In chess, the first mover always has an advantage. The same applies in grocery. Look at the £446m Diet Coke is now worth for proof. When it launched in 1982, it was the UK’s first sugar-free cola. If measured as a separate entity, not as a part of the parent brand (as all brands are in this report), Diet Coke would today be the seventh-biggest name in grocery. 

“Examples of spot on strategy and rock solid execution abound in Britain’s Biggest Brands 2015”

But chess players have a saying: if you see a good move, look for a better one. And in 1993, Pepsi dealt its masterstroke: ‘maximum taste, zero sugar’ Pepsi Max. This was no me-too diet cola. Aimed more at younger, predominantly male drinkers, rather than the mostly female audience of Diet Coke, Max recognised that it’s not only women who want cola without the calories. 

Twenty two years on, Pepsi is the UK’s fastest growing brand, having racked up an extra £31.4m at the tills in the past year and climbed a place up our ranking to ninth. Max now accounts for more than half of Pepsi’s value and has delivered most of its growth, a feat that’s taken an inspired strategy of viral marketing and re-engineering of formats and prices to reflect the changing nature of retail in today’s deflationary climate. 

Examples abound of such strategising in Britain’s 100 Biggest Brands 2015: a perfect mix of defence and offence, combined with rock solid execution. McVitie’s and Jacob’s are reaping the rewards of their new masterbrand strategies and advances into convenience; Alpro has vaulted 22 places up the ranking, riding on the boom in the free-from market and expansion into new sectors; Volvic and Evian have capitalised on the woes of the wider soft drinks sector by trumpeting the health credentials of water and leveraging the strength of their brands with new, sweeter, fruit-flavoured products. 

All this leaves me waiting for the next masterstroke from Britain’s biggest brand, Coke, down nearly £30m. Coke Zero, a me-too launched over a decade after Max, wasn’t it. Only half of drinkers realise Zero contains no sugar. With sugar intake under such scrutiny, I doubt ‘mid sugar’ Coke Life (actually, it contains only a third less sugar than the full fat version) is it either. But the decision to market the entire portfolio under a single brand umbrella to clearly differentiate each offering might just be.

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