Soft drinks consumption during eating out occasions saw a significant spike in the first quarter of 2016 – just as the debate over the sugar tax peaked.

Data from the latest EatingOut Panel shows that despite its compelling influence over the market in recent years, coffee lost out to soft drinks and alcohol in Q1 2016 compared to the same period last year.

According to the EOP data, cola was the big driver of consumption – growing it share of total drinks by around five percentage points (pps) across breakfast, lunch and dinner and widening its lead on hot drinks during snacking occasions.

Alcohol also rebounded at dinner, driven in particular by beer and cider.

Meanwhile, hot drinks lost market share across all day parts, driven by the fall in coffee.

Coffee remains key at breakfast but has lost share of total drinks consumed, dropping to 34% from 38% last year. With tea also dipping slightly the total share of hot drinks at this day part fell 4pps to 62%. The rise in soft drinks’ share of the total was driven by cola, which grew from 4% to 9%, diet cola (3.5% to 5%) and bottled water (7% to 8%). Fruit juices, meanwhile lost share, falling from 9% to 6% of the total.

At lunch soft drinks were again the winner, increasing share by 5pps to 53% as hot drinks fell 4pps to 34% and alcohol dipped 1pp to 13%. Cola rose from 8% of the total to 13.5%; diet cola was up from 9% to 10% and bottled water grew 3pps to 10%. Both coffee and tea fell slightly at this day part.

At dinner, alcohol saw the biggest boost – up 2pp to 41.5% of the total with soft drinks rising 1pp to 48.5% and hot dinks down 3pp to 10%. Once again Cola was the highest climber, up from 9% of total drinks to 14% with the diet variety up from 8% to 9.5%.

In the alcohol category, beer and cider drove growth, taking their share from 17.1% last year to 19% this year while wine was up from 16% to 17%. Coffee dropped 1pp across the year.

The biggest fall in hot drinks consumption was in the snacking category as soft drinks grew from a 49% share last year to 54% this year while hot drinks fell from 46% to 41%. Coffee remained the top seller but its share of the total fell 3pp to 20% while Cola rose by the same margin to 10%. Alcohol in this daypart fell 1pp to 5% of the total.

MCA executive director Simon Stenning said: “The apparent rise in consumption of soft drinks at the expense of coffee is an interesting development, especially considering the national debate about the health implications of sugary drinks during this period.

“This is something that will need to be monitored longer term to see whether this is a trend that is here to stay and it will be interesting to see what impact the sugar tax has when it comes into force.

“What is undeniable is that soft drinks producers have upped their game and are taking the fight to both coffee and alcohol brands.”

The EOP Q1 2016 Report, which underpinned by over 18,000 in-depth online interviews with UK consumers per quarter, gives detailed breakdowns on eating out participation, visit numbers and spend per head across channels and day parts.

For more information contact Sophie Barber on sophie.barber@mca-insight.com

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