Refresh yourself

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

Getty
Show Hide image

BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.