1 (1) Coca-Cola
Sales: £1,090.4m (+8.3%)
Launched: 1886 (US), 1900 (UK)
On 8 May, Coca-Cola will be 125 years old: and it’s still growing. In fact, it’s going like a train. Sales rose 8.3% during 2010, to almost £1.1bn, and during the all-important four-week Christmas period, Coca-Cola’s share of the total market was its highest in three years, at 76.5% [Nielsen], up from 75.2% in 2009.

Coke’s success was one of the brightest spots in a glowing soft drinks category performance in 2010, up 6.6%, a notable improvement on 2009’s 1.8% growth. CCE’s share grew just ahead of the category in 2010, says Ian Deste, vice president of sales and customer development at Coca-Cola Enterprises, with Coke “the train that pulls the carriages”.

Yet the year was not without its challenges. On-the-go has been hit, says Deste, and sales were lost in the first month of the year, when Arctic conditions hit the UK. A lacklustre summer – in terms of both the weather and England’s early World Cup exit – also dampened Coke’s performance. “It sounds churlish to complain, but it could have been even better.”

So how is such an established brand able to perform so well in anything other than ideal circumstances? On one hand, it’s proof Coca-Cola is the ultimate recession-proof drink: cheap, cheerful and still cool after 125 years, “it’s always been resilient in tough economic times,” says Deste.

On the other hand, in the year the secret recipe was reportedly discovered by a US radio show, Deste says the formula is a lot more complicated than people realise.

“The ingredients used in our beverages are listed on the product labels and many third parties have tried to crack the secret formula of Coca-Cola. Try as they might, there truly is only one ‘real thing’. The formula [includes] 125 years of the best people, iconic advertising, multibillion dollar marketing investment, multibillion dollar investment in soft drink infrastructure. The formula is impossible to replicate with even the most sophisticated technology."

Another reason for the success of the brand is its relentless pursuit of new opportunities. In March 2010, CCE launched Open More Business, a report that identified a £1.4bn growth opportunity across the soft drinks category over the next five years, based on links to “meal-time occasions”.

CCE has already achieved success through meal deals that offer a can of Coke with a sandwich (and invariably a packet of crisps). But CCE is also targeting dinner.

“One measure we use to assess the impact of our programmes with food – in terms of advertising, promotions etc – is tracking Coke incidence with evening meals,” Deste explains. “This is very low in absolute terms, at 2.3%, but has moved over the year to 2.6%.”

So, can Coca-Cola pull off the same kind of barnstorming performance in 2011 and beyond? While Deste is standing down at the end of this month, he is confident the business still has “real momentum”.

The year has got off to a flying start, he says and this year’s advertising programme will continue to “keep it fresh”. The latest ad is a James Bond-inspired blockbuster-style ad for Coke Zero. But there’s more in store, not least a global celebration of Coke’s 125th anniversary in May.

The biggest opportunity, however, is the London 2012 Olympic Games. Starting this July, Coca-Cola plans to “take the Olympics out of London”. Game on.

2 (2) Warburtons
Sales: £742.4m (+1.5%)
Launched: 1876
It is fair to say 2010 was a memorable year for Britain’s biggest bread brand. In normal circumstances, the radical overhaul of a logo with 135 years’ worth of heritage would have been the brand’s biggest story of the year, but events in 2010 rarely followed the script.

Even the surprise visit of then prime minister in waiting David Cameron to Warburtons’ Bolton factory in May failed to have a bigger impact than what befell the business in July.

A fire ripped through one of Warburtons’ bakeries, destroying the facility and wiping out production of arguably the most significant new product development in the brand’s history. Pitta bread chips Chippidy Doo Daa and wholegrain Snack A Doodle marked Warburtons’ entry into the crisps, nuts and snacks category – and the products had only been on shelf for three months when the fire struck. Production is still on hold today, although the products, whose original formats have been tweaked, are due to finally make it into shops in the near future, according to a spokeswoman.

The redesign of its brand logo saw Warburtons do away with the red crest and ‘Since 1876’ tag introduced 12 years ago. The result is a “more contemporary expression of the brand”, says the company. The logo focuses on the Warburtons’ name in a bid to give it stronger shelf standout, which is vitally important on the crowded bread fixture, and particularly so given that the three leading names in the category are among the UK’s top ten biggest brands.

Warburtons remains comfortably the number one bread brand but, although it took share from number two bread Hovis, its growth was slower than third-placed bread brand Kingsmill.

Last year also saw Warburtons enjoy a year-long partnership with Coronation Street to mark the series’ 50th anniversary. Activities included Warburtons’ products being used to build a replica of the Rovers Return pub.

In spite of the fate that befell the new snacks range, Warburtons’ innovation pipeline continues to flow. The brand made its first foray into wraps and flatbreads with the launch of Square-ish Wraps and Sandwich Thins in February, and has recently ventured into the burgeoning free-from market with an eight-strong range of gluten-free breads and bakery products, including brown loaves, white and brown sub rolls, teacakes and crumpets.

All backed by the new strapline ‘Warburtons. We care because our name’s on it’.

Britain's 100 Biggest Brands 2011