Feature

Brand Health Check: Sunny D

A generation of mums fell in love with the child-friendly fruit drink - until they realised what was in it. Mark Sweney asks whether the brand's new owner can restore its fortunes.

Just a few years ago Sunny D was being hailed as a case study in marketing excellence. Launched in 1998 as Sunny Delight, the fruit drink quickly established itself as the most successful UK grocery launch of the decade. But its low-juice/high-sugar content drew criticism from the anti-obesity lobby, in particular because it was placed in chiller cabinets alongside pure juice brands.

With consumers looking for healthier diets, sales of Sunny D have nose-dived. The brand has lost market share to Ribena, Ocean Spray, Robinsons and Tropicana, and the rise of health drinks such as smoothies and vitamin-rich yoghurt-based drinks from companies including Danone has added to the competition. According to Mintel, Sunny D led the juice drink sector in 2000 with a 22% market share, but by 2002 it held just 10% of the market.

Volume sales have plummeted by 45.9% from 157m litres to 85m litres over the period.

From 2001, Procter & Gamble, which launched the brand, made several attempts to reposition it. Advertising began to target parents instead of children, and early attempts to have the drink placed closer to chilled juices in UK supermarkets were abandoned. In 2002 a healthier positioning was adopted: the juice content was tripled from 5% to 15%, its sugar content was reduced and a range called Light Sunny Delight was introduced. Last year a rebrand saw the adaptation of the name to Sunny D, while calcium was added to boost its credentials as a healthy alternative to fizzy drinks. But a leading drinks sector analyst says: 'These innovations have so far failed to turn around the brand's fortunes.'

Earlier this year, P&G finally made the decision to jettison the controversial brand and sold it to private equity group JW Childs Associates of Boston.

The new owner has yet to reveal its marketing strategy for reviving the brand.

We asked Dave Wallwork, managing director of The Feel Good Drinks Company and former category development director at Coca-Cola Enterprises, and Duncan Bird, managing partner of Soul, which handles advertising for Coca-Cola brands such as Five Alive and Fanta, whether there is any way back for Sunny D.

VITAL SIGNS

Brand 2002 sales* Share 2000 sales Share % change

(ltrs m) (%) (ltrs m) (%) 2000-02

Sunny D 85 10 157 22 -45.9

Ocean Spray 69 8 57 8 21.1

Ribena 67 8 64 9 4.7

Robinsons 48 6 14 2 242.9

Others 178 21 110 15 61.8

Own-label 387 46 313 44 23.6

Total 834 100 715 100 16.6

Source: Mintel *estimated

DIAGNOSIS 1 - Dave Wallwork, Managing director, The Feel Good Drinks Company

Sunny D was a smart idea: give the kids something fun and tasty that mum thinks is good for them. That still works. Health is more important than ever for mums, and what kids want doesn't change much.

The strapline 'The great taste kids go for' and fresh juice packaging cues did too good a job: the kids wanted loads of it and mum thought it was juice. The brand crashed because mums became convinced that it had lied and been found out, and after Sunny D's initial success, the media loved trashing it.

Endless relaunches - no sugar, more juice, more vitamins - still haven't fixed the fundamentals. Sunny D talks healthy but has some scary ingredients.

And as volume has crashed, so has investment. Today, kids aren't asking for it and mums remain sceptical.

The core idea of juice-based drinks with health benefits as an alternative to fizzy pop is a good one. The next generation of mums will be more focused on health and better informed - only they will decide whether Sunny D can be successful again.

REMEDY

- Improve product quality. Use good ingredients to create a product that mums can genuinely trust and kids love to drink.

- Be honest when talking to mums. Keep it simple and focus on a single core message.

- Drive demand from the kids as well as approval from mums.

- Lighten up, have fun, be positive, be confident. Make them feel good and they'll love you.

DIAGNOSIS 2 - Duncan Bird Managing partner, Soul

As a boy I loved Fry's Turkish Delight, which was 'full of Eastern promise' - a strapline that created a sense of innocent escape never achieved by the other 'Delight'.

Sunny D has become a cause celebre for those who knock the marketing industry. The internet is full of people tearing into the brand, which has become marketing's very own Axis of Evil. For example: 'As a decent citizen, I must make my stand against the forces of evil. It started as a few innocent-looking bottles (of Sunny D) in the fridges of my local supermarket ...' In retrospect, early advertising shot from the inside of a fridge looking out - for a product that doesn't need to chilled - was a mistake. And claiming that everyone was drinking it when it had only just been launched was at best economical with the truth.

When P&G throws in the towel you know that a brand needs some serious help. The dictionary defines delight as 'something that gives great pleasure or enjoyment'. That's something only Sunny D's critics are getting.

REMEDY

- Get a new name, again. Drop the 'Sunny' as well as the 'Delight'.

- Get healthier. There is no substitute for getting rid of the nasties and not adding other nasties in.

- Get honest. Don't claim to be what you're not. Don't be economical with the truth; tell the whole truth.

- Get a better appearance. Drop the Day-Glo colours. Use natural colours - perhaps even those of the fruit contained in the drink.