Big Interview: Jason Wouhra, Lioncroft Wholesale

Wholesale News caught up with Lioncroft Wholesale CEO Dr Jason Wouhra OBE to find out how working closely with suppliers has refreshed its soft drinks sales

What are the current trends you’re seeing in soft drinks?

Soft drinks are always in demand, and we’re seeing no sign of that changing – it’s a bestselling category in both foodservice and retail, and sales are really strong. The biggest difference we’ve seen most recently is demand for particular pack formats in retail.

Soft drinks sales, particularly carbonates, have always focused on take-home formats, such as multipacks and larger PET bottles, but we’re currently seeing pack formats for immediate consumption rise.

As a result, we’re adapting our retail range to ensure we capture this surge in demand and, of course, single cans and PET bottles offer higher profitability for retailers and wholesalers, so it’s a positive move.

Overall, cans are selling best as customers are looking for quality and freshness, and are also making more sustainable choices.

For our hospitality clients, such as stadiums, we’re focused on delivering the core range, including glass bottles and bag-in-box formats, which are driving sales growth.

Across both, we’re definitely seeing a rise in demand for flavours and additional health benefits, such as added vitamins.

How do you see iced tea as a segment performing across the year?

Iced tea is doing very well in our depots, both in take-home and immediate consumption formats. When you think of iced tea, Lipton is the top brand in the market, and I can only see this growing. While we’re not at European levels yet, the iced tea segment is definitely in growth and after a slow build, we’re seeing momentum as customers move away from traditional carbonated options towards drinks that are regarded as healthier alternatives.

During the summer months, non-carbonated drinks do well as consumers look for maximum refreshment, so we fully expect iced tea to do very well this summer. The more that can be done to raise its profile, I think it will just go from strength to strength.

How can suppliers work with wholesalers to drive sales growth in this important category?

That’s an easy one – in-depot activation, in-depot activation and more in-depot activation! Work with wholesalers to create theatre and excitement around your product and you will reap rewards without a doubt.

Supplier days or weeks are a great way to put your products on customers’ radars. In recent weeks we’ve held in-depot events with powerful promotions and we’ve seen sales increase by 35-65%, and these are maintained as retailers and hospitality operators trial new products, their customers love them and the sales then continue.

Another great way for suppliers and wholesalers to drive sales is by investing in van sales activity. This drives huge incremental sales. The key is to find the gaps – which stores aren’t stocking particular products, and can you get a van to those stores and sell direct? Plugging those distribution gaps offers a fantastic opportunity to drive sales growth.

Prioritise the wholesale channel; it’s a robust and innovative route to market, and it will pay off.

How has HFSS affected range and sales?

Overall, range and sales haven’t been widely affected. Many suppliers adjusted their formulas ahead of the legislation coming into force, so for wholesalers, retailers and hospitality venues it has been business as usual. We’re now a long way down the line and all necessary adjustments have been made and absorbed. In wholesale, there are many unknown new worlds to navigate as legislations and regulations change, and you’re only affected for the first few months.

How do you work with Lipton/ Britvic currently?

Britvic and Lipton has a deep-rooted respect for the wholesale sector and a great understanding of our business. There is a clear correlation between those suppliers who make the effort to see how we work and actively work with us, and those who are the best-performing and see the strongest sales. Developing relationships is critical for success, and the time and energy put into the relationship, the more opportunities you find to drive growth and incremental sales.

We pride ourselves on working in partnership with many suppliers, and Britvic and Lipton is one of them – it’s a great partnership with many mutual benefits.

Dr Jason Wouhra OBE is the Chief Executive Officer of Lioncroft Wholesale. Formerly East End Foods, Lioncroft serves retail and hospitality customers in the West Midlands, and was named Unitas Wholesale Retail Wholesaler of the Year 2023

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