Britvic review reveals soft drink trends

Director of Sustainability Trystan Farnworth gives his take on the key findings and what the future holds for the category

With several new trends impacting the market identified in Britvic’s Soft Drinks Review, what should wholesalers be doing to ensure they’re staying on the ball with it all?

From a range and availability point of view, the wholesale industry does a great job of getting brands to market. The area we can work with them to drive harder on is signposting those new trends much more clearly, rather than just being a box on a shelf. For example, for core range, how can we help them to pull out messages, such as ‘every retailer who comes into this depot should be stocking Robinsons one litre orange’? 

The other thing that we can help wholesalers do is to make sure independent retailers, who get less category advice than via a symbol operator, are aware of the new trends. If we talk about Purdey’s and natural energy – which is an emerging category and a different consumer proposition to traditional energy – we’ve got to work with wholesalers to get that message to the retailer.

How would you suggest getting that message across?

One way is for those wholesalers who have apps to use them in a better way to share innovation and inspiration. The industry is moving away from apps and websites being simply about ordering the product to being more basic e-commerce tools in terms of upsells or promotions. The next phase is helping retailers to run a better business. 

Apps are really interesting, especially if you think an independent retailer might be busy one minute, then have a few minutes’ downtime the next.

The other thing is in depot. We’ve started to see a number of wholesalers convey core-range messaging: Booker does that with the Core In Every Store facility and Bestway does it too, in terms of barkers and fins in depot. But all we’re doing is signposting best sellers and we should apply that to emerging categories or new products as well.

The review looks back at 2018 and flags the CO² crisis as a particularly big issue. What can be learned from this?

The CO2 shortage was big, but we shouldn’t look at it as a CO2 problem, more as an important reminder of how fragile the whole supply chain is because it only takes one thing to fall over to cause a problem. 

For me, whether it was water, fruit, sugar or CO2, it’s just a reminder that we need to have a truly sustainable supply chain. That would be our biggest take out from it.

In terms of what Britvic is doing with the supply chain, we’re spending £250 million to completely transform the supply chain network in Great Britain, with new lines
and capability. That type of thing can help us make more product, more quickly on a more flexible basis, so it gives us more capacity to make things. 

We’re also putting down more warehousing facilities at factories to increase storage capacity so if things do get more challenging in the supply chain, we can be far more flexible in terms of the stock we’re sat on.

Does this mean Britvic will be working even closer with wholesalers too?

We need wholesalers to work with us, but we need to work with them too. The ongoing challenge for us as a supplier is not just providing wholesalers with data because it’s actionable insight that’s most important. 

The other place where there’s a huge opportunity is the importance of case packaging to communicate messaging. We can take certain approaches that are good, but there’s no guarantee of that getting through, so we want to start passing on key information like this on our packs. If you’re an independent store owner and open the pack up to put drinks in the fridge, that’s the point when you’re most likely to get that message across – at the point that they’re really thinking about the brand. We did that last year with the soft drinks levy to reassure people with a consistent message that showed if drinks were above or below levy.

With trends showing that some consumers are willing to pay more for healthier and more environmentally friendly products, does that translate to wholesalers too?

It should do. From a spend-more perspective, I think we’ll see more of that coming through. For a wholesaler – in a high-volume, low-margin industry – that is going to pay more for a supplier’s brand, it wants assurance that the shopper is going to pay more as well. That’s the unpredictable bit. 

What we’re seeing at the moment is a huge rise in the public’s consciousness of littering and packaging, but the consciousness is not fully translating into action as yet, so there are only small changes in consumers’ behaviour. The job for us as a supplier running a truly sustainable packaging plan is that it can’t mean extra cost – we have to find ways of doing what’s right, without passing a cost on.

Britvic is planning to take a lead role in the launch of a consumer-facing Deposit Return Scheme (DRS). Is there any part wholesalers can play with this?

There are some potentially interesting roles wholesalers can play. I know that some wholesalers already take back cooking oil, for example, so there’s no reason why we couldn’t see the same service for plastics. One of the big questions in cash and carry is that as footfall decreases, there is almost too much space, so you could see an interesting trend where you see the evolution of a cash and carry to becoming a business centre – not just somewhere to buy but somewhere to get advice and somewhere to recycle as well.

Britvic review Soft Drinks Trystan Farnworth