Drinks with drive

In his first ever media interview in Northern Ireland as General Manager of Coca-Cola HBC Ireland and Northern Ireland, Matthieu Seguin discusses the brand’s innovative new functional products and getting the soft drinks category right in store.

In his first ever media interview in Northern Ireland as General Manager of Coca-Cola HBC Ireland and Northern Ireland, Matthieu Seguin discusses the brand’s innovative new functional products and getting the soft drinks category right in store.

Matthieu Seguin has been at the helm of Coca-Cola HBC here for one year. In that one year, he has been the driving force behind developing a new line of products that will take Coca-Cola HBC into a whole new category that is thriving in the drinks sector. He joined the Coca-Cola System in December 2009 as Group International Customer Director and in May 2011, he was appointed Country Commercial Director for Coca-Cola HBC in Nigeria. In March last year, he and his family made their way to Ireland, which will be their home for the foreseeable future. “I’m loving Northern Ireland,” said the chief in his first press interview here. “I’ve been doing a lot of travelling and we’ve been doing weekends away. It’s a beautiful country and Coca-Cola has such a great heritage here so when you come to Northern Ireland and you see the plant and the number of people working on the lines, you realise how rooted the brand and business is in the local community.”

Indeed Coca-Cola’s NI story will take you back. It started in Belfast in 1939, before moving on to Lambeg and then in 2008 it settled in Lisburn where the facility employs over 450 staff to produce, distribute, market and sell a wide range of soft drinks. The Coca-Cola Company’s portfolio includes international brands such as Coca-Cola, Fanta, Sprite and Schweppes. In addition, Coca-Cola HBC also manufacturers and markets local brands such as Deep RiverRock and Fruice and, now, Vegified and Deep RiverRock’s new Relax and Revive (R&R) line. And while Matthieu won’t take all the credit for the new launches, which were envisioned and realised all in his first year of being here, his role, undoubtedly was key in kick-starting work in the field of functional drinks for Coca-Cola HBC in Ireland. “It was a team effort,” said Matthieu who hails from Normandy, France. “I’m a firm believer of innovation and there is a huge trend in the industry for health and functional products and we recognized an opportunity to do more in this area. My challenge was to enable the team to play in that field. Everyone worked together across the supply chain and came up with an impressive pipeline of products” he added. The new Coca-Cola HBC lines include Vegified – a vegetable and fruit juice that contains 45 per cent nutrient reference value of six key vitamins in every one of its 300ml servings. There are four flavour combinations in the range; Beetroot and Strawberry, Pumpkin Ginger and Orange, Cucumber and Lime and Bell Pepper and Orange. Meanwhile Relax and Revive (R&R)– part of the Deep RiverRock family – is a range that offers ‘hydration plus benefits’. Infused with minerals and herbal extracts there are four R&R choices; Magnesium or Zinc to revive and Mint and Lavender for relaxing.

Vegified retails at £1.45 while R&R is priced at £1.10 and both products will allow the soft drinks giant to take a cut of one of the fastest growing categories in grocery. Health and functional drinks are valued at €9 million and have grown 42 per cent year on year in value and volume according to Nielsen – a growth area that Coca-Cola HBC wants a piece of. “It’s an important evolution,” admitted Matthieu on the launches. “This is all about answering to a need for different flavours and functional benefits, but I am very confident about the uniqueness of the products. “What we have created with Vegified is a very different taste profile. The good news is, with the four SKUs, everyone will have one they like.” Vegified will be sold in symbol groups, independents and multiples, explained Matthieu, but it will also open the doors to new customers for Coca-Cola HBC. “It will allow us to be present in other more outlets where you don’t see much of our products; health stores and specialist cafes for example. It’s crafty, trendy and very different from our Coca- Cola products. “These new Coca-Cola HBC products will also benefit from the company’s excellent distribution and sales network,” he explained. New brand launches aren’t the only developments the Coca-Cola HBC GM has overseen in his one year at the Co. Antrim firm. Working with The Coca-Cola Company, Coca- Cola Hellenic Bottling Company have also been part of reformulating many of the Coca-Cola’s portfolio of products. This is designed to help consumers manage their sugar intake and as a response to the impending sugar tax, which will be imposed on sugar-sweetened drinks this time next year. “As a company we are committed to playing our part in helping to tackle obesity, however we don’t believe that sugar tax is the best way to do it,” expressed Matthieu.

“We have been very active in reformulation for over 40 years, which we know has the greatest impact on obesity. We also offer clear information about our products, and across our portfolio we are adopting colour-coded nutritional information to help our consumers make informed decisions. “Furthermore, we are committed to innovation, and believe it is a way to drive the portfolio in the context of sugar tax,” he explained. Research has shown that people are switching from regular full sugar drinks to no sugar alternatives. Defra’s Family Food Survey showed that between 2004 and 2014, purchases of regular soft drinks declined by 44 per cent, with the same volume made up by increases in no sugar drinks and water.

Further data from Kantar shows that the sugar from soft drinks bought in the shops for consumption at home has fallen by 14 per cent between 2012 and 2016 and with this in mind, Matthieu has some advice for retailers to capitalise on the changing mood in the category. “I look at the feedback and soft drinks is still the most profitable category in store. It’s also the most fast-moving. To capitalise, retailers should look at availability and carry the right stock. “What are the SKUs that need to be there? Is your shelf and cooler space dedicated to the right products? You don’t want a consumer seeking a product that is not there, out of stock or one that is not chilled,” he advised. Matthieu also insists that retailers should get on board with promotional activity too; “Take advantage of any marketing activity that we do, such as our current launch support for Revive & Relax and Vegified, or Coca-Cola’s ‘Cook by Numbers’ campaign, which is live across stores.

“That’s all done to help sell more and sell better, and it allows your consumers to see that you’re on top of latest trends. “With our new product innovations, we will also attract new people into the store and with creative shopper marketing, we will support incremental revenue growth for you.” Vegified, for example, will be supported by a full marketing campaign to include OOH, digital, PR, experiential sampling and it will be supported by a full suite of impactful displays and equipment in store informed Matthieu. Coca-Cola may be the world’s third biggest brand according to Interbrand, only tipped off the top spot, since the digital revolution took force so you’d be forgiven for thinking that Coca- Cola can afford to take a rest and, here in NI, consider the response to its new drinks on the block. Not the case. “Many people might believe that Coca-Cola sells itself, but we do not take that for granted. We continue to listen to consumers about what they want, and to anticipate new developments within the category. “There are a lot of new trends out there and we want to keep raising the bar for ourselves. We need to address new consumer needs. “We’ve a lot of respect for our competitors and they are not asleep right now so we need to be one step ahead,” added Matthieu.

So what’s in the pipeline? “There’s a lot more to come in Q2 including a massive innovation on Fanta. “There will be a new design of the bottle and it is very different. We’re also going to reformulate some of our Fanta variants as part of the new launch. “We have been very active in reformulation and on the packaging of every single one of our products we have nutritional information clearly labelled – even on water. For us innovation is a way to drive the portfolio in the context of sugar tax.”

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