Robinsons owner hit by pub closures but boosted by health-conscious shoppers

The coronavirus pandemic has seen households switch to healthier drinks in record numbers but not enough to offset a big fall in profits, according to the boss of Robinsons owner Britvic.

Simon Litherland told the PA news agency that the lockdown and subsequent restrictions has also led to families turning to familiar brands as sales of the company’s drinks beat rivals.

He said: “Through the pandemic the trend towards healthy options has been accelerated and we’ve been working hard to adapt to that.

“For Robinsons, it’s very much on trend from a health and wellbeing perspective. It’s an affordable way to hydrate your family and it’s low sugar. People have turned to brands they know and trust.

“We’re grown 1.3 million new shoppers to the brand and flavour concentrates have all benefited from that same trend, growing 7.6% in the last six months.”

Mr Litherland said sales to pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues – which make up 40% of sales – were badly hit.

“We’d like things to get back to normal as quickly as possible and perhaps there is some end in sight but there is no doubt uncertainty will continue,” he said.

But sales in supermarkets and grocers outperformed rivals – growing 11.3% compared with market growth of 1.5% – although it was not enough to offset the fall in sales at out-of-home locations.

Overall, Britvic revealed that sales in the year to September 30 fell 8.6% to £1.41 billion, with pre-tax profits up 0.8% to £111.2 million.

The company’s preferred measure – adjusted pre-tax profits – fell 21.9% to £165.8 million.

In the first quarter, sales were up 2.6% but in the third and fourth quarters sales plunged 16.3% and 11.3% respectively – with some benefit in Q4 coming through from the Eat Out To Help Out scheme, Britvic added.

Mr Litherland said he is optimistic over Britvic’s future, saying: “Soft drinks have been a resilient product during a recession.”

Britvic labels include Fruit Shoot, Robinsons, Tango and J2O, and it has an exclusive licensing agreement to sell PepsiCo brands including Pepsi, 7UP and Lipton Ice Tea in the UK and Ireland.

Focus will be on low-sugar products and follows retail sales value increases in Pepsi Max (up 18%), 7-Up (up 31%) and Tango (up 26%).

The company is also one of the major sponsors of the Wimbledon tennis tournament, which was cancelled this year due to Covid-19.

But Mr Litherland said the cancellation failed to dent sales of Robinsons and that the company will continue to sponsor the event.

Britvic also revealed that it remains on track to have 100% recycled plastic in all its bottles sold in the UK by 2022 – surpassing a previous target of 50% by 2025.