Saturday, May 04, 2002

New day for Sunny Delight?

Drink relaunched in Britain with more juice; critics want same here

By Cliff Peale
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When Sunny Delight hit the British market in mid-1998, it immediately reached phenomenon status, exceeding all of its projections after three decades of success in the U.S. But it didn't last. Controversies over Sunny Delight's contents and marketing shrank the drink's market share and forced owner Procter & Gamble Co. to spend big to resuscitate its fortunes. Now, Cincinnati-based P&G is hoping for better results from four new flavors and a $19 million ad campaign.

        The troubles have spilled over to this country. A Florida state agency charged with protecting the state's citrus industry has demanded that P&G change Sunny Delight's labeling and even its content — adding more juice and less sugar. P&G has deflected those concerns, noting that its labeling is accurate.

        But its three-year experience in Britain shows all of the pitfalls of introducing “hot” new consumer products in any market throughout the world. That produces expectations. And without a constant flow of new flavors and packages, those expectations can be a double-edged sword, P&G found.

        “We probably sat back for too long without innovating,” said Sally Woodage, P&G's spokeswoman in England. “In soft drinks, you need to be sort of cool and on the street.”

       @Text:Critics of Sunny Delight in both countries make the same argument. They claim surveys show that consumers think Sunny Delight is real juice.

        P&G compounds that confusion by putting Sunny Delight next to real orange juice in the refrigerated section of most supermarkets, the critics say. And by putting pictures of oranges on the packaging, along with words such as “Florida” and “citrus,” the company is inviting consumers to think that Sunny Delight is 100 percent juice, critics charge.

        They claim that Sunny Delight is mostly sugar, no better for children than soft drinks. To make its point, Florida has set up an Internet site,, to encourage consumers to complain directly to P&G.

        “It's our responsibility to protect consumers and the integrity of our product as it relates to what we consider fraudulent marketing,” said Eric Boomhower of the Florida Department of Citrus. “It's tapping into the equity we've spent 60 years and millions of dollars building.”

        P&G responded that consumers aren't confused. They know that Sunny Delight is a “juice drink,” not pure orange juice, its officials contended.

        “They understand what this product is,” Ms. Woodage said.

        That's where P&G's transatlantic experience takes hold. After tripling the amount of juice in Sunny Delight in the United Kingdom, critics want them to do the same in the U.S.

        “If it's good enough for the children over there,” Mr. Boomhower said, “why isn't it good enough for U.S. children?”

        Sunny Delight had been a staple of American children for 34 years when it hit the British market in 1998.

        P&G, maker of flagship brands such as Pampers diapers, Pantene shampoo and Pringles snacks, bought the brand in 1989. Last year, it tried to package Sunny Delight and Pringles in a partnership with Coca-Cola Co. But Coke pulled out of the deal and P&G now says it is intent on bolstering both of those brands.

        In the U.K., Sunny Delight shipments immediately exceeded expectations, spurred by the vaunted P&G marketing and distribution muscle.

        Within 18 months, it had become the UK's third-ranked soft drink, with annual sales approaching 160 million pounds — about $250 million — according to the British publication Guardian Unlimited.

        That ended the day after Christmas in 1999, when media around the world reported that a 5-year-old British girl had turned orange from drinking about two-thirds of a gallon of Sunny Delight.

        The girl turned out to be fine, and the culprit was beta carotene, found in most juice drinks.

        But combined with concern from some British consumer groups and media, the damage was done. By mid-2001, Sunny Delight's British sales had dropped about one-third, according to the Guardian. Ms. Woodage wouldn't reveal numbers, but acknowledged that market share dropped and that Sunny Delight was now No. 7 in its market.

        “We had a brand that was not as successful as it had been,” she said. “We had a public relations challenge, but more importantly, we had a consumer challenge.

        “With Sunny Delight, it just sort of dropped off the shopping list.”

        So P&G installed its turnaround plan. It spent about a year interviewing consumers, and last month, it unveiled the results.

        Included are four new Sunny Delight brands — Apple & Kiwi, Orange Outburst, Black Currant Blast and Tropical Tornado.

        They each feature no added sugar and 15 percent juice — compared with 5 percent juice in the old version and the version sold in the U.S.

        Along with the new product came a new ad campaign, designed to “re-engage” British children.

        “It's early days, but we've gotten a very good reaction from the trade,” Ms. Woodage said. “It's shipping to forecasts.”

        A Cincinnati-based P&G spokeswoman noted that more juice in Sunny Delight means higher prices. There are no plans to unveil the no-sugar alternatives in the U.S., she said.

        Ms. Woodage acknowledged that the lesson from Sunny Delight's U.K. experience was clear: continue to innovate, even if a product shows strong performance. And Sunny Delight has learned that lesson in Britain, she said.

        “Importantly,” she said, “we're doing something.”


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