2018 was an “unprecedented” year for the soft drinks category according to Britvic’s 2018 Soft Drinks Review, with a number of “impactful events “ to navigate, but despite the unusual conditions, it became the biggest driver of the total grocery market, recording +7.7% value growth at £6.2bn, nearly five times the growth recorded by the total grocery category.

Most recent data confirms this trajectory is continuing, with sales at the end of February at +9% versus a year ago.

“The sales have obviously been boosted by the Soft Drinks Industry Levy,” says Phil Sanders, GB Commercial Director, At Home at Britvic. “Even if we excluded those numbers, our internal calculations show that soft drinks would still have seen +6.8% value growth, which would maintain its number one value growth position.

“It’s extraordinary to see these results against the set of conditions the category had to face,” continues Sanders. “From the introduction of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy to extreme weather – both cold and hot – and a CO2 shortage, it all proved just how robust the category is and how quick-thinking action and strategies employed by manufacturers and retailers weathered the storm that 2018 presented.”

Only 8.4% of the total soft drinks market became levy liable in April last year, demonstrating the concerted effort by manufacturers to create sustainable solutions through a variety of reformulation and product packaging strategies.

“The levy has certainly had an immediate and lasting impact on the soft drinks category,” states Sanders. “The cola category has seen a significant volume shift from regular to low and no sugar options and products such as Pepsi Max have now gained significant share from full sugar products. Britvic has been committed to reformulating its products and we have removed 20bn calories annualised since 2013.”

The post-levy trend towards low/no sugar products has also seen the dilutes category improve, primarily driven by Robinsons’ exceptional performance and the launch of its premium Fruit Cordials and Creations. Robinsons Creations has been named the top soft drink launch of the past two years.

“We are in a strong position as the government continues its consultation on HFSS,” continues Sanders. “Today 99% of our GB owned brands are below or levy exempt and we have a strong desire to make a positive impact on people’s lives. This extends beyond our products to also include our commitment to our communities and the environment. We recently rubber-stamped our ambitions in terms of sustainability by appointing Trystan Farnworth to the GB board level position of Director of Sustainability. Over the coming months and years Britvic will be working systematically to improve processes and to support the industry to become more sustainable.”

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