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Are Latin American beverage companies in tune with their consumers?

Latin America’s huge potential in terms of consumption of food and beverages is well known, thanks to booming economies and a positive upward social mobility trend across the region. However, the assumption of a European/US style of consumer development in these economies could be setting some companies off track.

In terms of beverage consumption, what really explains the huge potential for the industry is simple arithmetic: a human being drinks – give or take – 2.2 liters of liquid per day; this includes hot drinks such as tea and coffee, milk, alcoholic drinks such as beer, home-made juices, soft drinks and of course tap water.

The case is that in Latin America, during 2011, around 240 billion liters of commercial and branded beverages were consumed by a population of almost 600 million. 

This means that only half of this liquid intake comes from these branded beverages. The rest of the daily consumption, around one liter per day, is still driven by unbranded commercial beverages, such as freshly squeezed juice sold on the streets, homemade drinks and tap water. 

Billions of sips will inexorably be replaced by some form of brand-named products, concurrent with the economic progress that implies more time out of home and less time to prepare homemade drinks.

The same calculation for a typical European country tells us that only 30 per cent of the total intake comes from non-branded drinks and that number is even lower for the US. 

Industry forecasts are projecting that the total commercial beverage volumes in Latin America will increase by around 3 per cent yearly until 2016. What categories will drive this volume growth? Well, I believe that the answer is also simple, but somehow could be controversial.

If you conduct a survey across many marketing teams, you will probably hear, erroneously, that most Latin America consumers are willing to pay extra for functional products. Some will refer to the much overused "wellness trend". 

Not many companies have actually understood what Latin Americans are willing to drink and this might be one of the reasons why an industry concentration has become more evident in the region. In order to explain this, allow me to use a basic interpretation of the need states analysis model. 

In the mid-Seventies, marketing gurus came up with the need states theory. This model provided a new approach for analyzing consumers, moving from time specific consumption occasion (breakfast, party, etc.) to segmentation by needs; in the case of beverages, needs could go from plain refreshment to relaxation, hydration, energy boost, need for fun, weight management, heart health, and so on.

A basic application of this model would start allocating all existing commercial beverages categories in four different quadrants limited by two axes with the horizontal axis going from Wellness to Indulgence and the vertical axis going from Functional to Refreshing. Something like this:

Ten years ago typical Latin America consumption was driven by indulgence/refreshing drinks (mainly carbonated soft drinks) with more than 40 per cent of total consumption. Many were betting that in future years the opposed segment, the wellness/functional, would start growing as it did in Europe or the US.

Contrary to that, in 2011 indulgence/refreshing drinks represented more than 45 per cent of total consumption, while wellness/functional have lost share of throat accounting for only one quarter of total consumption.

Does this mean that Latin Americans are turning their back on more functional and “healthy” drinks? No. It means that drinks that fulfill the indulgence and refreshing needs are still outperforming the much-hyped new functional drinks, which in many cases will remain limited to something just larger than a niche.

A couple of months ago, while discussing this with an executive of a global company, I received a clear explanation: “Simple," she said. "For a house-wife in El Salvador, wellness means being able to put on top of the family table at lunch time a cold two liter bottle of cola flavor soft drink”.

Drinker: Getty Images

Pedro Ibañez is Latin America director for consumer market group, Canadean

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.