Powering up the energy drink sector

With a diverse career background holding senior positions at well-known companies such as Sanitarium, Fonterra and Vodafone (now One NZ), NZ Marketing caught up with Allison Yorston, as she embarks on her second year as the Chief Marketing Officer for Frucor Suntory Oceania.

After starting out at Frucor primarily focusing on the juice portfolio, Allison was presented with an opportunity to step up to brand director, a role she held for almost four years overseeing the juice and Pepsi brand portfolio in New Zealand.

Following this stint, another exciting opportunity beckoned, drawing her to the other side of the marketing spectrum, where she worked with V, Boss Coffee, and Rockstar (another energy drink owned by Pepsi). Just over a year ago, restructuring occurred within the marketing team, and she was offered the chance to take up the position of Chief Marketing Officer.

“It’s been a great journey since I’ve been here. Five years of lots of variety and lots of change, and it really is a great business to be part of,” she says with a smile.

Although she had extensive experience in the industry prior to becoming the CMO, Allison says the role was quite different to anything she had done before and gave her a new perspective on the business.

“When you’re a junior marketer and you look up at exec teams, you’re like, ‘Wow, they must know all the answers to everything.’ But actually, it’s just different people working on different business challenges.

“For me, that was really interesting to have that step up and experience that and go, ‘Oh yeah, I can totally add value to the conversation and feel like I can bring a perspective that represents my team and also my knowledge of the business.’”

Her change in role ultimately came as the result of a change in the structure of Frucor’s marketing model. This meant that the Frucor part of the business was now much more connected to the Suntory business. Part of Allison’s first challenge was figuring out how to design this model in a way that worked for both Suntory and Frucor.

This also meant Allison was in charge of recruiting for a few new roles, all of which was a new experience for her.

“There was a lot of change and at times, it was really quite challenging, but I think the thing that really helped was having a really supportive boss in my CEO, Darren Fullerton,” she says.

“I also knew the business pretty well, so that’s where the benefit of working across all the different portfolios was super helpful. I had my own sense of how things were and what they looked like. That really helped me develop a ‘north star’ for what I wanted us to be as a marketing team and where I wanted us to go.”

Allison says her experience with the company helped her to have more confidence, as she had already worked in different parts of the portfolio and had asked all the questions, which allowed her to concentrate on other jobs. It also gave her confidence that she knew what she was doing and was guiding her team in the right direction.

Transitioning from her previous role, Allison gained valuable insights into the energy drinks category. Notably, she had the opportunity to delve into key developments, including the recent introduction of V Tropical Tang and the success of V Refresh, which stood out as the beverage category’s most remarkable launch in the past year and possibly even the last five years.

“V is a great New Zealand icon. I think even though we sell a lot of V in Australia, I love the fact that it was developed in New Zealand. We feel such ownership as a country and also as a New Zealand business unit because that’s where it all started. V is an amazing brand to work on.”

Following Covid 19, consumption in the energy drink category experienced double digit growth, which was a welcome surprise, and to some extent the company has even struggled to keep up with demand.

“Off the back of that, we really challenged ourselves to go, V is the market leading energy drink across Australia and New Zealand, so how do we keep pushing the boundaries? How do we keep growing this brand, connecting with our consumers, and what does that look like?”

This led to a tweaking of the brand position in 2021 and the relaunching of the well-known ‘Bugs’ communication campaign off the back of that. This new campaign was an evolution of the ‘Bugs’ from the original TVC spots that aired in the early 2000’s.

“When we were talking to our consumers, they were saying, ‘I love an energy drink, and rather than it being something I’d reach for because I’ve got an assignment that I need to deliver, I want to look at it with a positive lens.’

“That really helped us tweak and move the positioning on to talk about V in terms of positive energy. It’s about the fact that V can help you be the best version of yourself in those moments where you need a little bit of help. And that means your friends, the people around you, will see you like that.

“Refresh was about how we can deliver a liquid that’s delicious but quite refreshing, zero sugar and just really tasty? Off the back of that, we’ve seen huge growth and lots of people coming back to the V brand.”

Allison says sometimes Frucor Suntory’s audience discover energy drinks while they are at university, but stop drinking them when they mature and go out into the workforce. However, according to customer research, customers want to look at the drinks through a more positive lens. Instead of being something that gets them through studying hard for an exam by themselves, consumers were wanting something that delivers more positive energy for day to day boosts.

“That’s where V Refresh has played a really strong part in bringing new users back to the brand, giving people a reason to reconsider, and they’re also really loving the liquid.”

Allison also works with the Boss brand, a canned coffee beverage that is the number one selling coffee drink in Japan.

“A lot of Australian and New Zealanders go to Japan, drink Boss over there and come back and go, ‘Oh, I wish I could get it here. It’s so delicious.’ That’s been really interesting because by launching that brand, we’ve established a new category in the beverage market in New Zealand and Australia called ready-to-drink coffee.”

Before Boss, the canned coffee category didn’t really exist in New Zealand, she says. “People would either have a hot coffee from the barista, or they’d have an instant coffee from home, or they might have a drink that might be coffee flavoured but wasn’t really a coffee. What we saw was an opportunity for an on-the-go coffee that actually tasted like a coffee rather than a flavoured milk, that was convenient.”

While customer research showed that morning coffee was sacred, there were other moments throughout the day when consumers were looking for a boost of energy, and it was these moments that presented an opportunity for Boss.

“Off the back of that insight, we launched into the market and it’s just been growing amazingly over the last couple of years. We’ve expanded the range and are continuing to drive it.”

As for her favourite beverage from Frucor Suntory’s range, Allison says she loves all the brands in their portfolio.

“I certainly don’t have any favourite children, but V and Boss are growing at such a fast rate. When we think of the energy category and we think of the energy needs state that our consumers are in, they’re a really important part of our business because they represent what our business is about, which is about providing energy solutions for our consumers.”

But as with any job, there has to be a reason get out of bed in the morning and something more meaningful than just that first sip of coffee. So what does Allison get out of her role as CMO?

“I remember someone saying to me once, ‘Success is not only achieving your task, it’s also being really happy to work together again’.

“At Frucor Suntory, we have a big philosophy of learning and not letting fear stop us from moving forward. The whole history of Suntory is quite fascinating and built on many examples of failure actually. You can learn lessons from failure, how it can bring you back and propel you forward with more learning, more understanding, more experience, and that can help you be successful in the future.”

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About Bernadette Basagre

Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles, The Register and Idealog. To get in touch with her, email [email protected].

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