The smoothie market is diversifying from its niche urban stronghold as a functional drink to a more general health-conscious customer base, including the family and take-home sectors

Smoothies have come a long way since they first appeared in the UK a decade ago. The general consensus is that the smoothies phenomenon has added much-needed value to the drinks sector and helped to drive market interest in functional drinks.
Several factors, including the Brits’ growing enthusiasm for everything healthy and their thirst for portable ‘good for you’ options, have all played a big part in the success story of the drink, which now account for 1.4% of the fruit juice market [TNS, 52 w/e January 30, 2005].
The government’s 5-a-day fruit and veg plan has also helped grow sales of the popular drinks, which are based predominantly on whole crushed fruits.
In the past year, total smoothie sales jumped 36% to £27m. And, according to people in the know, there is still great opportunity for further growth.
“Although smoothies have grown out of a tiny niche, they still do best in London and other urban areas with a strong youth culture. The concept doesn’t yet have huge national awareness. What smoothies have to do is break out of the big cities and go more mainstream by widening both their consumer base and their on-the-go consumption appeal,” says Laura Kingsman, trading manager for juices and smoothies at Musgrave Budgens-Londis.
The key players, PJ Smoothies - which was recently snapped up by PepsiCo UK - and Innocent are doing just that by developing their packaging and ranging to move them into the mainsteam take-home and family sectors.
Innocent, for example, took its battle further afield last year, attacking the take-home market by going into cartons for the first time, in a bid to take on juice giants like Tropicana. Available in four flavours, the one-litre Tetra Pak cartons debuted in Sainsbury, Waitrose, Somerfield and Asda in July 2004. And, to secure a slice of the children’s market, the company also announced the launch of Smoothies for Kids in March, going head to head with PJ’s Froootie range, which has been on shelf since September 2003.
Functional smoothies is another area waiting to be explored, according to PJ. “Functional smoothies are a very strong growth area as consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their benefits, with 80% of people in the UK claiming to be aware of the benefits of healthy living. People are looking for short cuts to health
all the time,” says CEO Andrew King.
Innocent accounts for 39% of the market compared to PJ’s 34%, according to ACNielsen Scantrack [MAT w/e January 22, 2005]. Both companies worked hard during the past 12 months to stay ahead of the game. PJ relaunched its range and changed pack sizes as well as launching a new web site.
Meanwhile, Innocent invested more than £2m in the category to help it grow. This money was spent on everything from a massive regional sampling campaign, holding a free musical festival, to advertising in 16 key urban areas.
There have been a number of forays by soft drink giants into the lucrative sector - the price of smoothies are more than double that of fruit juices - but with no significant success so far. Their failure to penetrate the market is clear, if you ask The Juice Company, manufacturer of the Smoothie Smile range.
“The big boys have launched very cheap alternatives to 100% pure fruit smoothies. If you are going to launch a product using cheap ingredients, add 6% fruit and charge £1.50 for it, the consumer is going to notice,” says managing director Josephine Carpenter.
“It is like Aston Martin launching a cardboard car that looks the same to the naked eye. But when you drive it, the performance is not what you expected for the money you have paid - but it is the performance you have paid for.”
Smaller companies have also been keen to get a bit of the action but have struggled to find a niche in what is still a relatively small market. Last April, New Covent Garden Food Company brought out a seven-strong collection of fruit juice blends in a bid to invade smoothie territory. The newcomer hit shelves backed by a £3.5m advertising campaign - a sizeable chunk of the overall brand’s £8m marketing budget for the year - but the range was delisted from Sainsbury in January due to “lack of demand”, according to Sainsbury’s juices and smoothies buyer, Michael Luck.
However, successful newcomers to the category could prove positive for existing manufacturers, as PJ’s King explains: “We welcome healthy competition. What is important to us is that we all continue to grow the category. Attracting new consumers is key to growth and if we can all achieve this then there is room for everyone in the category.”