero and lower sugar options.

CCEP have also continued their partnerships with complimentary brands that appeal to gaming and motorsports fans, core audiences for Monster. The brand has an ongoing partnership with Formula One star Lewis Hamilton, while the recent onpack partnership with Call of Duty Black Ops III also contributed to growth by driving purchasing frequency.

One of the biggest game changers for the Monster brand was the arrival of the zero sugar Monster Ultra range in 2016, which continues to drive growth by bringing in new consumers. The range has grown £15.8m in the past year, while Ultra Violet, introduced last February, is currently the second bestperforming variant in the range.

Before Carabao arrived here the brand was relatively unknown outside its home country of Thailand, says John Luck, CMO at Carabao Energy Drink, but that’s all changed:

“Significant distribution growth has helped step-change our profile among UK soft drink consumers. In addition, we have driven trial and subsequent repeat purchasing of our products among a broad demographic with a ‘for everyone’ proposition – The Bonkers Drink for Bonkers Lives – positioning Carabao as the go-to drink for any adult who needs a great tasting, exclusively low or no sugar, refreshing energy boost.”

“Since we launched in the UK three years ago, we’ve seen an enormous impact on consumers in terms of increasing brand awareness and engagement with our products. Our high-profile football partnerships with Chelsea, Reading and the English Football League, and principally our sponsorship of the EFL Cup, now known as The Carabao Cup, have driven brand awareness to unprecedented heights. The recent semi-final draw for the Carabao Cup was a good example of the way we always aim to do things a little differently. We brought Piers Morgan and Peter Crouch on board in a tongue in cheek draw following the Arsenal v Spurs clash, and the rivalry quickly got national media recognition and was trending on social media within minutes of starting.”

The majority of Carabao’s sales come from consumers who are new to energy drinks, says John Luck: “Our products are very different to ‘traditional energy drinks,’ not only because they are entirely low or sugar free, but because the flavours we offer are unique.”

Carabao’s two best-selling flavours are Green Apple and Mandarin Orange. Carabao experienced significant volume growth last summer linked to their TV supported on-pack promotion, Mr Carabao’s £1 Million Giveaway, offering the chance to win cash every 60 seconds.

As a brand, Carabao remains the biggest investor in marketing in the UK energy drinks category. Carabao is all about speaking to a broad, inclusive consumer audience, hence their involvement with women’s football, the UK’s fastest growing sport.

The acclaimed ‘We Are Female Fans’ campaign, launched last year in the lead up to England’s first World Cup game, was all about changing the kind of search results that appear when people search for ‘female football fans’ online and confirmed Carabao as the most inclusive brand in the energy drinks sector.

The energy category is one of the biggest categories within impulse, says Adrian Troy, Marketing Director at Barr Soft Drinks, making it hugely important for wholesalers and convenience retailers alike. Within this, big can formats are driving growth at +20%. AG Barr’s Rockstar is currently the UK’s largest ‘big can’ flavoured energy drink in convenience, with nearly 50% of flavoured sales. The top two fastest selling flavoured big cans are Rockstar flavours – Xdurance and Punched Guava. Rockstar’s range of 11 flavours is the biggest line up within energy drinks.

With growing numbers of consumers looking for lower calorie or sugar free options, low calorie energy is now worth over £90 million, says Adrian Troy, an increase of nearly 30% since last year, and low or zero sugar energy is predicted to be worth £200m in five years.

Barr has tapped into this demand with Rockstar Revolt, generating sales of over £6m since launching in 2016. Rockstar Revolt comprises two 500ml varieties, Killer Citrus and Killer Cooler, both with impactful ‘camouflage’ pack designs. Morning consumption is another untapped area for energy drinks, which AG Barr are targeting with Rockstar First Start, introduced in 2018. Mixed Berries and Orange Clementine contain no added sugar and are a combination of 5% fruit juice and caffeine from natural sources, with less than 30 calories per can.

Longer term, says Adrian, there is also an opportunity to broaden the usage in the market beyond the young adult male base, to bring in both older consumers and female shoppers.

Finally Barr Soft Drinks is continuing to drive innovation in energy drinks with the launch of Rockstar Twister, a new big range from the UK’s largest big can flavoured energy brand. Smashed Blue Raspberry and Wacked Red Berry tap into the current trend for retro tastes, offering a full flavour hit at only 25 calories per 100ml.

There is always room for new entrants into this category with a strong proposition. In our interview in this issue we talk to Simon Gray, Founder of Boost Drinks, which has built its highly successful business by keeping away from the supermarkets and focusing on the convenience and impulse sector with a strong flavour range. In Simon’s words, 70% of all Stimulation sales are Original variants whilst 18% are flavours and growing by 16% annually.

“Continually adding new flavours creates excitement and brings new customers into the category, as well as giving existing ones something new to try. Boost’s range includes new Punch Power and Cosmic Glow, both completely sugar-free.”

Boost has already reformulated the rest of its range to reduce the sugar levels while maintaining the great taste and the same great-value price.

Specialist soft drinks supplier Radnor Hills is bringing its distinctive style of drinks development to the energy category in 2019 by introducing Radnor Plus Energy, a range of lightly sparkling Natural Energy Waters containing just 5 calories per 500ml bottle, zero sugar and added B vitamins. William Watkins, Radnor Hills’ Founder explains:

“We set out to create the ultimate energy water, to give drinkers a convenient energy boost without the dreaded sugar crash. We want to revitalise, rejuvenate and refresh the nation in a healthy, natural way and challenge consumers to step away from the coffee. As shoppers’ lifestyle choices change, these healthy energy drink alternatives are set to appeal to the fast growing Health & Wellbeing category.”

Radnor Hills’ enhanced water products come in two flavours – Lemon & Lime and Cranberry & Raspberry, offering the ideal on-the-go hydration source and energy booster for people living busy, active lifestyles.

Specifically designed for the convenience and grab and go sector the new range Radnor Plus Energy range contains 70mg of natural caffeine per serving, around the same kick as a cup of coffee but with the added advantage of refreshing hydration.

A solid success While sports and energy drinks maintain a high profile with their big sponsorships and advertising campaigns, energy and sports bars are also gaining ground rapidly, says Alan Barratt, CEO and founder of sports nutrition manufacturer, Grenade:

“Consumers are becoming far more health conscious and informed about the choices they make when it comes to nutrition. Manufacturers and brands have had to respond to the trend towards healthier alternatives using less sugar or sugar alternatives, as well as boosting their products’ nutritional value by adding protein. Also, people’s lifestyles are now much busier and there is high demand for healthy snacking products which keep them fuller for longer whilst providing optimum nutrition.”

Grenade is the best-selling brand within the category and grew 152% within the convenience channel in 2018, driving 62% of value growth within total Protein Bars.

Founded in 2010 with an initial focus on high performance sports nutrition products, Grenade has become the ‘go to brand’ in the Active Nutrition/Healthy Snacking space.

Adding fast moving, premium priced snacks such as Grenade Carb Killa to their range means wholesalers can complement “Everyday Treats” with a healthier option, broadening shopper choice while increasing basket spend and driving incremental category value.

Other Grenade products include Birthday Cake Carb Killa, Vegan Societyapproved Carb Killa Go Nuts bar and Carb Killa Biscuit, a protein packed, low sugar chocolate coated biscuit. Grenade recently launched its Snacking Revolution campaign, a nationwide UK tour starting in Birmingham, to help redefine the healthier eating mould.

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