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    Britvic: soft drinks kings of convenience – whopping £3.3bn through tills in 2023

    There’s a lot to be positive about in the world of convenience retail, according to Britvic’s latest Soft Drinks Review 2024. As more shoppers turn to their local stores, this is driving up basket size and spend, with the average number of items bought rising from 2.8 to 3. The report indicates that these consumer behaviour shifts and the changing commercial climate are presenting new opportunities for convenience retailers and driving continued growth for soft drinks, which is now the most-bought impulse category in convenience, present in just over one in four baskets (26.1 per cent).

    As the market goes from strength to strength, Britvic’s Soft Drinks Review 2024 has revealed that forecourts are one of the key driving forces behind the growth of the channel, with total sales (of all goods and fuel) through forecourts growing by 2.8 per cent to £4.6bn in 2023. The forecourt sector has moved on from purely fuelling vehicles and selling quick drinks and bites to eat on the go. New opportunities present themselves when it comes to dwell-time of those charging electric vehicles, with this only set to grow. Consumers are also visiting forecourts for a wider variety of reasons, such as buying meals for later and top-up shops. The report also highlights that soft drinks, which were bought on more than a quarter (29.5 per cent) of forecourt visits, are an engine of growth for the subchannel. Britvic calculates that by raising that number to one in every three baskets, sites can unlock an opportunity worth £36m. That’s more than £4,900 a year in additional sales per forecourt outlet.

    “There’s no denying the important role soft drinks are playing in the convenience sector,” said Ben Parker, retail commercial director at Britvic. “But it’s crucial that retailers have a solid understanding of the fundamental reasons why people are buying soft drinks. Only then will we together be able to fully tap into the opportunities on offer through soft drinks and reap the rewards.”

    Parker continued: “Take forecourts for instance, an area within convenience which is changing beyond recognition. Despite soft drinks driving significant growth within that sector, there are still a number of opportunities that are ripe for the taking for those in the know. Research shows, for example, that people are twice as likely to be looking for an energy boost in forecourts than they are when they visit outlets in the wider convenience retail sector. Despite this, the number of shoppers who buy energy drinks from forecourts remains surprisingly low, with only 2.1 per cent of forecourt shoppers currently buying them. There’s an opportunity here for the taking.”

    More broadly across convenience, stimulant energy delivered growth worth £181.5m last year. It was the second fastest growing sub-sector at 23.7 per cent, behind sports drinks which grew at 64.6 per cent and took fifth place in the list of best-selling subcategories in convenience. Stimulant energy remains number one, the appeal of these to attract more people and to encompass a greater variety of consumption occasions will deliver more growth. Championing sugar-free energy drinks, merchandising them in prime impulse spots in-store and linking with social media to engage consumers will also play a key role.

    “Demand for products perceived as being more natural or less processed is on the rise too,” said Parker. “More than a third (34 per cent) of people who do not consume energy drinks say there should be more natural alternatives available. We see significant potential in homebound post-work journeys and evening consumption for more natural energy drinks containing less or no caffeine, such as our Purdey’s Natural Energy Drinks, a range of sparkling fruit juice blends enriched with botanicals and B vitamins. We’ve also worked to ensure our Rockstar Energy core range is HFSS-compliant, and we’ve introduced no-sugar variants to help further broaden the appeal of stimulant energy.”

    Another key trend highlighted in Britvic’s Soft Drinks Review 2024 is the growing proportion of people buying breakfast while travelling or commuting. In fact 10 per cent of all food-to-go missions in forecourts are for breakfast (double the number in wider convenience). A fifth (20 per cent) of food-to-go new product development launched in the first quarter of 2024 was for breakfast. With bakery the number-one category at breakfast, Britvic suggests pairing items such as croissants with Jimmy’s Iced Coffee to maximise spend. Alternatively, Plenish Health Shots with added vitamins are a perfect accompaniment to fresh fruit, overnight oats and yoghurts.

    “It’s promising to see more occasions opening up to the convenience retailers, such as breakfast. It’s now about capitalising on those opportunities, while futureproofing ranges to ensure there is a strong pull for the younger generation of shoppers coming into the channel,” said Parker, “We’re continuing to support retailers in doing this with activities such as the 2023 collaboration between Rockstar Energy and global rap superstar Stormzy, and this year’s partnership with Live Nation. Innovation and limited-edition flavours also go down well with this demographic and play a key role in generating excitement. Our limited-edition Tango flavours are a prime example of this. Last year we launched Tango Editions Sugar Free Paradise Punch to build on the success of 2022 Tango Editions Sugar Free Berry Peachy. This paid off, with Tango Editions Sugar Free Paradise Punch named the third biggest NPD of 2023, generating sales worth £4.2m for the convenience channel. This year’s launches, Tango Cherry Blast, Raspberry Blast and Tango Editions Mango, are set for similar success.”

    While soft drinks are identified as the most bought impulse category in the channel, Britvic’s Soft Drinks Review 2024 also identifies that stores could be doing more to tap into “meal for tonight” occasions. Forecourts specifically are under-trading. According to Britvic, shoppers are paying on average £10.44 for a “meal for tonight” with a soft drink but are currently only spending £7.18 on the same occasion in forecourts. At a time when the category continues to display a great deal of resilience and relevance, soft drinks provide convenience stores of all formats and sizes with a breadth of opportunity to increase sales.

    Download the Britvic Convenience Soft Drinks Review 2024 here.

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