Author: Matthew Barwell, Chief Marketing Officer, Britvic
In a recent R&D meeting, our innovation team was reflecting on the emerging consumer trend for food and drink with clear links to nature and whole raw ingredients. People don’t want an apple juice, they want to drink a ‘liquid apple’, they told me. It seems obvious - a ‘liquid apple’ with its core, skin, pips, and all the goodness and fibre of the raw ingredients, is of course more natural, healthier, and more authentic. It’s why we use the whole fruit in our Robinsons drinks. But even a few years ago, when refined juice was lauded, this would have been unthinkable – the pips and core would have been discarded as waste.
Since that meeting, I’ve thought a lot about ‘liquid apples’ and the waves of ideas and trends that have turned the status quo on its head and led to some of the greatest food innovations of our time.
If I reflect on many of the businesses that have come in and successfully disrupted the food and drink sector – and indeed many other sectors – almost all of them have been guided by a clear and unwavering purpose; many of them with a strong social purpose. A recent report by the Beacon Institute at EY recently stated that 90% of executives understand the importance of purpose, but only 46% say it informs strategic and operational decision-making. It’s impossible to know whether that’s a sign or a cause of the challenges many large and established businesses are facing in how they remain relevant and connected to their consumers in the modern age.
But as marketeers we intuitively understand that a clear and consistent purpose is the anchor that helps consumers make sense of what our products stand for and therefore offer them and that’s why at Britvic we’re one of the 46%. Our purpose – making life’s everyday moments more enjoyable - sits at the heart of everything we do. Our purpose is powerful because it is rooted in who we are, where we’ve come from, and what has driven our success.
Our purpose was entrenched long before purpose was trendy, and it has endured for decades. To understand it, you must understand our history and our commitment to healthy innovation from the start. Britvic celebrates its 80th birthday this year and it all started with fruit, an entrepreneur and a purpose. In a small chemist shop in Chelmsford in 1930s, a man called Ralph Chapman was experimenting with fruit juice containing vitamin C. It was a hard time for people as they struggled through the Great Depression and the war years; scurvy and dysentery were rife as fruit was scarce and diets lacked important nutrients. Mr. Chapman was looking for a solution to this pressing public health challenge.
Armed with a clear purpose to improve public health, Mr. Chapman mixed fruit juice with sugar and other ingredients to develop ‘tonics’ or 'pick me ups' for his customers to drink on the premises. In doing so, he created drinks which tasted delicious, provided a source of vitamins, and created a sense of occasion. In 1938, Mr. Chapman’s business was acquired by a James MacPherson who established 'The British Vitamin Products Company' which later became known as Britvic.
Fast forward 80 years and Britvic has grown into an international FTSE250 business worth over £2bn, with 30 owned-brands, and selling 2.3 billion litres of drinks globally every year (equivalent to 920 Olympic swimming pools). Our purpose has evolved from Mr. Chapman’s original ambition to bring people an affordable source of vitamins but we are equally committed to healthy innovation with 94% of our portfolio either below or exempt from the recent sugar levy in the UK.
Our 80-year heritage is the foundation of our purpose today. The entrepreneurial spirit of our founders, the focus on health and community from the beginning, and the rapid societal changes and trends we’ve faced over the years, have all combined to shape what we stand for, inspire creativity and drive innovation across all parts of our business. For some companies, history and heritage can act as a blocker to innovation. For us, our history has inspired us for generations and acted as a catalyst for change; through the major milestones of the last century, the changes in consumer behaviour and tastes, the technological breakthroughs, we have innovated and created products that are embedded in the fabric of society. From the kitchen to the pub, from offices to sports grounds, our drinks are as relevant today as they have been throughout the last 80 years.
Our focus on health has remained constant throughout, although the nature of the societal challenge has evolved from post war deprivation to a modern-day obesity challenge. During this time, we’ve taken bold steps to help people make healthier choices; we have removed sugar from family favourites Fruit Shoot and Robinsons (in 2014 and 2015 respectively), created Purdeys – a multivitamin energy drink with no caffeine or taurine, and we were the first to use the naturally sourced sweetener stevia in our drinks. Now, almost all our owned brands contain no or low amounts of sugar, with 94% below or exempt from the sugar levy.
A clear purpose rooted in history can create the framework marketers need to operate freely. As passionate custodians of century-old brands and new innovations, we are in a unique position to be a part of a lasting legacy. When I look back at some of our most famous campaigns – think ‘You’ve been Tangoed’ and the R.White’s secret lemonade drinker – these are some of the defining moments in Britvic’s 80 year history, and for the industry. Today’s Britvic marketers are continuing to create more iconic moments through a portfolio that includes well-known heritage brands like Robinsons and R.White’s, to newer innovations like Aqua Libra and Purdey’s, as well as huge household names like Robinsons and Tango, as well as the brands we make through our partnership with PepsiCo like Pepsi MAX and 7UP.
Looking back on how the business grown, and thinking about the next 80 years, I’m excited. Armed with our purpose, the opportunities are limitless for inquisitive, curious minds, thirsty for the freedom to experiment like Ralph Chapman and the agility to act fast to capitalise on opportunities. The challenges we face are opportunities to learn. Consumer tastes and trends are evolving rapidly – there are more drinking occasions than ever before, more flavours, more formats, more functionality. The way we communicate and the number of channels available to reach consumers are more prolific than ever. And the way products are sold – where and when - are multiplying.
So how do we cut through the noise? It comes back to the ‘liquid apple’. We must listen to what our consumers want tomorrow as well as today, understand what is driving that need, be guided by our purpose, remember our history, and commit to finding a creative solution.