Innocent has gone to France to hold up growth

Innocent has gone to France to hold up growth

Smoothie makers face an uphill struggle to win back consumers who have ditched the category as an unaffordable luxury.

Smoothie sales continued to slide in the UK in 2009, falling by 27% in value and volume during the year, to GBP127m (US$190m) and 47m litres, according to the annual Britvic Soft Drinks Report published today (30 March).

The figures suggest that consumers rejected smoothies in greater numbers as the UK recession reached its peak. Sales were already down 20% in 2008, to GBP172m, according to the previous year's Britvic report.

While the overall soft drinks market is buoyant, up 2% in value in 2009 thanks to sales of trusted brands like Pepsi, Vimto and Irn-Bru, consumers have clearly identified smoothies as a frivolous health kick that they can do without.

Not even a vote from the Food Standards Agency - which last year said for the first time that one smoothie could count for two of a person's recommended daily five portions of fruit and vegetables - has helped to stop the rot.

Leading producer Innocent Drinks has tried to escape the pinch by expanding further into other healthy food and drink, such as This Water and on-the-go lunches, as well as by targeting smoothie growth in continental Europe.

The rapid pace of decline of the UK smoothie category in the last couple of years raises questions about its ability to bounce back.  

Is the smoothie boom destined to be remembered within a hedonistic era of excess at the beginning of the 21st Century?
Smoothie sales have been closely tied to disposable incomes, which are dictated by the state of the economy at large. With pay freezes in public and private sectors set to continue and a National Insurance tax rise on the way, 2010 is looking like a tough year for smoothies to stage a recovery.

The danger is that consumers, having cut smoothies out of their budgets, come to no longer see why they were there in the first place.

Juice and water could be the beneficiaries in this game. At best, in this scenario, smoothie producers would have to slash prices to regain lost interest.

It is possible that consumers will return to the category, but much relies on the industry's ability to refresh and communicate its message on the products' key selling point. The next two years will be crucial.