As you may expect, soft drink sales tend to skyrocket in summer. In fact, the start of the primary sales season starts as soon as Easter and lasts through to the end of September.
With the global pandemic leading to most high street shops temporarily shutting, supermarkets, along with food and beverage retailers, have seen an uptick in business, creating an opportunity for new drinks brands to gain significant traction.
Consumers are also fuelling demand for more healthy drink options. With everyone focusing more on looking after their health, it’s no surprise that more people than ever are ditching sugary soft drinks in exchange for more functional drinks that promise to boost the immune system and replenish the body with vitamins.
And with so many people stuck indoors due to the coronavirus lockdown, a number of creative (and bored) entrepreneurs turned their hand to developing new beverages as a potential business opportunity. At Brand Relations, we have been working with more budding entrepreneurs than ever – all excited to share their creations with the world.
If you’re just starting out in the world of soft drinks, you may be wondering how to get your products out there in time for the summer sales season in order to make your launch a sizzling success.
The good news is that January and February are the key months for presenting your drinks products to major buyers in time for summer. The bad news is that, if you’ve not started your marketing, you have a lot to do.
So, how do you prepare your drink brand for success this summer?
Clearly define your brand
The soft drinks space is a competitive market, so you need to stand out and appeal to your target market. As such, it is essential to gain an in-depth understanding of your brand, target audience and retailers you would like to stock your products.
You’ll likely have a sense of the brand and some ideas as to who your customers will be. The next step is to deepen this understanding by looking at your competition. You shoud be able to answer these questions;
- What products are you seeking to replace?
- Where would your product sit on the shelf?
- What do they look like and how do they appeal to the consumer?
- How are they priced?
The easiest way to gain this understanding is as a customer yourself. Visit some of the stores you are targeting and take a look at their product selection with a new perspective. Not only will this help you define your brand, product and pricing, but you’ll also become an expert on your target stores – something sure to impress buyers.
This might all sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at the number of entrepreneurs who skip this step, assuming that all they need is good branding.
Identify a list of target buyers
Now that you have a good understanding of your brand and how it relates to your target retailers, the next step is to understand your target buyers. As with any purchase decision, retail buyers want to find products that are right for them.
Spend some time researching and understanding your buyers. What are they looking for? What trends are they interested in? Are they missing or over-servicing certain parts of the market?
When presenting to buyers, you’ll need to explain how your products are going to increase their sales over and above the products they already stock. They’ll want to know how you’ll reach customers and stand out from the crowd.
By doing extensive research now, you can develop the perfect pitch for each individual buyer, demonstrating how you meet their needs and will grow their sales.
Prepare your digital presence
Beyond the pitch, buyers will be looking at your digital estate to see how you appeal to your target audience. As a result, you need a well-designed website that fits with your brand and buyer messages.
Larger retailers are also becoming more interested in social media presence. Good engagement across social platforms demonstrates that people are interested in, and excited about, your product, giving you an active audience of potential customers. The more customers you can bring with you, the better your product will sell.
Going from a standing start with your social media can be tough, especially if you’re just setting things up now. The quickest ways to build a social presence is to get friends and family to follow and post on your social channels, making sure to reply and start conversations.
You can also use some of your marketing budget to reach out to influencers. They don’t have to be world-famous to give your social media a boost – smaller influencers can do a great job of creating a local buzz around your product and brand.
Consider product presentation
How will you grab the attention of buyers? This is the essential question you need to answer to be successful. You’ve done the research, developed your brand, created your pitch – now you need to reach out to buyers.
Unfortunately, most entrepreneurs simply bulk send products to the buyer’s offices. The idea is that, if the buyer has a lot of your product, everyone in their office can try a sample. Yet, buyers hate this approach. Imagine sitting in a relatively small office stacked with boxes of products.
Buyers are people and, ultimately, customers themselves. They want to be surprised and delighted just like anyone else. And the first impression is always the most important.
Rather than sending big boxes of drinks to buyers, we tend to suggest to our clients that they create individual gift boxes instead. Not only do they create a great first (and lasting) impression, but they can also feature your branding and information.
For example, a few years ago we created Christmas gift hampers for buyers. They were so well presented and received that some buyers didn’t even realise they were samples.
One particularly amazing response was from a Whole Foods buyer, who said; ‘Thank you for sharing with us your innovation, highly appreciated, some other people I would expect this from are not doing half what you did! Thanks.’ We secured the listing with Whole Foods shortly afterwards.
While you may have missed the opportunity for Christmas hampers, you can still put some work into the presentation of your products to make a great impression on buyers.
Quality over quantity
New entrepreneurs are often tempted to target the large multiples, hoping to achieve instant volume of sales and massive overnight success. However, it is far better to build the brand and develop demand via smaller ‘premium’ retailers.
Consider the typical Tesco shopper: they buy the brands they like as part of a weekly shop. Interrupting their default purchases can be really tough, especially with more people shopping online. However, customers in shops like Whole Foods or Planet Organic, for example, tend to shop in-store and really take the time to consider the products they are buying, making them a far easier audience to reach with your new brand.
Chasing big retailers can also backfire. I have witnessed a lot of new brands getting listed in big retailers (to much excitement) only to achieve poor sales and get delisted after a couple of months. If a big retailer delists your product, it’s unlikely any other big retailers will touch you and even small premium retailers may think twice.
Consider the industry like a pyramid with small, premium retailers at the top and the big multiples at the bottom. Start from the top and work downward. You’ll grow sustainably, develop a customer base, and be able to demonstrate sales, putting you in the perfect position for success.
It’s easy to become disheartened when you email a buyer and don’t hear back. You don’t want to pester the buyer and the assumption is that they’re not interested. But, as someone with many friends who are buyers, I can tell you that they are some of the most overworked people in retail. If they didn’t reply, it doesn’t mean they aren’t interested, it just means they are likely busy.
I’m not suggesting you harass them, that will only add to their stress. However, some gentle persistence can really pay off. Think of some ways to catch their attention and be patient. It’s also best to wait until they request samples before you send anything. Unrequested samples can often have the opposite effect than intended.
Draw up your marketing plan
Getting your product onto shelves doesn’t necessarily mean it will sell. To achieve strong sales figures you need effective marketing. Without strong opening sales, there is a risk that your product could get delisted.
It’s also important to remember that sales reflect on buyers, so few will want to take a risk on a new product if you don’t present an effective marketing plan. Creating your plan and putting it into action now makes it easier to demonstrate to buyers and derisks their purchase.
Work with what you get
You may have big aspirations to be stocked in Waitrose, for example, but if you are starting at the top of the pyramid and working down, you need to be flexible. That doesn’t necessarily mean taking any opportunity whether it fits or not, especially if they are asking for a big discount that will undermine the value of your product and the profit for the company.
However, if you have an opportunity to work with a buyer from a smaller retailer who really believes in your product, don’t pass it up. Work with the buyer, explore collaborations, and support them to achieve strong sales of your product. It will enhance the reputation of your product as a strong seller and your reputation as a good business to work with.
Launching a new drinks brand is an exciting prospect yet one fraught with difficulties. Only ten percent of new food and drinks brands survive beyond two years – to be part of that elite group you need to demonstrate that you know your market, the target stores, that you can approach and work with buyers in the right way, and that you have an effective marketing plan.
The ideal time to start reaching out to buyers is now, so you need to work fast. If you can get everything done in time, however, you will be well positioned to make your mark once the pandemic is (hopefully) over.
About the author
This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Richard Horwell, owner of Brand Relations, a specialist food and drink marketing and branding company based in London. Over the last 12 years, Brand Relations has been behind the launch and development of over 100 brands in the UK. Richard has over 30 years’ experience in marketing FMCG brands around the world and has also built and sold his own food and drinks businesses.
Last updated - 22nd January, 2021