This article is part of our 2016 Soft Drinks Digital Feature.

Pepsi Max is the cherry on top of Britvic’s sales. With the war on sugar sending shoppers flocking from the carbonates aisle, Pepsi Max is the only top 10 brand to have delivered any meaningful growth in the past year – and it’s mostly thanks to its cherry variant.

Pushing Pepsi Max Cherry’s zero calorie credentials with ads and sampling under the strapline ‘Maximum cherry, no sugar’ has helped the brand grow value sales by 12.3% to £238.1m on volumes up 11.7%, while the rest of the sector has seen sales tumble [IRI 52 w/e 30 January 2016].

The category’s bestselling brand, full-sugar red Coke, is the worst-performing Coke line with value sales down 4.4% to £628.5m on volumes down 1.4%, and even Coca-Cola’s equivalent to Pepsi Max, Coke Zero, is in trouble, with value sales down 2.4% to £92.2m on volumes up 1.2%.

Coke Life is the only Coke variant in growth with value sales up 23.3% from £16.1m to £19.8m on volumes up 5.8%. CCE has recently reformulated the line due to consumer confusion over what the drink actually is. Coke Life originally had 33% less sugar than standard Coke, but will now contain 45% less sugar in a bid to help it become known as a lower-sugar alternative.

The saying goes that if you can’t beat them, join them, and CCE has done just that by taking a leaf out of Pepsi’s book and extending its Coke Zero Cherry into 330ml cans in January.

Also bucking carbonates’ general decline is J20 – another Britvic brand – whose value sales are up 1.2% to £45.1m on volumes up 2.6% largely due to the launch of J20 Spritz, a lower-calorie variant, in February 2015.

The lightly sparkling brand extension comes in three flavours – pear & raspberry, apple & watermelon and peach & apricot – with 23 calories per 100ml. Made In Chelsea star Millie Mackintosh is the face of the brand and the ambassadorship is being pushed in an Instagram-led campaign designed to represent the ‘sparkling nature’ of the drink.

With Pepsi Max Cherry and J20 Spritz accounting for the bulk of Britvic’s ad spend, the company says it will continue to centre NPD on lower calorie offerings.

“This year and beyond will see continued focus on addressing consumer health concerns and the offering of viable alternatives to full-sugar equivalents,” says Britvic’s commercial director at home Phil Sanders. “Britvic has already voluntarily made significant progress in calorie and sugar reduction, taking bold steps to remove over 18 billion calories since 2012 due to specific reformulation activities and delisting full-sugar variants.”

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