Brand profile: Ribena

By targeting young adults and highlighting a natural environmentally friendly image, Ribena is expanding with increased sales and new variants

The favourite of generations of children is not only attracting an older following but also looking to squeeze into new categories. Ribena is one of those quintessentially English brands that generations have grown up with and it can boast the ultimate in brand recognition: being asked for by name. You rarely hear anyone request a blackcurrant squash as they would with other fruit cordials.

Derived from the Latin for blackcurrant, Ribes nigrum, Ribena was invented by a chemist in 1933. So it is somewhat fitting that today it is owned by pharmaceutical giant, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

The brand has been manufactured in the Forest of Dean for 60 years, and 95 per cent of all blackcurrants grown in Britain go into Ribena, supplied by 41 blackcurrant growers across the UK and Ireland, some of whom have been working with the brand since 1947.

For many, Ribena conjures up images of long lazy summers, picnics and of course childhood. But the brand has undergone something of a quiet revolution in recent years and, although historically a children’s drink, young adults are now the biggest consumers of Ribena and their thirst for the brand has made it worth more than £250 million (AC Nielsen/GSK).

Brand innovation has seen Ribena extend beyond the traditional deep-purple bottle of squash into different flavours, “light” variants and a ready-to-drink (RTD) range that tapped into the “lunch on the go” market. Now Ribena is looking to move in on the breakfast juice category with the launch this summer of Ribena 100% Pure Juice.

GSK sees this as a category worth significant investment, putting a £5 million marketing push behind the launch including a TV commercial created by M&C Saatchi, a radio sponsorship campaign and in-store activity.

A nationwide tour, Ribena Harvestival, kicked off in June, visiting 42 towns and cities across the UK over a three-month period. Described as a cross between a farmer’s market and country fair, the Harvestival linked up with local producers and farmers and provided an opportunity to sample the new Pure Juice.

Running alongside the above-the-line and brand experience activity was a major on-pack created by Billington Cartmell across both the squash and RTDs. The Grand Taste of Summer targeted over-16s with the chance to win £1,000 every day – a “grand” – and was heavily supported in-store across the summer.

While on one level the brand has been targeting a number of different media channels over the summer with a hard-hitting marketing campaign, it has also been working on lower-key environmental programmes that may not be as high profile but still strike an important chord with consumers.

A joint conservation plan with the growers and the Wildlife Trusts ensures the Ribena blackcurrant fields are as wildlife friendly as possible with 2,000 new bird boxes introduced to farms last year.

The brand is also committed to recycling and has created the world’s first 100 per cent recycled and recyclable drinks bottle which has been extended across the Ribena RTD and squash range. And they have installed reverse vending machines, which encourage consumers to recycle plastic bottles, on a number of high streets across the UK.

According to GSK, the environmental work is in tune with the brand’s consumers, 78 per cent of whom regularly use recycling facilities and 90 per cent of whom think products should use more recycled materials (based on GSK consumer research).

However the move into the breakfast juice category will require the consumer to see Ribena as a different product – a fruit juice not a squash. The fact that the brand has always played strongly on its health benefits, with a strong vitamin C content, will be a huge boost within this health-conscious category. But will it be able to convince shoppers to swap from their carton of Tropicana or own-label fruit juice, especially when spend on the weekly grocery shop gets squeezed as tight at the berries that make the juice?

Brand CV

1930s Dr Vernon Charley developed Ribena

1947 Ribena production starts

1955 Factory acquired by Beechams, later GlaxoSmithKline

1982 Ribena cartons – one of the first drinks to use Tetra Paks

2008 Ribena 100% Pure Juice launched

Brand manager: Sandi Boyden

2008 Brand manager, Ribena

2006 Brand activity manager, Ribena

2002 Brand manager, Nestlé (New Zealand)