BY EMILIE ODIN
A key recurring feature of the UK Soft Drinks Conference was the passing on of advice and key learnings from industry CEOs, successful entrepreneurs and key figures to delegates in the room.
Among these contributions were presentations and panel sessions with Leendert den Hollander, managing director of Coca-Cola Enterprises; Marnie Millard, CEO of Nichols; Paul Graham, managing director GB of Britvic Soft Drinks; Kevin Klock, chief executive of Talking Rain; as well as Dan Germain, head of brand, and Nick Canney, UK and Ireland managing director of Innocent Drinks. All of the aforementioned offered their unique insights from different perspectives and areas of the soft drinks industry.
All panel sessions were moderated by Richard Hall, chairman of Zenith International, who was interested to gather learnings, challenges encountered, perceived opportunities and advice to be offered by various industry players.
As the sugar agenda was still on everyone’s minds, this was again present in discussions surrounding opportunities and challenges during the morning session of the Soft Drinks Conference. Marnie Millard of Nichols explained that, although low and no-sugar drinks offer the most growth potential in the UK, global opportunities offer growth potential for sugary drinks in places such as West Africa, where full-sugar Vimto is currently seen as an important daily contribution to calorie intake.
However, it was not just the debate surrounding sugar in soft drinks that dominated the morning discussion. Innovation and the constant emergence of small, innovative market entrants is something which does not pass large industry players by. When asked who her most admired brands in the industry were, Marnie Millard was quick to highlight Fever Tree, who “took a declining category with a major player” and flipped it on its head. Millard was also asked whether or not she would be willing to work with small entrepreneurial brands, to which she stated that “I would like to say that getting a listing with a big retailer is a huge achievement, but that really is a beginning of the journey”. Even at its size, Nichols is flexible and open-minded about working with others. While they have the flexibility that comes with being an established market player, they, too, face challenges in sustaining a successful portfolio and therefore see the value in collaborating with smaller, more entrepreneurial brands.
Coca-Cola Enterprises’ Leendert den Hollander took part in the event’s panel session.
In terms of soft drinks areas to target for innovation, Paul Graham of Britvic pointed out three categories with a lot of opportunities for entrepreneurs to target: water and “making water less boring”, energy drinks and the premium soft drinks categories.
The afternoon session of the conference was opened by the conference’s keynote speaker, Kevin Klock, who offered insights into how he took part in building a million-dollar brand through a step-based change-making process. The first step he highlighted was one which applies to all brands: proving the concept. In 2010, Talking Rain has recognised that their Sparkling Ice brand was not focused enough and therefore looked at labels, flavour, mouthfeel and smell until they were happy they had proved the concept. Once this had been done came the second step, one which, according to Klock, should not be underestimated: relationship-building.
Building a community and treating everyone the same way can only be obtained if you keep your feet on the ground, Klock explained. With the establishment of relationships and a proven concept, infrastructure may become the next focus area. “To build a billion-dollar brand, you have to have room for growth and be prepared for the growing demand”, Klock continued as he explained how the Sparkling Ice supply chain team went from one person with a spreadsheet to a team of 40 supply chain managers operating electronically. In addition to this, Klock also pointed out the importance of marketing and making sure growth is continued, that existing relationships are maintained and that infrastructure and distribution networks are constantly developed.
Having walked the audience through a 20-minute step-by-step overview of how he helped develop a billion-dollar brand, Klock was next asked what other advice he can offer entrepreneurs, to which he quite simply advised anyone looking to enter the market to think about their audience and to make sure that they understand the people they are trying to sell to.
Innocent’s Dan Germain described an alcoholic sub-brand called Guilty as a step too far.
Following Kevin Klock were two individuals that have helped build another successful brand, Innocent Drinks. Dan Germain, head of brand, explained to the audience that he has worked at innocent for 17 years and has held every job in the business. Dan and his colleague Nick Canney both explained how important it is to speak to and connect with consumers, something which remains a main priority at Innocent Drinks, which still operates its famous “banana phone”.
Innocent are also famous for their company culture – reflected in Germain’s comment that “I want people in my business that do things that scare me”. Innocent pride themselves in staying true to themselves, making “natural, delicious food and drink that helps people live well and die old”. Therefore, when asked what product category would be an exciting idea but a stretch too far for them to enter, Germain told the audience that he has often heard and still sometimes gets presented with “this great idea called Guilty” – an alcoholic Innocent beverage.
Following a day of presentations, insights, advice and debates, one – perhaps somewhat unsurprising – message resonated: the importance of the audience and communicating with, as well as listening to, your target audience.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2020