Comment - Soft Drinks & Water - Britvic's Bottle is Still Half Full
Richard Corbett has some encouraging words for Britvic, and that's something the company will warmly welcome right now.
The brand manager of Britvic’s Fruit Shoot brand was desperately trying to assess his next move. The GBP4m (US$6.2m) marketing push had been put on hold until further notice and the safety issue with the new bottle and its sports cap had put the brand’s future into a state of limbo.
This, however, is not July 2012, but April 2000, and those with longer memories will remember that, around 12 years ago, Britvic’s new revolutionary children’s soft drink proposition, Robinson’s Fruit Shoot, was hit with a similar ‘packaging safety issue’ that delayed its launch.
Today’s crisis really does seem like a case of déjà vu.
Back then, Britvic were able to overcome these issues to launch one of the great modern day success stories of the UK soft drinks market. Robinson’s Fruit Shoot was to change the landscape of the children’s lunch box market by recognising that today’s children are actually quite fashion-conscious. The new bottle design with a sports cap became an accessory for the playground that became the trendy way for children to refresh themselves.
It wasn’t that long before sales of Fruit Shoot topped 100m litres a year; that’s quite an achievement, considering that the product is sold in 20cl and 30cl units. Fruit Shoot established itself as one of Britvic’s core brands and has become an important part of the company’ ambitious international aspirations.
What will haunt Britvic today will be that part of Fruit Shoot’s success can be accredited to the volume vacuum created by the rapid fall from grace of another children’s drinks brand that had exploded onto the scene a couple of years before Fruit Shoot’s delayed arrival in 2000.
Proctor & Gamble’s Sunny Delight seemed to have hit on a winning formula with a product that parents liked because it appeared to tick many of the health boxes and children liked because of its taste. It was all too good to be true though and a young girl in Wales enjoyed it so much that she drank enough of it to turn her orange.
As Fruit Shoot has highlighted, the media thrive on scare stories like this and Sunny Delight went from vogue to villain, triggering a spectacular collapse in sales. Procter & Gamble acted quickly and addressed all the health concerns to re-introduce a product that really did meet the needs of both parent and child. Despite reinventing itself more times than Madonna, Sunny D - as it became known - was unable to re-establish its golden status and sales withered away.
The prognosis would not seem good for Fruit Shoot as the media frenzy takes hold and, as Britvic has reported, profits will be impacted significantly. The company’s share price has dropped like a Spanish bank.
I am not quite ready to write the obituary, however, of one of the UK’s most high profile brands. I would suggest that the key difference between Sunny Delight and Fruit Shoot is that the latter's problems are not related to the actual beverage but down to the packaging. If the ‘packaging safety issue’ can be corrected quickly and the public relations handled competently, then I believe parents will once again confidently reinstate Fruit Shoot into their children’s lunch box.
It is not just the parents that buy the product that will be critical to the rehabilitation of the brand but the retailers who put the drink on their shelves. Britvic will need to win back their confidence too. Retailers have to respond to consumer demand and as the average Fruit Shoot drinker is unlikely to read the newspapers just yet, ‘pester power’ will ensure that demand for the product is restored at a consumer level if not a purchaser one.
If one retailer does not stock the brand, then another may well gain an advantage by continuing to stock the brand. Britvic should not fall into the trap of panic price promotional activity but should look to invest in marketing support that appeals to the children that drink Fruit Shoot, reassures the parents that buy the brand and gives the retailers confidence that they will sell the drinks.
2012 will go down as an annus horriblus for Britvic, but the drop in share price will no doubt have been amplified by the wash-out UK summer that has restricted thirsts. The subsequent drop in consumption would have meant that there would have been downward pressure on the share price., even without the recall.
In the longer term, I think that Britvic's bottle of Fruit Shoot remains half full, and that the company's future remains fizzy.
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