Britvic may still be on the market, but its business as usual for category director, Andrew Marsden. He tells Sarah Diston why innovation and new brands, such as its latest launch Fruit Shoot, will keep Britvic number one in the UK.

At first glance Andrew Marsden, category director at Britvic, comes across as the kind of man happy to talk 'shop'. And being a born and bred Yorkshireman, talking (in the politest way) isn't something he finds difficult.

He was more than content to talk of the 2% growth in value for the UK soft drinks industry and described the changes the industry as "interesting." He was also keen to mention how the company's Fruit Shoot range is "absolutely storming away." The brand's introduction to the market has been a "remarkable success", and though it is still on limited distribution, Britvic "cannot make enough fast enough," he said.

But by blaming Fruit Shoot's resounding success as the reason behind its limited distribution, Marsden was quick to point out that Britvic is already in the process of building its capacity for what is fast becoming one of the most popular children's drinks in the UK.


"We are really brand leaders in most of the markets in which we operate"

Coinciding with the Britvic Soft Drinks Category Report 2001, an unbiased report which Britvic has published for the past five years. Marsden was keen to tell me how Britvic appears to have most categories of the industry covered and under control. In fact Britvic's outlook is nothing other than positive when you talk to Marsden, who joined the company back in 1997 as marketing director before becoming category director last year.

"We are really brand leaders in most of the markets in which we operate and the second largest soft drinks manufacturer in the UK. And we are continuing to grow in terms of profit performance and brands," he said.

On the never-ending rumours circulating about Britvic's inevitable sale, Marsden smiles and brushes them aside.

"Where these stories come from is always quite amusing. If it's an empty news day I'm sure someone must say lets pick on Britvic or whatever, but that's life and you just carry on," he said.

"It is about the third or fourth time this has been covered by the press. But if anything is to happen I'm sure the shareholders will let the City know. It's an unusual situation I know and it comes in fits and starts, but it's one of those things that you get used to.

"But as we are at the moment we are carrying on regardless, just trying to make and flog some drinks."

And as he so rightly pointed out, Britvic is in the business of making and flogging drinks. Last year saw continued underlying growth for soft drinks in the UK despite a poor summer and, according to Britvic's report, the total market value in 2000 was worth £6.74 billion (6.46 billion litres).

"The amount of soft drinks consumed per head of population is set to continue at the consistent growth of the last 20 years. Soft drinks used to be consumed primarily by younger groups of the population but we are now seeing increases in consumption across all ages," he continued.

And although it is still regarded as one of the smallest sub-categories in size, due to increasing popularity among a wide range of age groups water proved to be the star performer according to the category report with volume up 10% and value rising 7%.

"While a lot of our juice based products are doing extremely well, so are water infused products and these two are probably the fastest growing sectors of the marketplace in total," said Marsden.

"But innovation is critical because the soft drinks market is the largest grocery market by some measure. It is full of highly competitive brands so clearly there is also a need for constant innovation and rejuvenation of old brands too," he added.

Innovation plays a serious role within the soft drinks industry with manufacturers promoting their own ideas of innovation at almost every opportunity. Innovation itself is now a major marketing tool for any manufacturer and with the soft drinks industry currently one of the fastest moving markets in the UK, it's no wonder marketing departments are pushing new products in a big way to both retailers and consumers.

"We have genuinely been innovative. While there are some companies, which are claiming some major innovation when really they aren't. An awful lot of things which people are calling new innovation are typically another flavour or a slightly amended packaging design. And that's not what it's all about," said Marsden.

"Innovation is something which is genuinely new being brought into the marketplace. And at Britvic I think we have a pretty good balance between old established brands and developing new ones.

"There are products like Juice Up, which is new technology and Robinson's Fruit Shoot with its sports cap presentation. But the Fruit Shoot product itself is also new in a sense that it's based on fruit puree and juice, with vitamins and minerals as well. On-premise we have J20, which again is growing very strongly. These are a whole series of genuine things that are not just line extensions."

Innovation maybe "critical" to the market but one word that all shareholders hold very dear to their hearts is profit. Hence profit optimisation is the obvious goal for any soft drinks manufacturer.

"You need to be able to recognise that sometimes what is currently out there isn't always the best way to optimise profit and invariably it isn't," Marsden told just-drinks.com.

"Building relationships with the trade is also important. You both need to work together to know the market place and the consumers to enable you to get the right products in the right place in the right way.

"It is all about a joint business case and recognising a consumer need and operating that category as a business unit. Britvic has done a lot of work with on-premise accounts, retailers, traditional multiples and impulse accounts, which are a very broad range of businesses with different consumer opportunities.


Britvic will continue to strive for profit optimisation, and flog us more soft drinks

"And that is definitely yielding dividends for both the people who we work with and for us at Britvic," he added.

Profit optimisation and innovation are words that obviously work well together for Britvic, which reported a 9.5% rise in operating profit (for the year ending September 30, 2000). But how does the company intend to keep abreast, or better still, stay one step ahead of its competitors in a highly charged and competitive market, still dominated by the cola giants, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola?

He remained tight-lipped on the subject but did say: "Obviously we have an NPD programme and we are going to continue with the same innovation roll out that we've got now. And there will be activity on the brands we bought last year (Orchid drinks) as well as Pepsi and Robinsons."

He continued: "We think category first, and product second, so I'm sure you will see some interesting stuff when the time is right."

In the meantime, while we patiently sit back and wait for that 'right time' Britvic will continue to strive for profit optimisation, and flog us more soft drinks.