Convenience and wholesale operators have expressed disappointment and frustration over Coca-Cola Enterprises’ decision to make 1.75-litre its standard large-format bottle across all channels.

The contoured bottle was introduced a year ago as an exclusive to the convenience channel.

But last week, CCE announced it was replacing its two-litre ‘straight-wall’ format in supermarkets with the 1.75-litre bottles claiming more shoppers are doing small basket shops more often in the supermarkets.

The move provoked strong reactions in the traditional convenience and wholesale trade. A director of one of the UK’s largest wholesalers said: “The wholesale channel got behind 1.75-litre despite misgivings at its value credentials, and with our help the new format sold exceptionally well.

“Given the support the channel gave to 1.75-litre, it is extremely disappointing that what was launched as an exclusive for convenience is to become a standard pack across the industry. Has CCE’s strategy to help independents completely changed after only a year? Convenience retailers will once again be hit hard with promotions in the multiples - many multiples last year were selling 2-litre as 2-for-£2 or 3-for-£3. What will their promo price be on the 1.75-litre?

“No doubt CCE will argue they do not set promotional pricing in the multiples but surely they are not naive enough to think that by introducing the same SKU to multiples they are helping independents compete? Or perhaps CCE has achieved their objective of “getting the brand moving in convenience again” and reverted to type.”

A director for a leading c-store chain also expressed discontent. “We were told it was exclusive to convenience - but most large suppliers now change their minds as soon as it suits them,” she said. “It does not surprise me in the least - the supermarkets have power over all suppliers and what they want they normally get.”

However, another senior industry source said the two-size strategy had not worked as the multiples did not buy into it for their own c-stores. “This move should simplify things again albeit into the smaller 1.75l rather than the two-litre,” he explained. In a statement, CCE defended the move and claimed it remained a major supporter of the convenience sector. “As leaders in the industry we are committed to leading the soft drinks category in responding to changing shopper needs.

“This means we’re constantly looking for new ways to innovate and better support customers of all sizes. For example, last year we introduced a 250ml format across the Coca-Cola portfolio that was designed specifically to help drive sales of soft drinks in on-the-go environments. The format has performed extremely well for retailers since launch (Nielsen YTD w/e 26 October 2013, Symbols & Independents).

“The 1.75l pack was introduced in 2013 on the back of insight around the convenience shopping mission,” it added. “However, the way people are shopping is changing rapidly. The decision to carry out a wider roll-out has been taken [after] in-depth shopper insights demonstrated that a growing number of convenience purchasing missions are increasingly taking place across a number of different environments - including both c-stores and larger supermarkets. (Kantar Shopper Missions 52 w/e 15 September 2013).

“We continue to invest significantly in the independent retail sector, supported by one of Great Britain’s largest field sales teams,” it added. In 2012, we introduced our Chilled+ merchandising programme across 10,000 independent outlets to drive sales in these stores. In 2013, we began targeting 3,000 convenience retailers with Bev Trac - a spring loaded shelf management system that helps retailers to improve merchandising standards and product visibility to increase sales of on-the-go soft drinks.”