The world of soft drinks is changing rapidly, with demand growing for mid, low and no-sugar alternatives. Barr Soft Drinks, marketer of bestselling brands IRN-BRU, Rubicon and Rockstar, has introduced midsugar regular products as well as low and zero sugar options, and with 99% of its portfolio now sugar levy free they still offer consistently great taste, says Nick Bentley, Head of Customer Marketing.

Nick’s brief is very broad; “My core responsibilities are leading the category, shopper marketing, trade communications and commercial innovation teams,” he says. “We’ve done some great work over the last couple of years developing an industryleading category vision and as a team, we help retailers look forward at the big soft drinks trends to select the right ranges which will give shoppers the choice they are looking for. We also develop fantastic innovation, and work with our shoppers and customers to bring great tasting, exciting products to market.

“I spend as much time as I can with customers; it provides a great insight into the challenges everyone is facing, and we use this understanding to shape and develop our plans and strategies. I also spend a lot of time in stores, observing shoppers’ behaviour, and talking to them to gain a deeper understanding of what they want from the soft drinks categories and the stores they shop in, then sharing this insight with our internal teams and our customers.”

Barr’s business is fairly evenly split across the multiple and impulse channels, says Nick. “We’ve always developed our portfolio of brands and pack formats to ensure we’ve got products shoppers want to buy to drink now, and those they want to buy to take home, which gives us the right range for both our multiple and impulse customers.”

A significant amount of soft drinks is bought on ‘impulse’ including in the multiples, says Nick, but in these stores the choice of specific products is less likely to be planned.

“That’s why stocking the right range of products that shoppers want to buy is absolutely key. Getting the right balance between maintaining availability and offering choice is essential. In many cases shoppers will leave the store if they can’t find the brand or flavour they want, and this often leads to lost sales in other categories too.”

Shoppers’ behaviours are changing, Nick continues, and their needs change as factors such as health and lifestyle impact on their decision making.

“Suppliers and retailers need to make sure they’re offering the right choice to fit these needs, and providing what shoppers want to buy.”

The last few years have seen major changes in the soft drinks industry, including the introduction of the sugar levy, says Nick. Barr reformulated its soft drinks range to satisfy changing consumer needs, starting with its Barr range in 2016 and followed by KA and Rubicon sparkling changing mid-2017. IRN-BRU Regular, Rubicon Fruit Drinks and Rockstar followed in early 2018.

Since then the world of soft drinks has continued to change, with demand growing for mid, low and no-sugar soft drinks. In carbonated soft drinks, Low Calorie now represents 47% value and 56% volume versus 43% and 50% last year.

“This is a huge shift in just one year,” says Nick, “but the overriding reasons why consumers choose a particular soft drink remain the same, whether regular or low calorie – namely great taste, flavour choice and the right pack format. During 2019 we invested in our core portfolio, and consumers responded positively to the developments and changes we made.”

Water, infused water, energy and vitality drinks are an increasingly important part of the Barr range. Strathmore, the company’s water brand, is a pure Scottish Spring water, which remains the No.1 best-selling water brand in the on-trade, growing +25% annually.

Infused water is a really exciting part of the soft drinks’ category, says Nick. “As consumer attitudes and behaviours towards health continue to evolve, we’re seeing a change in shopper behaviour. They’re looking for products with 100% natural ingredients which deliver on taste.

Infused water is the fastest growing segment in UK soft drinks. Le Joli, our infused water brand, is currently the UK’s No.1 Infused Water brand, selling three times more than its nearest competitor. Available in a range of great flavours; Mexican Lime & Mint, Scottish Raspberry & Rhubarb and Sicilian Lemon & Mandarin, we are building the brand as this sub category continues to grow and getting great consumer feedback. This sub category 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 drinks also continue to grow, Nick confirms: “In convenience stores, we’re getting close to one in two drinks purchased being an energy drink. Energy drinks also deliver more profit to our customers than other categories, so getting this right is absolutely key. We’ve seen this part of the category develop over the last decade and the growth is coming from flavoured energy drinks.”

As well as the range of Rockstar Energy drinks, Barr has launched two new energy brands. “In Scotland, we’ve recently launched 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’ve brought the great tastes of Black Cherry and Mango to our consumers in one of the most disruptive soft drinks launches of 2019.”

Barr is also looking at creating more drinks for adults: “Shopper attitudes towards drinking are changing, with one third of under 25s abstaining from alcohol completely and 27% of adults drinking less alcohol. 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 choice of options which will ultimately drive sales.”

Barr has recently launched a 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 is available in two 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 flavour combinations take inspiration from popular flavours in other fast-growing adult drinks categories.

Barr’s adult soft drinks range also includes Bundaberg, a range of craftbrewed, premium non-alcoholic beverages from Australian familyowned Bundaberg Brewed Drinks.

The Bundaberg range uses timehonoured brewing methods and quality ingredients to deliver greattasting adult beverages. The UK range comprises six flavours – Ginger Beer, Root Beer, Blood Orange, Lemon/Lime & Bitters, Peach and Pink Grapefruit.

The Snapple brand brings a range of fun, refreshing fruity flavours to the market for premium occasions. Snapple offers six great tasting juice drinks: Kiwi/Strawberry, Lemonade, Mango, Apple, Fruit Punch and Pink Lemonade as well as Peach Iced Tea.

School-approved is a growing category within soft drinks and Barr’s OMJ! offers a range of high juice fruit drinks in four 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 meet schools’ guidelines and satisfy student needs, driving in-school sales while also having strong out of school soft drink appeal.

Recent months have seen a number of soft drinks companies coming out with high profile sustainability initiatives regarding packaging and waste and using recycled materials. Barr has been pulling its weight in this area too, says Nick:

“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 on pack, and we support anti-littering and recycling initiatives across the country. We use 20% less material in our plastic bottle designs than 10 years ago and removed plastic sleeves from millions of our bottles last year.

“We are pleased to be further improving our sustainability performance by introducing up to 50% recycled material content into our PET bottles, commencing with our Strathmore water brand, which is now in production. While this remains our long-term objective, we have an interim goal of introducing 30% recycled PET across our full PET portfolio by 2022.

“We have been actively involved in the debate on how best to address packaging waste and will continue to work with stakeholders to find a sustainable, practical solution.”

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