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For most of the year the soft drinks focus for independent retailers is impulse packs the 500ml bottles, cans and Tetrapaks. However, though these packs are still important at Christmas, December is the time when bigger, sharing bottles move more to centre stage.

Britvic’s customer management director, Murray Harris, explains: “As Christmas typically means getting together with your nearest and dearest, sharing formats are big sellers. Two litre bottles of the best-selling carbonates are must-stocks for any cash and carry/wholesaler and the key soft drink sectors at Christmas are cola, lemonade, mixers, stimulants and squash. With the exception of sports drinks, sales for all major sub-categories in impulse become more dependent on bigger pack sizes at Christmas time, so wholesalers should be well-stocked to ensure their retail customers don’t go elsewhere.”

He says the big brands are important too: “Pepsi regular two litre and Diet Pepsi two litre both saw a 50% uplift at Christmas last year (Nielsen Scantrack MAT Dec 27, 2008). But it was J2O which showed the most significant uplift with sales up 164% in 2008, while 7Up generated a 32% uplift. Robinsons squash also proves to be very popular at Christmas time as consumers switch to the leading brand to impress friends and family.”

With the economy as it is, some might think it doubtful that consumers will still be wanting to trade up and instead might stick to own label. However, Murray adds: “At Christmas, price is less important to consumers than it might be at other times of the year. Consumers don’t want to disappoint their guests and are more likely to buy the brands they know and trust, like Robinsons and Pepsi Max, to ensure they enjoy themselves over the festive period and are a good host.

“Soft drinks are also an essential part of almost all social occasions and, because they are seen as relatively inexpensive when compared to going out for the night, consumers are more likely to trade up. Wholesalers should look to take advantage of this opportunity and make sure they are well stocked up on more premium options, such as J20 and Pepsi Raw, to generate incremental sales.”

Britvic is really embracing the festive season this year with a pantomime-themed promotional campaign for Robinsons. The activity encourages families to ‘Put on a Panto at Home’ via an on-pack promotion that highlights the brand’s sponsorship of First Family Pantomimes. The promotion invites families to visit www.putonapanto.com, where all the tools to produce and stage their very own panto at home can be found. The Robinsons online panto producer guides children through their very own production with easy to follow step-by-step instructions, using the three Ps – Plan, Practise and Perform.

The on-pack promotion complements Robinsons’ national consumer ‘Search for a Star’ campaign which urges budding performers aged between six and 16 to audition for a part in some of this year’s biggest seasonal shows.

Meanwhile, from Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE), there is a ‘Greatest Gift’ promotion running on all 500ml and two litre bottles of Coca-Cola, Diet Coke and Coke Zero, as well as 330ml can multipacks. Prizes include high-tech gadgets, music downloads and exclusive Coca-Cola merchandise. The on-pack promotion will be supported with strong in-store point of sale material, including dumpbins and freestanding display units all featuring the Christmas branding. In addition, packs will feature festive designs and the popular ‘Holidays are Coming’ ads return.

CCE is also investing in a national TV campaign for Schweppes with the theme ‘Christmas Entertainment from Schweppes’. With the help of top comedy actors who will be providing voiceovers, Schweppes is sponsoring all the main UKTV channels throughout December. An advertising campaign will also run across key terrestrial and satellite channels in December. And the one litre Schweppes Mixer bottles will feature a seasonal mixer cap.

Christmas is a good time for Appletiser with many new consumers trying the brand for the first time. According to CCE figures, average base sales increased by 300% with further promotional uplift over the eight weeks leading up to Christmas 2008.

CCE is supporting the Appletiser range, which also includes Peartiser and Frutiser, with online, outdoor and press activity, as well as sampling and direct mail, targeting its core female audience.

Sticking with adult soft drinks, Shloer says it is the biggest selling adult soft drinks brand in the impulse sector.

Amanda Grabham, marketing communications controller for Shloer, says: “Shloer accounts for a 29% share of the annual adult soft drinks sales volume. At Christmas (November/December), Shloer’s share rises to almost half (46%) of all adult soft drinks sold and in the four weeks leading up to Christmas average weekly sales are between five and six times higher than during the rest of the year. To put that in perspective, Shloer’s rate of sale in the convenience sector during December can be as high as 150 bottles per store per week.”

Despite the strong case for stocking Shloer, Grabham says 57% of impulse stores do not currently stock the brand and that’s a missed opportunity, particularly at Christmas.

In the lead up to this year’s festive season, Shloer has undergone a transformation with the launch of a new label design and the addition of a new sparkling ros eacute; variant. This was rolled out to cash and carries and delivered wholesalers in October in plenty of time for Christmas.

Says Grabham: “The new ros eacute; variant has been launched following extensive market research which revealed that consumers see Shloer as being unique in fulfilling a very different role to other adult soft drinks available. The fact that Shloer is grape-based sets it apart from its competitors and further reinforces the wine-alternative connection in consumers’ minds. It has adult acceptability, which makes it perfectly at home on the Christmas dinner table as well as at Christmas parties. This opened up a whole new avenue for us to explore and with the phenomenal growth in ros eacute; wines in recent years, adding a ros eacute; variant to the range is the obvious next step in developing the Shloer portfolio.”

The brand is being supported in the wholesale sector with a series of tailor-made Christmas promotional deals.

Consumer awareness is being driven through Christmas-themed activity on the Shloer website www.shloer.com and consumer press competitions.

Elsewhere in soft drinks, the sports and energy drinks sector continues to go from strength to strength and Tom Smith, trade communications manager at Red Bull, sees no reason for sales to tail off over Christmas: “With plenty of parties to attend, presents to buy and long family car journeys to get through, Christmas is obviously a very busy and stressful time for many people. Consumers are looking for convenient and functional products to help them get through the day, something which Red Bull perfectly suits. That’s why it’s vital that consumers can clearly see Red Bull when they enter a store. Visibility is equally important in cash and carries as you want retailers to see the right products which will help them, and you, to have a Merry Christmas.”

Smith reckons there’s also a big take-home opportunity through the festive season. “The Red Bull four-pack, for example, is always a popular choice at Christmas,” he says.

Neil Gibson, head of marketing for Vimto Soft Drinks, says that last year, in the run up to Christmas and the New Year, the most valuable product in the fizzy Vimto range was the original two litre PET, while demand significantly grew for the No Added Sugar version and, as a result, it delivered value growth of nearly +137% compared to the previous year.

“Squashes and cordials performed well during last year’s Christmas trading period, too, demonstrating the need for retailers to ensure stocks are high. Vimto cordial is a versatile product to stock as it can go further than pre-mixed ready-to-drinks and offers families who are looking for ways of saving this Christmas a cost-effective solution. It also makes a great ingredient for a party punch or as a mixer for cocktails.”

Gibson reckons there is going to be more demand for the Panda brand, too, as it has just unveiled a new brand identity in a bid to capture an older audience and launched a promotion to tie in with the release of the new animated film Planet 51.

The previous ‘cuddly’ Panda brand image has been replaced with an edgier identity featuring Panda characters that bring the brand and each of its variants to life.

Meanwhile, Razin Ali, brand manager for the Sunmagic range of juices, smoothies and juice drinks, says the cash and carry and delivered wholesale sector is an important channel for the brand.

“We achieved record levels of distribution in 2009. We’re now the core supplier of 200ml, 500ml and one litre within some of the biggest players within this channel. And our 500ml PET orange and apple are among the fastest growing products plus our new 12 x one litre square spin top range has been particularly well received we’ve gained listings in nearly all the leading national accounts.

“We recently launched a new ’12 for 11′ cash and carry flash pack on our 12 x 1 litre 100% pure orange juice. It will be available until the end of the year and again from April 2010. The flash pack is already listed by three of the major cash and carry chains and we hope this will increase over the coming months.”

Peter Hindmarsh, Nisa-Today’s category controller for soft drinks, is a supporter of Sun Magic. He says: “I have been thoroughly impressed with the significant investment and effort put behind the Sunmagic brand, which we introduced to our members via Central Distribution Services earlier this year. With good shelf stand out Sunmagic has proved to have strong consumer and retailer appeal and is producing good sales. As a result, we have also broadened the range and replaced a number of our existing products with Sunmagic.”

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