Soft drinks industry vows to be more proactive to ward off criticism

The soft drinks industry has vowed to work more collaboratively and proactively to promote the good work it does in areas such as sustainability and nutrition through marketing and PR rather than its current approach of just communicating at a corporate level reactively to ward off negative criticism.


A number of the industry’s top players asserted the industry needs to do more to project “one voice” about the issues the sector is faced with at Zenith’s annual UK Soft Drinks Industry Conference in London today (8 May).

The sector has been shoved under particular spotlight in the past few months with policy makers, charities and doctors suggesting it should be punished for producing calorific products, which they say – along with junk foods – are fuelling the country’s obesity problem.

Julian Hunt, vice president of public affairs and communications for Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) Great Britain, said the soft drinks industry has let itself be “too easy a target to have a go at” when it comes to such issues and added the industry must unite together to work towards a point of view to prevent itself continuing to be “demonised” by some camps.

He said: “Coke and Pepsi are in the front line now – more than we would want to be – but it will roll over and is rolling over to smoothies and juices now having to defend themselves on these issues. We all need to move on to the front foot and have to do a better job of talking about the good stuff that goes on, like being responsive to consumer trends, tackling obesity and our work on sustainability and helping the environment.”

Marnie Millard, chief executive officer of Vimto owner Nichols, said the industry has a lot of positive things to shout about – particularly as it is one of the few industries that has both all sugar products and diet equivalents.

But she added: “For us to keep talking about choice in this industry is not enough, we need to communicate with the outside world in a different way. We need to be in charge of what we are talking about as opposed to being reactive and with the BDSA [British Soft Drinks Association] we are working on a message in terms of what we do.”

She suggested some of the joint messages from the soft drinks industry should be proactive campaigns about how it is collectively helping people with nutrition and promotion healthy options for children, for example.

Recycling is also another area the soft drinks industry could be more vocal about, according to leading European bottler Refresco UK’s managing director Gerry Smith.

He said: “As an industry we need one voice to spell out the good work that’s happened in the industry because I don’t think the consumer knows about it. [For example], the UK will have a carton recycling plant set up at the end of the summer yet only 40 per cent of local authorities provide road side collection of cartons.”

The BDSA’s director general Gavin Partington compared the current plight with that of the alcohol industry when it was looking to challenge the Government’s move to bring minimum pricing to the UK. Whilst the majority of companies and bodies were and still are against the proposals, a sector of the pubs and brewers sector took the point of view minimum pricing would be “advantageous” to bring supermarket prices more in line with their own.

Partington explained that paved the way for previous advocates of the proposals to make their arguments “more forcefully” and attract more support than they would have previously done. There are currently no firm plans from the Government to introduce minimum pricing in England and Wales, although the Scottish Parliament passed The Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 in May last year, setting a 50p minimum unit price.

Partington added: “It’s important as an industry to form one view and express it eloquently and forcibly with evidence to back that up. It’s not helpful to have separate spirited voices for policy makers and consumers to try understand.”

CCE’s Hunt summarised what the industry is hoping to achieve with its collaborative communications approach: “Success for us is to turn around the negativity that’s there in the soft drinks industry so every time I open up the Daily Mail it’s not with a heavy heart”.

The retail value of the UK soft drinks industry grew 3.3 per cent in 2012 to nearly £15bn with no added sugar drinks representing 61 per cent of the total, according to the BDSA’s “Refreshing the Nation” report published today (8 May). This is despite overall volume consumed decreasing 2.5 per cent to 14.2 billion litres in the period.



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