Faced with a need to breathe new life into its 70 year-old Ribena brand – one of the biggest beverage brands in the UK – pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline has launched an extension of the brand on an immunity and bone health platform, taking advantage of recently approved European health claims. It is the biggest – and fastest – move by any brand in Europe to capitalise on the Article 13.1 health claims approvals.
The British and the Danes are unique in Europe in liking blackcurrant-based drinks. In the UK blackcurrant is synonymous with the Ribena brand, launched in 1938 and today owned by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Marketed since the 1940s as a good source of vitamin C, it’s a non-carbonated beverage that includes dilutables (called cordials in the UK) and ready-to-drink formats.
Ribena is one of the biggest-selling drinks brands in the UK. In fact, it is the country’s 37th largest food and beverage brand overall, with total sales of £152 million ($241 million/ €182 million) in 2011, up 5.2% on the previous year, according to Nielsen data. The brand has been a popular mass-market choice with families – and favoured particularly by mothers to give to children – since the 1950s. But in recent years Ribena has struggled, with sales flat or declining in most years. New flavour variants – including raspberry, blueberry and strawberry as well as a 100% juice line (standard Ribena is around 5% blackcurrant juice) – have failed to lift its fortunes.
Glaxo’s latest attempt to get Ribena growing is to make the most of the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) recently approved Article 13.1 health claims.
While the EU’s Nutrition & Health Claims Regulation has led to the controversial banning of over 80% of all health claims on the basis that there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support them – and to the soon-to-be-total disappearance of health claims in some categories – it has also opened the door to a massive proliferation of health claims approved under Article 13.1 of the regulation. GSK is one of a band of about 20 companies in Europe that is rushing to use these claims before anyone else.
Article 13.1 claims mostly cover benefits associated with vitamins and minerals. At first glance many of them seem pretty mundane but in the absence of more glamorous alternatives they have been given a new lease of life by companies determined to make the best of a bad situation.
Ordinarily the approved claims might be – but it’s still better than having no claims at all. And the key lesson of the last 15 years is that the value of claims is not the claims themselves, but how they are used in marketing.
Don Williams, CEO at London-based brand consultancy PI Global, gives his verdict on Ribena Plus:
“Given that there is a wealth of products out there already offering these benefits it is an obvious bandwagon to jump onto, and while Ribena might not be the first choice for a health-conscious mum to provide these added benefits, I’m sure it’ll have more kid appeal than some of the alternatives.”
“This benefit-driven platform is already familiar to consumers. Vitamin Water has been doing it for a while, other brands promise ingredient-led benefits, and these ingredients would seem to be par for the course. Ribena may not be perceived to be the healthiest of brands but it is loved and trusted and has been banging on about vitamin C forever so in that respect it’s a fairly easy stretch for the brand.”
“But I think that the brand will struggle with young females, who are far more food-picky and increasingly health conscious; I can’t see Ribena being their natural brand of choice for health benefits when there are more credible alternatives.”
An exert from New Business Nutrition, “Pharma giant leverages new EU health claims for immunity and bone health makeover” by Richard Clarke and Julian Mellentin, April 2012