Cawston Press on how it is making fizzy drinks ‘relevant again’

The soft drinks brand says a focus on quality will allow it to buck the trend of falling soft drink sales and tack on giants such as Coca-Cola in the space.

cawston press

Cawston Press has grown from a small brand selling apple juice to a multimillion pound business and believes a focus on quality products and new flavours can help it take on the giants of the soft drinks industry.

Originally named ‘Cawston Vale’, it started off with a focus on apple juice, but has since branched out to different “grown up” flavours like apple and gooseberry, and created family packs for different usage occasions.

The brand’s co-founder and current marketing boss Mark Palmer says it needed to move away from being a “small juice brand” to one that honed in on quality – a message, he says, the brand could push as it does not use concentrates, instead opting for pressed fruit and vegetables.

Perhaps its most radical move, however, was into the sparkling drinks space in 2014. It launched with two different flavours at 250,000 cans each, which Palmer says “was utterly terrifying”. This feeling of anxiety might not have been misplaced; consumers are steadily cutting sugary soft drinks out of their diet in favour of healthier options.

Nevertheless, Palmer believed there was a huge opportunity for the brand to take a slice of the soft drinks market by producing an “everyday” fizzy drink product. And Palmer himself has made an even bigger bet on the brand he co-founded in 2009. Last year, he stood down from his role as marketing director at Pret A Manger to focus more on Cawston Press, as well as Union Hand Roasted Coffee where he has been a non-exec since 2007.

“When it comes to soft drinks there are some interesting brands emerging around the edges, usually sold in fancy delis or in glass bottles. But unlike beer or coffee, generally the quality of soft drinks had lagged behind for many years and had become less relevant. We were finding nothing we wanted to buy,” he tells Marketing Week.

“But carbonated drinks still make up 40% of the soft drinks market, fizzy drinks aren’t going out of fashion and the numbers suggest people still love them. We think the opportunity is keeping customers in the market by offering them something of quality.”

We think our best form of marketing is customer loyalty.

Mark Palmer, Cawston Press

The business seemingly made the right decision. Three years on, the brand has six fizzy variants and sold more than 10 million cans in 2016. Cawston Press’s retail sales value stands at £21m, with the sparkling range making up half its business.

The business has doubled in size in the last 18 months – as has the size of the team. And its newest hire is aimed at accelerating growth still further; Innocent’s former UK head of marketing Helen Pomphrey will join the business in June to look after consumer and shopper marketing.

READ MORE: Innocent’s Helen Pomphrey joins Cawston Press as first marketing boss

“We’re growing at such a pace that [marketing] needs a full-time leader. For fast growth, non-corporate companies, it’s super important for both parties that it’s the right fit. We feel we have got that with Helen,” he says.

“There has been constant growth [when she was at Innocent]; there has never been a quiet year. And she’s watched our brand, so she’s excited about joining something that is earlier in its life but no less ambitious.”

Generating customer loyalty

Despite its rapid growth in recent years, Palmer says the brand believes it is “just getting started”. It is now looking to improve its soft drinks distribution by showing up in the “right” places, such as in restaurants, pubs, coffee shops, leisure centres and newsagents. It will also look to expand into other markets such as the US and France, and will “generally ramp up its marketing”.

“A business has to choose wisely where it invests. We think our best form of marketing is customer loyalty. Worrying about the taste and quality together with our product presentation forms the crux of our marketing approach. Any available funds will then be invested in getting it in front of people by taking the brand to the right events and doing tastings,” he says.

cawston press

As a result, it will be organising complimentary tastings in partnership with race course Goodwood’s Festival of Speed in June, and getting people to take the product home to enjoy in their own environment.

The cost per sample is significant, but the impact is considerably higher compared to standing in the middle of Waterloo station throwing samples at people at 8am.

“The cost per sample is quite significant, but the impact is considerably higher compared to standing in the middle of Waterloo station and throwing samples at people at 8am, which probably isn’t a great brand experience. So we’ll have a more active consumer marketing spend, predominately sampling-led,” he explains.

Battling sugar and beating the giants

There are some dark clouds on the horizon, however. Next year, the Government’s sugar tax comes into force with the aim of raising £520m to help support school sport and fitness programmes.

The government will apply the tax in two bands: the lower band will see brands pay a tax on drinks containing 5g or more of sugar for every 100ml. A higher band covers drinks containing 8g or more of sugar for every 100ml. Milkshakes and fruit-based drinks are not be impacted.

Most of Cawston Press’s products are exempt from the sugar tax, Palmer says. A few of the fizzy drink variants, however, will be affected. Nevertheless, he expects the demand for soft drinks to increase, despite the tax.

“If you look at the data around what people are consuming these days, one in four millenials is not drinking – so what on earth are you drinking if you don’t drink alcohol? Consumers will demand better quality non-alcoholic drinks, which is why we focus on good ingredients.

“People are more concerned if fizzy drinks are full of cheap artificial ingredients, which many brands do and is harder to get around [with the sugar tax coming into force],” he explains.

Despite its recent growth, Palmer says the brand still considers itself to be a “challenger brand” taking on soft drink incumbents like Coca-Cola and Pepsi and is bullish about the future.

He concludes: “While you can’t beat them on investment levels, you can make investments faster and adapt to changing markets more easily. So far, we’ve done lots of ‘live test’ marketing. But now we’ve found our place and we’re in the next phase of make more people aware of what we’ve got to offer.”

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