Coke takes sparkle from Irn-Bru

THEY’RE both sweet, but the competition is bitter.

According to new figures, the United States giant Coca-Cola is winning the battle for Scotland’s 525 million soft drinks market, knocking the domestic champion, Irn-Bru, off the number one spot in the struggle for supremacy.

Scotland was long one of the few countries in which a domestic brand outsold the iconic US product. But according to the independent industry ratings experts AC Nielsen, standard Coca-Cola now leads the way in "impulse" buying - which includes purchases from outlets such as convenience stores, petrol stations and off licences - across the country with sales of 23.4 million.

And over the year to 16 August, Diet Coke was number one in the "grocery" sector - sales from supermarkets - with 24.4 million worth sold.

Alan Halliday, the regional director of Coca-Cola Enterprises in Scotland, said the figures were excellent news for the company’s 500 staff here.

He said: "It’s not us that is saying we are number one. Barr’s [the makers of Irn-Bru] say it is them too, but we now have independent data. The AC Neilson report was produced for our customers, the trade and national press.

"We used to have five or six reports monitoring sales and now one will provide consistency for everyone."

According to the figures, Irn-Bru was second to Coke for impulse sales, accounting for just less than 20 million worth, while in supermarkets, Irn-Bru came third behind Coke’s diet and standard products with sales of around 16 million. Irn-Bru’s maker, AG Barr, will not give up its native market without a fight and has embarked on an advertising campaign in Scotland.

Last week, it announced that its soft-drink sales had grown 6 per cent to 65.9 million in the six months to 26 July. Robin Barr, the executive chairman, said the results were thanks to the "very favourable weather".

However, Mr Halliday said: "Our customers and competitors know who AC Neilson are and we accept the figures will reflect good and bad news.

"But saying Irn-Bru is the market leader is an urban myth that has been perpetuated over time."

Alison McHarg, the editor of the trade magazine Scottish Grocer, said the annual dispute over which brand was Scotland’s best-seller was predictable, but the outcome was dependant on the interpretation of the figures.

She added that Irn-Bru had won the number one brand in Scottish Grocer’s annual survey published in January, conducted independently by Taylor Nelson Sofres.

She said: "The fight between them is an annual occurrence. Our survey looked at the top 50 Scottish grocery brands and there is always a dogfight between Coca-Cola and Irn-Bru. The AC Nielsen figures have a lot more weighting to supermarket buying, which right away gives a different figure.

"They are both massive brands and it’s obvious Scots love carbonated drinks.

"I would say they are probably neck-and-neck," added Ms McHarg. "But what is interesting is the rise in sales of bottled water and fruit juices.

"My message to the big guys would be not to fight but keep up the sales, as the competition might not be from carbonated drinks."

No-one was available for comment from AG Barr.