Clearing the clouds?

Sunny D took the market by storm on its launch. But it was hit by scandal and has languished ever since. Mark Choueke sizes up the latest revamp

Sunny D, originally Sunny Delight, has been officially relaunched twice and repositioned several times in an attempt to find a way back into parents’ hearts. The battered brand is now quietly undergoing another makeover.

There will be nothing of the quick fix about this latest revolution. By recruiting 12 parents to form an advisory group to consult on formulation, product development, marketing and advertising (MW last week), the brand’s new owner, the Sunny Delight Beverages Company (SDBC), says it is laying the foundations for a long-term strategy to regain consumer trust following criticism of Sunny D’s health credentials.

After a successful &£10m launch in 1998, Procter & Gamble’s (P&G) Sunny Delight broke records in its first year. Sales of &£160m made it the 12th-biggest selling brand in the UK. But criticism from the Food Commission over the drink’s packaging and positioning and a savaging in the press led to an equally dramatic sales collapse. Sunny Delight was lambasted for being positioned as a pure juice drink while being high in sugar and having a fruit juice content of just five per cent. Although P&G never claimed the day-glo Sunny Delight was a pure juice drink, it was condemned for merchandising the brand alongside chilled juices in chiller cabinets.

According to Mintel, Sunny D led the juice drink sector in 2000 with a 22 per cent market share by volume, By 2002, this had fallen to nine per cent. A relaunch in 2002 with higher juice content (up from five per cent to 15 per cent) and another in 2003 (with calcium added to the ingredients) failed to reverse the slump. Production fell from 76 million litres in 2002 to 39 million litres in 2004, while Ocean Spray, Robinsons, Capri-Sun and others all increased their market share.

In 2004 the brand was sold to Boston-based private equity firm JW Childs, which set up the standalone business SDBC. SDBC’s UK operation is run by juice giant Gerber Foods, which owns the Sunpride, Southern Delight and Southern Gold brands and packages products for Ocean Spray, Welch’s, Libby’s Organic and Um Bongo.

An insider says any healthy reformulation of Sunny D may not be marketed heavily, as SDBC does not wish to draw media and consumer attention to past troubles.

Sunny D commercial manager Paul Nicholls says the parents’ advisory group is a “bold step that recognises our responsibility as a soft drinks manufacturer” and maintains that Sunny D can enjoy a new era of success. “Sunny D sales are still &£50m a year. The previous owner took steps to improve the brand, but now we are in control and everything is up for grabs,” he says.

Gerber Foods marketing director Rob Spencer says SDBC has the right attitude to restore the brand to good health. He says: “Tweaking things won’t address the fundamental issues with the brand. We’re starting by striving to understand how we can improve, rather than understanding how we can convince.”

But many in the industry doubt that Sunny D can return to its heyday.

One drinks company chief executive says Sunny D faces an impossible task: “To succeed, SDBC needs first to get the product right, because in the past it has been a disaster. It also needs to market Sunny D well, with packaging that talks to both mother and child. But there is also a whole new generation of parents out there, which could be an important factor in Sunny D’s favour.

“On the whole, I’d say it is far too big a task for Sunny D to match its initial success. The owner would have been better starting afresh with a new brand, rather than taking on something that carries such baggage. Avoiding discussions about reformulation might be a good idea, as any health claim made by Sunny D will result in a trashing by the press.”

Another industry source says: “I applaud Sunny D’s efforts to change the perception of the brand, but I fail to see why this parents’ advisory group is any different from the focus consumer studies that any packaged goods company does.

“Coca-Cola and Pepsi have spent 25 years regularly talking to consumers and asking them what they want. It’s what you do when you want to sell something new, and frankly it’s not special or something to be lauded as a new initiative. It’s a publicity

Facts and Figures

The fruit juice and juice drinks market grew 25 per cent by volume between 1999 and 2004, reaching 2.1 billion litres.

In that time, market value increased by 29 per cent to &£2.3bn.

Sales of pure fruit juice are dominated by own-label brands, which account for more than 80 per cent of the market by volume. PepsiCo’s Tropicana dominates sales of branded juice, with eight per cent of the juice market, followed by Del Monte with six per cent.

The juice drinks market grew 16.4 per cent by volume between 2002 and 2004, from 846 million litres to 985 million litres.

Between 2002 and 2004, Sunny D’s volume sales fell 48.7 per cent, from 76 million litres to 39 million litres.

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