The company would not name its challenger but the Patents Office confirmed that the only other product registered under the name Freekee is a liquid candy from Spanish manufacturer Key Enterprises.
Freekee duo Odd Orange and Smooth Strawberry will be re-named Tango Strange Soda from the start of next month and will have a lower price point than the current 62p. The 330ml bottles will initially be price-marked at 49p, rising to 55p.
The move has provoked scepticism from industry experts, one of whom described the £2.1m sales claimed by the company for the products’ first four months as “awful”.
“The challenge is providing a very convenient excuse to re-brand a failing product under a successful banner,” he added.
Kevin Thompson, managing director of brand strategy consultants Brandsmiths, said: “Either Britvic sees the challenge as a credible threat or it is using it as an excuse to re-brand the drink.”
According to Britvic, distribution of the original products, launched in March with a first year marketing budget of £6.25m, has reached 73% of grocery multiples.
Category director Andrew Marsden said they were outperforming other well-established brands such as Panda Pops, T&T, Alive and Five Alive by rate of sale.
Britvic has has not spent all of the £6.2m so far but is now planning to spend £5m on the relaunch, with a two-week ‘name change’ campaign from this weekend and a new TV, online, sampling and promotions campaign set for October.
Retailers, however, are unimpressed. “It has been a most disappointing launch,” said Len Hooper, buyer for Budgens. “People don’t want hybrid products and this didn’t even have the support of an umbrella brand when it launched.
“Things may improve under the Tango name but I doubt it. It’s ironic that Britvic is throwing money at this when Fruit Shoot is storming away.”
Richard Hall, chairman of drinks consultancy Zenith International offered a little more hope. “It’s great when companies take products into new territory,” he said. “But the taste concept has clearly proven difficult for consumers to grasp. The Tango brand may provide a safer haven for this sort of experiment.”