Things haven't got off to a shining start for Sunny Delight Beverages Company, which bought the brand from Procter & Gamble in 2004, either. In March, Asda delisted Sunny D and last month the drink was blamed for turning a river yellow following a spillage, prompting The Daily Mail's gag that it was "not half as bad for children as it is for fish".
That SDBC has decided to 'reinvent' the brand ('Sunny D gets a facelift', The Grocer, 10 June, p70) comes as no surprise, but it's not the first time a rescue mission has been attempted. Launched in 1997, kids transformed Sunny Delight into a brand that generated sales of £150m a year at its height, but concerns over its high sugar content took their toll. In 2001, sales nose-dived by 35% [ACNielsen] and the brand slumped from 16 to 42 in a list of the UK's favourite brands.
P&G tried to rectify matters by throwing a whopping £12m behind a relaunch in 2002 and rebranding it Sunny D in 2003, but to no avail. So what are SDBC's chances?
What the company lacks in P&G's financial firepower - the latest relaunch has cost a more modest £6m (including new product development) - it makes up for in a targeted and credible campaign, believes Jean Jacques Fredj, SDBC's MD for Western Europe. For one, he says, it didn't try to second guess what mums wanted - it asked them directly, setting up a parents advisory group at the end of last year. "It's a very serious message that we're putting out and we need to do it in a way that's open, honest and believable," he reasons. Their feedback revealed that fundamental changes needed to be made. Paul Nicholls, SDBC's UK commercial manager, says: "There are certain things mums don't want to see. The first is high levels of sugar. We have reduced our sugar content by 8% and now have 25% less than other leading brands."
The company has also removed all artificial thickeners and the vegetable oil. Nicholls says that there is now nothing artificial except preservatives and that the goal is to remove even those.
SDBC hasn't stopped there. Later this summer it plans to launch a 100% pure fruit juice, provisionally called Smart Start, enriched with vitamins A, C and E and ingredient du jour, Omega-3. Some will see this as bandwagon jumping, but if SDBC can pull it off it will be no mean feat, given the masking expertise required. Early next year it also hopes to bring to market a new smoothie range, with a working title of Fruit Boost. In France, it has launched a fruit tea and a milk-based drink, both of which, if successful, could be brought to the UK. "Yoghurt would be another natural extension," says Fredj.
Communicating what's happened is vital, he says: "First, we're announcing the change. Then we want people to tell us what they think about it, either through our web site, face to face or the parents' group. Our whole NPD strategy is based on this sort of conversation."
Some proposals, concedes Fredj, won't be feasible, but he feels that there is real scope to stretch the brand. Feedback from retailers has been positive, he adds, and widespread listings of the reinvented Sunny D seem to substantiate that - though there is no sign yet of Asda reversing its decision.
Fredj knows that is not going to be easy. But if mums can be convinced that Sunny D has been transformed into the healthy product it was once only cheekily positioned as, then the first vital step will be have been taken - the restoration of trust.