Analyst warns that GSK’s ‘strategic masterstroke’ with Ribena Plus could backfire

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

Analyst warns that GSK’s ‘strategic masterstroke’ with Ribena Plus could backfire
Despite shrewd use of an EU ‘immunity support’ health claim, GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK’s) new Ribena Plus risks consumer confusion and cannibalisation of regular product sales, a beverage industry expert has warned.

Writing in the April issue of print publication New Nutrition Business​, editor and industry analyst Julian Mellentin described GSK’s use of an article 13.1 immunity-vitamin C claim (under the European Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation) for Ribena Plus as the “biggest and fastest move by any brand in Europe to capitalise on the Article 13.1 health claims approvals”.

Blackcurrent-based drink Ribena’s UK sales rose 5.2% year-on-year in 2011 (₤152m), but had seen declines in recent years, Mellentin said.

‘Flawed’ marketing strategy

Asked why Ribena’s fortunes were flagging, Mellentin told “Ribena has stalled because GSK’s marketing strategy and execution is flawed, and their NPD process doesn’t seem to deliver much that’s new and appeals to customers in a winning way.”

Where new flavour variants had failed, GSK hoped that February launch Ribena Plus (sold on the basis of EFSA-approved Article 13.1 [mostly vitamin and mineral] health claims approved within the EU) and aimed at young female consumers and mothers with young families would succeed, he added.

As a Ribena sub-brand Ribena Plus offers consumers either ‘immunity support’ or ‘healthy bones’ upon the basis of Vitamin A and C content, but Mellentin said that the launches demonstrated GSK’s “clear lack of understanding of the fundamentals of food and health strategy”.

Therefore, what could have been a “strategic masterstroke”​ for GSK – grabbing a Vitamin C immunity support health claim that resonated strongly with consumers ahead of the opposition – risked backfiring, he warned.

Launching Ribena Plus as a brand extension probably seemed a low-risk strategy for GSK executives, Mellentin said, but not applying the immunity claim across the whole Ribena range meant that Ribena Plus risked cannibalising regular Ribena sales with no net sales gain.

He told “I think GSK should have gone for a logical use of immunity-vitamin C using the 13.1 claim across the whole brand, and positioned themselves as the ‘expert brand’ in immunity.

“It’s logical to consumers, who already make the vitamin C-immunity link in their minds, and they could say something like: ‘you’ve always known it – now it’s proven and approved by the EU.”

Bone health begins at 40…

Mellentin added: “With long-term consumer communication, a [Danone] Actimel-type marketing effort and perhaps some better product formats (smaller packs for individual consumption, maybe a shot version), I bet they could have got a 10% lift in sales each year for 2-3 years before reaching the next ‘natural’ ceiling.”

The bone health variant (added calcium) was the most likely candidate for an “early demise”​, the analyst predicted. “Immunity is a powerful enough benefit to focus on. Bone health…is appealing to a much smaller group, and hardly at all to the young female consumers Ribena says it is targeting,”​ he said.

Mellentin added: “Ribena [GSK] must be one of the few companies that hasn’t yet worked out that the bone health consumer starts at age 40.”

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