Restored freedom for in-home socialising is driving soft drinks demand in convenience and impulse

By Chris Newman, head of category management for convenience and impulse, at Britvic

Social distancing restrictions in the UK eased in July 2021, bringing the return of freedom to socialise more widely at home. The eagerness for consumers to do just this shows clearly in the positive soft drink sales figures for total convenience, released at the end of October 2021[1]. These results build on the confidence in the channel, previously reflected in Britvic’s 2021 Soft Drinks Review.

Looking at the detail, total take home soft drink sales in convenience and impulse over the last year showed significant growth of +16%, versus pre-COVID levels[2]. They were only down slightly (-3%) on the peaks seen during lockdown[3], when COVID restrictions limited us from socialising out of home and spend significantly diverted.

Even more promising, the latest 12 week figures not only show significant growth in take home sales, +15% ahead of pre-COVID levels, but there is also +1% growth versus this time last year[4]. Observers expect this trend to continue, with socialising at home increasing as we approach the festive season and people make up for social occasions lost during restrictions.

Retailers on the (foot) ball

Neighbourhood retailers have played a key role in their communities during the pandemic, filling perceived shortfalls in supermarkets’ service. Many have built social media profiles and embraced home delivery, competing with fast grocery delivery. Shoppers have responded positively. 87% of consumers used convenience stores in the second quarter, up +3% on January-March 2021, and 13% mainly used c-stores in June, the highest level recorded to date.[5]

Having gained shoppers through lockdown, convenience and impulse retailers now have a huge opportunity to drive soft drink sales around in-home socialising. Social occasions were worth £1.49bn for the year to June 2021, up +6.1% annually.[6]. But this opportunity goes beyond the big night in, important though that is. Local retailers are increasingly aware of soft drinks’ importance in socialising at home around seasonal occasions and televised sporting events. Over the summer they have been creating ‘wow’ moments in-store for soft drinks, focused on events and televised sports fixtures. A classic example, June and July saw sales surges around Euro finals matches, a win for ‘on-the-ball’ retailers. This activity led to these stores’ shoppers feeling more loyal and involved.

The key for retailers to unlock in-home socialising sales for soft drinks is to use the right range and displays and connect the categories, highlighting what’s available for consumers to enhance the different occasions and events through the year. And we don’t just talk about this. At Britvic, we offer retailers practical recommendations and tested tips to put this into practice and engage shoppers in store. It’s part of our passion for elevating the soft drinks experience across all channels.

The after effect of the pandemic continues

Shopper habits are becoming more ingrained in terms of staying at home for domestic and social activities[7]. When the pubs and restaurants reopened, there was still uncertainty over infection risks and the need for face coverings. Writing this in quarter four, uncertainty about the pandemic is rising once again and some consumers remain cautious in public places. This ongoing risk aversion offers retailers an opportunity to help consumers create at-home social experiences with premium products[8].

Around a third of consumers plan to make up for lost time with unofficial events, or ‘repeats’ of Christmas and New Year[9]. Younger shoppers are more willing to plan post-lockdown events with friends and family.[10] A third of shoppers intend to eat more at home in future, in preference to eating out[11], and half say they will socialise a bit more casually with friends and family[12].

The In-Home opportunity is growing

The eating out market declined -48% in 2020, a -£44.4bn fall, but consumers compensated by switching to in-home socialising[13]. Reflecting the importance of special, social and celebration style occasions, shoppers are willing to spend 37% more on these than average.[14]

Alcohol sales in convenience outlets and multiples grew during the pandemic because people were at home and the bars and other outlets were closed. But for many consumers, the desire to stay healthy during the pandemic has accelerated the alcohol moderation trend[15] and made health and wellbeing a higher priority. One in four adults is teetotal, while one in three has reduced their alcohol consumption[16]. The opportunity is there for retailers to capture additional value and appeal to these consumers with attractive in-home offerings. The key soft drinks categories here are cola, flavoured carbonates, adult soft drinks and mixers. Important Britvic brands include Pepsi Max®, 7UP, Tango, J2O and London Essence tonics and sodas.

A soft drink for every setting

Soft drinks appeal to both ‘high’ and ‘low’ tempos within in-home socialising:

Everyday/low tempo occasions include family meals, lunch times, snacking and pick me ups, with soft drinks meeting different needs. Hydration involves trading up from tap water to squash, through good, better, best, own label to Robinsons. Refreshment sees cola and flavoured carbonates, with flavours and no sugar, driving the trends, and J2O particularly appealing to adults. Energy drinks have evolved and matured in recent years with breadth of flavour choices and added benefits in the likes of Rockstar and Purdey’s. Multipacks are growing, helping home-working consumers navigate their day.

Special / high tempo occasions fall into two kinds. Socialising and winding down involves mixers with spirits, but also enjoyed as adult soft drinks. Craft spirits’ rise has prompted the emergence of premium, artisan mixers and trading up from own label to branded offerings like London Essence. Special occasions and gatherings include BBQs and other adult socialising, with premium carbonates in the forefront. Consumers perceive glass packaging as premium, associated with out of home soft drink experiences. 

Britvic’s top brands and products for in-home socialising

Britvic recommends larger formats and more everyday categories for low tempo socialising, versus premium categories for high tempo:

Low tempo / everyday socials:

  • 7UP / 7UP Free take home bottles/can multipack
  • Tango / Tango Sugar Free take home bottles/can multipack
  • Pepsi / Pepsi MAX take home bottles/can multipacks
  • Fruit Shoot

High tempo/special occasions:

  • London Essence:  cans/bottles
  • J2O / J2O Spritz cans / bottles
  • Britvic tonic
  • J2O multipacks (bottles/cans)
  • Robinsons Cordials
  • Teisseire

The ‘Low and No’ trend

Adults have an increasing appreciation of soft drinks for in-home socialising. Globally, 22% of consumers are drinking less, and 55% are consuming low alcohol drinks[17], while 38% were reducing alcohol consumption during lockdown[18]. Key motivators include improving health (47%), managing weight (38%) and saving money (34%)[19].

A third of the population are trying to reduce sugar in their diet[20]. Low and no sugar soft drinks address three needs: treat, socialise/celebrate and time to unwind. Britvic’s power brands that meet these needs include Pepsi, Pepsi MAX, Robinsons, J2O, R Whites, 7UP, Tango and London Essence tonic. It’s also worth noting that Pepsi Max was the number one no sugar cola brand in convenience in the last year, with value sales of £121m[21].

The time is right for convenience and impulse

Almost £1 in every £4 spent on ‘soft drinks for later’ happens in convenience.[22] More people say they shop in convenience stores for good quality products, 23% versus 19% a year ago.[23]

Because you’re young

Younger shoppers are more likely to decide what to buy when they’re inside a convenience store24. Exploiting cross-category merchandising drives impulse opportunities. Britvic advises retailers to present time-pressed shoppers with convenient solutions[24] such as bundles of related products.

The top three occasions when people would buy ‘bundles’[25] are:

  • Night in with friends and family: 46%
  • Quiet night in: 45%
  • Date night: 28%

Consumers living with friends or in a house share are 55% more likely to be interested in bundle deals for social occasions[26]. The top occasion for food to go visits is a get together with friends or family (24%)[27].

Success all year round – the seasonal opportunity

Seasonal events that include the whole community are a great way to engage the wider audience.[28] Britvic advises retailers to maximise seasonal events, featuring the right soft drinks categories at the right times and at different occasions.

Britvic advises retailers to:

  • Leverage key sporting events, using POS and supplier and brand assets
  • Consider digital pre-shop communication by geo-targeting shoppers with customer app push notifications
  • Use premium products to attract younger audiences to trade up. Drive NPD through sip sampling in-store and incentives to purchase
  • Keep fixtures easy to navigate so customers can find products they’re looking for
  • Where appropriate, link with other categories such as crisps, snacks and nuts

Christmas and Easter see the greatest seasonal in-store engagement, followed by Pancake Day, New Year and Halloween, with topical displays and engaging the local community[29] playing a crucial role. Christmas is retail’s biggest month of the year, with 9% on average of FMCG sales happening in December in normal conditions, based on pre-COVID experience[30]. Convenience stores see significant penetration peaks across the categories at these times, with increased self-treating as the festive break approaches. Christmas is also a key socialising occasion, with people looking forward to seeing friends (63%) and meeting relatives (59%)[31]. At Britvic we believe enabling shoppers to celebrate these special times with the perfect soft drinks is paramount, and we are committed to work with retailers to help them make this the best time of year in store.

[1] IRI Total Deferred Soft Drink Britvic Defined, Total Convenience, Value Sales % Change vs YA & 2YA, 52w/e 24/10/21

[2] IRI Total Deferred Soft Drink Britvic Defined, Total Convenience, Value Sales % Change vs YA & 2YA, 52w/e 24/10/21

[3] IRI Total Deferred Soft Drink Britvic Defined, Total Convenience, Value Sales % Change vs YA, 52w/e 24/10/21

[4] IRI Total Deferred Soft Drink Britvic Defined, Total Convenience, Value Sales % Change vs YA & 2YA, 12w/e 24/10/21

[5] IGD ShopperVista Quarterly Channel Trends (July 2021)

[6]  Kantar Worldpanel Usage data / Total Soft Drinks 52wk data to June 2021

[7] Lumina Intelligence Top of Mind Report (July 2021) (Lumina’s sources not known)

[8] Lumina Intelligence UK Convenience Market Report (July 2021)

[9] IGD ShopperVista – Shopper habits as they leave lockdown (March 2021)

[10] IGD ShopperVista – Shopper habits as they leave lockdown (March 2021)

[11] IGD ShopperVista – Shopper habits as they leave lockdown (March 2021)

[12] IGD ShopperVista – Shopper habits as they leave lockdown (March 2021)

[13] Lumina Intelligence Food To Go Report 2021

[14] KAM Media no/low alcohol report 2020

[15] What are the biggest trends within low and no alcohol drinks? (morningadvertiser.co.uk)

[16] KAM Media no/low alcohol report 2020

[17] Bacardi 2021 Cocktail Trends Report

[18] Lumina – Menu & Food Trends Report – December 2020

[19] Carbonated Soft Drinks: Inc Impact Of Covid-19 UK – December 2020

[20] IGD ShopperVista Health, Nutrition and Ethics Monthly Shopper Update, March 2020

[21] IRI, Britvic Defined Convenience, Cola Brands, Value Sales, 52 w/e 24/10/2021

[22] Nielsen, Total Single Multipack and Multiserve Soft drinks, Total Coverage and Convenience, Value Sales, 12WE 25.09.21;

[23] IGD ShopperVista Quarterly Channel Trends (July 2021)

[24] IGD – Convenience stores – how to win back younger shoppers (May 2021)

[25] Lumina Intelligence Future of Convenience Report (Jan 2021)

[26] Lumina Intelligence Future of Convenience Report (Jan 2021)

[27] Lumina Intelligence UK Food to Go Market Report Consumer Update (16 we 13.06.21)

[28] Lumina Intelligence Future of Convenience Report (Jan 2021)

[29] HiM: Analyst Corner: How to Effectively Communicate With Retailers 2020

[30]  Kantar, FMCG purchase panel, Total Grocery, 4we 29th December 2019

[31] Kantar – 2020 Retail Roadshow – Wishing for a Happy Christmas July 2020;

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