Soft drinks grow in West Europe in 2015 but challenges remain - Comment
Here in the UK, the swifts, swallows and housemartins have packed up and are making their way back to Africa signalling the end of another summer in Europe. As we enter the autumn of the year we are now well placed to identify the trends in place in West Europe that will define the year from the perspective of the soft drinks industry.
The prospect of Grexit and turbulence in Chinese markets casts a shadow over the economic stability of the region but consumer consumption remains relatively positive. According to Canadean’s first-half results for the year, overall soft drinks consumption is actually up in the region by 0.5%. Commodity prices remain low and this is contributing to the low inflation that is putting more money in drinker’s pockets to spend on refreshment. The economic conditions are not likely to change in the short term and, if inflation does start to rise, then pushing up sales volumes will become increasingly difficult.
The economic environment over the last seven years has created the ideal conditions for the so-called discount retailers to flourish. The hard discount outlets are softening their offerings to appeal to a broader audience and this is generating a ferocious price war in countries across the region, putting downward pressures on soft drinks even further. We may be drinking more soft drinks this year but we are paying less for them. Volume is growing but the value of the market is not faring as well as it should be. Adding value not volume to the drinks market will equate to a more genuine form of progress.
A theme of 2015 has been the escalation in the negative publicity for soft drinks. Demands for governmental intervention to discourage soft drinks consumption is growing louder and more vociferous. In some markets, supermarkets are taking matters into their own hands and are acting first. Leading UK retailer Tesco has committed itself to a 5% year-on- year reduction in sugar across its soft drinks range prompting the delisting of some of the UK’s most iconic soft drink’s brands. This form of ‘virtuous’ trading will no doubt be adopted by other retailers as they seek to differentiate themselves from the discounters. Fighting their corner practically and eloquently is the single biggest challenge facing the soft drinks industry in Europe in the current climate.
Drill down deeper into Canadean’s numbers and the scale of the issue becomes more evident. The figures point to a decline this year in all of the traditional heavyweight soft drink categories in West Europe, with the exception of packaged waters. More specifically, it is the still water segment that, by expanding at 4%, is almost single-handedly driving the growth of the market this year; supplemented by some iced tea, iced coffee and energy drink volume growth. These smaller categories remain in the growth stage of their lifecycles in West Europe and the fact that they increased volumes was to be expected.
At less than 1%, CSD losses are far from catastrophic but that decrease represents a quickening in the speed of decline. The losses in the regular segment are to a degree offset by a small rise in the low-calorie segment, but the worry must be that if West Europe replicates North America and the diet segment starts to slide, then the category will see sales wane at a less respectable rate.
Some solace can be found in the juice, nectar and still drink categories this year. While all three categories continue to shed volume, their performance is demonstrating some improvement on last year’s showing. Juice sales are down by 2% for the first half of the year but the results from 2014 were down by a distressing 5%. Historically, JNSD products have always been perceived to be nearer the right side of the health line than the carbonates category, but they have been under increasing scrutiny in the last few years with their sugar content examined and so the results provide some comfort.
Maybe the bottle is not half-empty after all, particularly as the soft drinks sector remains the most robust West European commercial beverage sector in 2015. Soft drinks remain ahead of hot drinks, which have added 0.4% to sales, alcoholic drinks, which have remained virtually stable, and dairy drinks, which have slipped by nearly 1%. The growth should be embraced but meeting the challenges of adding value to products and addressing the critics of the industry will remain an ongoing priority in the rest of the year.
As the Dutch Association of Soft Drinks Waters & Juices recently presented in its plan to cut 10% of the calories from soft drinks by 2020, it can be achieved through; “product innovation, more marketing emphasis on low calorie drinks and smaller size packaging”.
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