Fentimans is a UK-based manufacturer selling “premium” soft drinks and mixers, with its “botanically brewed” products ranging from Curiosity Cola to its Connoisseurs Tonic Water.

According to the company’s most recent publicly-available accounts (which cover the calendar year 2022), just under half of the privately-owned group’s turnover is generated in the UK, with the US alone accounting for approximately 10% of gross sales.

Fentimans saw its top line recover in 2022 to pre-pandemic levels but indicated the pressure on consumer spending sparked by high inflation “certainly impacted demand” during the year. Profits were lower in 2022 than in 2021.

The brand looks to leverage an old-fashioned British aesthetic in its packaging and, although yet to publish its 2023 accounts, is upbeat about its prospects.

Verdict Food Service’s sister site Just Drinks sat down with Jayne Andrews, Fentimans’ marketing director, to discuss the company’s brand positioning, consumer confidence and the trends shaping the soft-drinks sector.

Just Drinks: How satisfied was Fentimans with sales and growth performance last year?

Jayne Andrews: We actually finished pretty strongly considering everything else that was going on in the world last year, with external pressures of energy and Ukraine and all of that. We made a profit [similar to 2022], we finished strongly and [are] coming into this year pretty optimistic actually.

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Just Drinks: How does Fentimans work to differentiate itself from brands like Fever-Tree or Dalstons from a marketing perspective?

Andrews: We focus on our botanical brewing. Every single drink that comes out of Fentimans goes through a botanical brewing process, similar to how you would brew beer. Every drink that we have has, as part of that brewing process, a ginger base. You can’t taste ginger in everything but what you can taste is this extra kind of punchiness in all of our flavours that we’re quite proud of.

Everything’s got the botanically brewed ginger base in it and then also, once the base is made, we then add in the that are all flavours made in-house in Hexham, Northumberland, so we’re not mass produced.

Just Drinks: What’s the market penetration like for Fentimans in the UK and globally?

Andrews: We have about 10% in-home and 25% of the growing premium soft drinks [UK market], so that’s our value share. We’re the number one selling premium ginger beer in the UK, and we’re in 70 markets globally. Some of our bigger markets outside of the UK are The Netherlands (probably our second biggest market), Chile and Albania.

Just Drinks: When you're looking at investment and expansion plans for this year, is the strategy to focus on existing markets, or are there still plans to enter more?

Andrews: We're always looking out [to see] if there's an opportunity. There might be a market that we're not in and we'll put some consideration into whether we want to go in or not. But we're in plenty of places. A lot of it is about just getting deeper, better distribution, better rate of sale and in more places.

We've obviously got some markets that are bigger than others. We can't be huge in 70 countries. We’ve got some focus ones where we go: "Yeah, we're just going to work hard to make these bigger and better." For example, I think we're almost on the edge of being [in the] top ten rose lemonades on Amazon in the US. It’s obviously a focus but with countries that big there’s always more you can do.

Just Drinks: Is production holding up for the global market with the facility in Hexam?

Andrews: The flavours are made there but the actual production happens in a couple of different sites. Once we have our ginger base and our flavours, they get put into the bottles or the cans and carbonated and everything elsewhere. But we’re keeping up.

Just Drinks: Fentimans is a soft drink but you also advertise as a drinks mixer. Is that a market you’re working to penetrate specifically? Is it difficult to market to these two different segments?

Andrews: One of the things with our softs is, if you think of things like rose lemonade or ginger beer, they're actually really good mixers as well. I would say some of our hero drinks that do really well are the ones that are really versatile because you can buy them as a soft but you can put them in the fridge and put ginger beer with rum or rose lemonade with Prosecco.

Fentimans soft drinks on sale in Morrisons, Sidcup, United Kingdom, 20 March 2024
Fentimans soft drinks on sale in Morrisons, Sidcup, United Kingdom, 20 March 2024. Credit: Just Drinks

We also have our tonics, which we're less well known for, but the versatility of our softs almost gives us that sort of entry point into getting people to know about our tonics as well. It's great when we get a new customer but the most important thing is being on menus, and that's how you drive the rate of sale. The best way you can do that is by coming up with really good serves that people want to buy and making sure you keep up with the trends of what people want to drink.

Even though people are going out less, when they do go out they really want to make it count

Andrews: Obviously, you'd be blind to not see that people are going out a little bit less the last year or so, you know, watching their pennies. One of the trends we have seen is that, even though people are going out less, when they do go out they really want to make it count. They want to make sure it's a premium experience. We think there's a place for soft drinks that are premium and more special so that when you do go out you actually make a night of it.

The other trend that feeds into that is low and no. People used to go out and, if they weren't drinking, they might go to the bar and they panic and they buy… I won't say the brand but they might buy something that's on tap and think: "Oh, I'm really disappointed with my drink."

We want to make sure people don't have that bar disappointment. I think with the low-and-no trend, we have a really good opportunity to make sure that the soft drinks people order are just as good as alcoholic ones.