Britvic Soft Drinks (UK)

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British soft drinks company Britvic is the UK's #2 soft drinks company after Coca-Cola. It is the local licensee for Pepsi, managing all of that company's products under long-term contract, but also manufactures and markets a sizeable portfolio of of its own brands including Robinsons (the UK's #1 non-carbonated), Tango and Drench. A key strength is Britvic's "on-trade" distribution network, which supplies pubs and restaurants. This is the legacy of its origins as a joint venture combining the soft drinks divisions of several large breweries. In fact, Britvic's development was hampered by many years by the conflicting interests of its shareholders Bass (now InterContinental Hotels Group), Whitbread and Allied Domecq as well as PepsiCo. Britvic finally issued an IPO in 2005 and has prospered since gaining its independence, until a serious stumble in the summer of 2012. That prompted an agreement to merge with smaller Scottish rival AG Barr, makers of Irn-Bru and Tizer. The deal was delayed by a referral to competition regulators, and by the time it was cleared in summer 2013, Britvic had regained its poise. The merger was called off soon afterwards.

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Britvic Soft Drinks website

Brands

Robinsons Fruit Shoot Tango
Drench 7 Up
Pepsi Purdey's

Recent stories from Adbrands Weekly Update:

Adbrands Weekly Update 16th April 2015: Ads of the Week "They Grow Up Fast". A clever idea from BBH London for long-established UK family favourite Robinsons. There's a little part of us which feels that the idea is perhaps a little better than the execution. Maybe we're being over-critical? But we definitely prefer Chairman Of The Board singer General Johnson's voice to that of those sweaty and insufficiently amazed parents.

Adbrands Weekly Update 3rd Apr 2014: Industry watcher Beverage Digest published a gloomy analysis of the US liquid refreshment (LRB) market, saying that "challenging recent trends... continued and worsened in 2013". There were no such problems in the UK, according to the latest annual soft drinks report from Britvic, the local Pepsi licensee. Last year's summer heatwave pushed consumption to record levels. Volumes were up almost 2%, but the growing number of premium-priced products pushed up value, especially in the take-home market, by almost 4%. Total value topped £10bn for the first time. Grocery and convenience store channels accounted for sales of £7.5bn, with another £2.9bn from on-trade pubs and clubs. Cola was still the biggest seller, accounting for almost 22% of the retail market and 43% of on-trade. Juice and energy drinks were as usual the #2 and #3 take-home categories by value, but the most spectacular growth was seen in "cold hot drinks" like iced tea and coffee, with sales jumping by 47% year-on-year. Coca-Cola continues to dominate the local market with 30% overall share to 20% for Britvic.

Adbrands Weekly Update 31st Dec 2013: UK soft drinks company Britvic named former Diageo marketer Matt Barwell as chief marketing officer. He succeeds Simon Stewart, now managing director, international.


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Background

Free for all users | see full profile for current activities: The British Vitamin Products Company was founded in the mid-19th century in Chelmsford in Essex. The company was then little more than a home business run from a chemist's shop, but it was soon producing all kinds of concocted soft drinks, including lemonades, mineral waters, tonics and non-alcoholic ales. However the marketplace was already crowded. One of the most popular drinks of the time was already Robinson's Patent Barley Water, a powdered drink manufactured since the 1820s by Keen Robinson Bellville & Co, and widely consumed as a general health tonic. A few years later, in around 1845, Robert and Mary White began selling their own home brewed ginger beer and lemonade from a market stall in London.

The Whites' business, R White & Company, expanded rapidly. By 1869 they owned five manufacturing plants and sixteen distribution depots in the Midlands and the South East of England. That year the company was acquired by brewers Whitbread, although the business continued to be run by Robert White. In 1891, White merged with HD Rawlings, a firm producing a wide variety of drinks including Jubilee Lemonade, Pineapple Cider, Jubilee Tangerine, Champagne Cider, Soda Water, Orange Champagne and Seltzer Water. The export business of Rawlings in particular grew dramatically as a result of the growth of the British Empire, and the company was soon known around the world. In 1901 Robert White died, passing management of the business to his sons, Robert James White and John George White. At around the same time Keen Robinson Bellville & Co was acquired by J&J Colman of Norwich, better known at the time for its mustard. (One of Keen Robinson Bellville & Co's other major products was Keen's Mustard, which claimed to date back to the 1740s, and was the originator of the advertising slogan "Keen as mustard". Colman's of Norwich later became part of Reckitt & Colman and later still Reckitt Benckiser).

During the course of the century, the Robinsons and Rawlings brands continued to thrive. Robinsons became a sponsor of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in the mid-1930s, a relationship that remains to this day. However even without the arrival of new colas from the US, the British soft drinks market was becoming ever more crowded. At the end of the 1930s British Vitamin Products had come under the control of Ralph Chapman, who added fruit juice to the range when it was discovered that the juice would stay fresh longer if packaged in glass bottles. The company was subsequently acquired by Vine Products, best-known for its Babycham sparkling pear cider. In 1954, another drinks manufacturer, Corona from Wales, was acquired by The Beecham Group (later to become part of GlaxoSmithKline) and was the platform for the introduction in 1957 of carbonated orange drink Tango. Meanwhile Whitbread's R Whites had become firmly established as the UK's favourite lemonade. In the early 1970s, the brand's Secret Lemonade Drinker ad proved a huge hit with television audiences.

Gradually, the market had began to consolidate. Brewers had begun to develop an interest in soft drinks companies in order to supplement the range of products served in the "tied" pubs through which they sold their beer. The British Vitamin Company had become part of Allied Breweries in the late 1960s, and expanded its range to include mixers for spirits, adopting the Britvic name for the first time in 1971. In 1980, Whitbread's R Whites Rawlings and the soft drinks arm of brewer Bass, which held the UK license for Canada Dry mixers, merged to form Canada Dry Rawlings. Six years later this company merged again with Britvic to form Britvic Soft Drinks. In 1987, Beecham took the decision to quit soft drinks, selling its Corona, Tango and Quosh brands to Britvic. That same year the company won the UK license from PepsiCo to manufacture Pepsi and 7-Up in the UK. As a result the business was restructured, with the three British companies grouping their respective interests as Britannia Soft Drinks, which in turn became the major shareholder in Britvic Soft Drinks. Finally in 1995, the last piece of the jigsaw was assembled with the acquisition of Robinsons from Reckitt & Colman.

By now however the fortunes of the brands within the combined portfolio had changed more than a little. Despite a revival of the Secret Lemonade Drinker campaign in the early 1990s, R Whites was in steep decline within the take-home market, overtaken first by stablemate 7-Up, and then by arch-rival Sprite. However the surprise hit of the decade turned out to be Tango. In 1992, a series of bizarre and memorable commercials from ad agency HHCL introduced the "You've Been Tango'ed" catchphrase. Tango sales rocketed. By 1994, following the introduction of Apple Tango, the brand was selling more than nine cans every second, and had become one of the country's top five carbonated soft drinks. Tango Blackcurrant was introduced a year later. Supported by another bizarre ad, featuring "Tango spokesman Ray Gardner" who gradually strips down to his underwear while marching to the white cliffs of Dover, the new variant broke all sales forecasts, with more than 1.8m cans ordered in the first week of launch.

However Tango's popularity appeared to wane as fast as it had grown. With the ad campaign running out of steam by the late 1990s, the drink faced fierce competition from Fanta, aggressively relaunched by Coca-Cola in 1997. Britvic had two ads for Tango withdrawn after complaints from viewers, and the number of different formats appeared to work against the brand. A still variant was introduced in 1999 but later withdrawn following poor sales and product recalls. HHCL was finally dropped from the account in 2001. Meanwhile, Britvic was dealing with other developments. In 2000, the group acquired Orchid Drinks, manufacturers of an unusual range of sophisticated vitamin drinks, led by Purdey's and Aqua Libra. (A privately owned company, Orchid had been founded in 1992 to manufacture Ame, and acquired Purdey's, Aqua Libra and other soft drinks from Diageo's IDV in 1994).

At the same time, the company had become a pawn in a tug-of-war between Allied Domecq, Bass and Whitbread as they began overhauling their drinks manufacturing and retail interests. By early 2001, Britvic no longer fitted comfortably into any of its British shareholders' portfolios, and the business was put up for sale mid-year. It attracted a number of interested bidders. However all these deals were vetoed by key shareholder Pepsi. As a result, the business was taken off the market again at the end of the year. In 2002 the company was reported to be planning the launch of a new range of soft drinks under the brand name Freekin' Soda. Complaints from parents' groups that the name could be interpreted as an obscenity led to the brand name being changed to Freekee prior to launch. Mid-2003 it was changed again to Tango Strange Soda. The ill-fated brand was finally dropped in 2004 as a result of disappointing sales.

Meanwhile, as Bass continued its transformation into hotel group InterContinental, Britvic's place in the group looked ever more uncomfortable. Taking advantage of the buoyancy of the financial markets, an IPO was issued for Britvic at the end of 2005. However trading in the first half of 2006 was difficult, and rumours began to circulate mid-year of a private equity bid from investment manager Permira. An improvement in Britvic's performance during the summer led to that bid being shelved. See full profile for current activities


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