Red Bull GmbH is an Austrian-headquartered business developed and founded by Dietrich Mateschitz in the mid-1980s (Red Bull, 2014). Mateschitz was a traveller and a technician who developed the formula for a new energy drink based on those he had sampled while in the Far East. Red Bull energy was first introduced into the market in April, 1987, when it was launched in Austria. By 2014, over 4 billion cans of the energy drink had been sold in more than 166 countries worldwide (Euromonitor, 2014). To date, the company has been highly successful, reporting large year-on-year growth figures in terms of both sales volumes and company value. However, in recent years, it has encountered a number of challenges. Competitive rivalry in the industry is growing, and there are concerns that the key product is deleterious in terms of health, adolescent behaviour and use of materials. In this paper, the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing the business are outlined and discussed through the application of a SWOT analysis. A PEST analysis is used to examine the political, economic, social and technological aspects of the business environment affecting the company. The paper concludes by outlining the competitive advantage of the business and expectations for its future.
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In figure 1, the SWOT analysis for the company is outlined. The key elements are discussed below.
Figure 1: SWOT analysis for Red Bull GmbH
Red Bull has several strengths:
A major strength of the company is its status and standing within the energy drink industry. Red Bull was the first energy drink to be developed, sold and popularised in the West (Euromonitor, 2014). This means that today, the Red Bull name is synonymous with energy drinks in the cognition of consumers, in much the same way as Sellotape is to sticky tape, and Hoover to vacuum cleaners (Heckman, Sherry, Mejia, Gonzalez, 2010). Analysts have described this as a “marketing triumph” for the brand (NPR, 2012, online).
Red Bull’s marketing triumph translates to strong and rising net sales. Since the company is privately held, it is not required to report its financial information, however, data is available for the period 2011-2013. According to market research analysts Euromonitor (2014) during the period 2011-2012, net sales grew by 16 per cent and the number of cans of the energy drink rose by 13 per cent. In the period 2012-2013, these figures were lower, at 2 per cent and 3 per cent respectively, but still reflect significant levels of growth. In 2013 alone, Red Bull reported net sales of 5 billion euros.
Although the company is best known for its energy drink, it is a highly diversified conglomerate that operates in many other sectors. Red Bull owns and operates a number of lifestyle magazines, covering issues such as motor racing, football and celebrity gossip. In addition, the company has established mobile phone service operations in a number of nations, including South Africa, Poland, Hungary, Belgium, and its home nation, Austria (Tech Radar, 2009; Red Bull, 2014). In fact, the company can be found in a number of sectors, from TV broadcasting, to youth academies and football clubs (Euromonitor, 2014).
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Another strength of the company is its presence across the world. Red Bull is sold in 166 markets worldwide (Red Bull, 2014). In volume terms, sales are dominated by the US and North American markets (Euromonitor, 2014) Furthermore, growth in many overseas and emerging markets has outstripped overall growth. For instance, in 2013, Red Bull reported that it had boosted net sales in the Indian market by a massive 55 per cent (Red Bull, 2014). Growth was also robust in Scandinavia (16 per cent), Turkey (18 per cent), Japan, (32 per cent), Russia (13 per cent) and Brazil (12 per cent).
Another strength of the company lies in its marketing efforts. Red Bull has pursued an entrepreneurial marketing approach, focusing particularly on sports events sponsorship, like motorcycle racing. As well as enabling such events to survive and thrive, sponsorship offers considerable benefits to sponsors like Red Bull. Event sponsorship is a key brand positioning and image management activity (Farrelly, Quester and Burton, 2006); importantly, it enables companies to reach extraordinarily large audiences that could not be reached through more conventional methods (Farrelly et al, 2006). The huge awareness and press publicity created by event sponsorship means that this promotional method is able to target both broad swathes of the population as well as specific target niches. Concluding a case analysis of Red Bull, Gorse, Chadwick and Burton (2010, p. 351), state that “the use of sport and innovative marketing and branding strategies [have been] integral steps in building the company into one of the largest, most diverse sports empires worldwide”.
Despite the strengths outlined above, the company has suffered a number of setbacks in recent years:
Although Red Bull is the dominant player in the energy drinks market, in the broader soft drinks industry, it is faring less well. Market share in the soft drinks market is dominated by Pepsi Co, which claims 10.7 per cent of market share, and the Coca Cola Company, which holds over 25 per cent (Euromonitor, 2014). The dominance of these two companies in that industry has traditionally posed a significant barrier to new entrants. In terms of market share, Red Bull GmbH ranks seventh – a position it has held since 2008 – with just 1.6 per cent of the overall global soft drinks market (Euromonitor, 2014). A number of reasons have been advanced to account for the failure of Red Bull to grow its market share in this market. Importantly, both the Coca Cola Company and Pepsi Co have very strong brands and widespread and robust distribution networks.
In spite of consistent growth in terms of volume sales and corporate value, Red Bull has experienced a decline in market share since 2009. Euromonitor (2014) attributes this decline to the entry of new competitors to the market, as well as the international expansion of established brands.
The ability of the brand’s competitors to rapidly acquire market share within the energy drinks market has also been attributed to their diversified product portfolio. Monster, a key competitor, always offered a variety of flavours of energy drinks to consumers. Under the Monster umbrella, there are more than 30 different brands, such as Rehab and Java Monster, and each of these brands are available in a variety of flavours (Euromonitor, 2014). Red Bull was slow to respond to this competitive threat, taking almost 25 years to introduce three new Red Bull flavours (The Grocer, 2012).
A further weakness of the company can be found in its production methods. Analysts suggest that the company’s reluctance to extend its production facilities beyond the Austrian borders act as a constraint on its ability to boost its production volumes (Euromonitor, 2014). Although Red Bull products are sold in 166 countries worldwide (Red Bull, 2014), all production occurs in Austria, which means that the company must expend considerable shipping costs in exporting and distributing its offerings (Stevenson and Hojati, 2007). While it was reported in 2012 that the company was to invest in a new production facility in Manaus (Brazil), there is little indication of this intention becoming reality in the near future (Euromonitor, 2014).
In spite of the weaknesses outlined above, there are a number of opportunities for growth and development for the company:
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The Asian Pacific market has recently surpassed North America in terms of growth in sales volume of energy drinks (Zenith International, 2013). One of the reasons for this increased demand is the general trend of that region towards increased prosperity: between 2008 and 2013, the region recorded compound annual growth of 16.3 per cent, with China alone growing by a record 277 per cent (Euromonitor, 2014). Despite this, in terms of market share, the Asian Pacific market is still the weakest for Red Bull. An opportunity for global growth is therefore available for the energy drinks giant in this market. This may take some time, however, has there are some markets to which Red Bull energy has only just entered, and it may take time for the brand to build its identity in that region.
There are opportunities also in the Chinese market. Market research agency Zenith International (2013) predicts that by 2018, the Chinese market will lead in terms of value and volume growth. Red Bull has already taken steps to capitalising on this growing market. In 2013, Red Bull entered into a subsidiary agreement with a Chinese manufacturer, launching an international version of Red Bull energy into select urban areas (Food Navigator Magazine, 2013). The company also established a small office in Shanghai in 2014. This will support its expansionary efforts and enable it to become acclimatised to the Chinese market (Euromonitor, 2014).
A key weakness of Red Bull relative to its competitors is its failure to introduce alternative variants of its major product. There are some indications that the company is using the Chinese market to test a diversification of its basic product portfolio. In China, two versions of Red bull energy are sold – the standard blue can, which is sold internationally, but also a gold can: a non-carbonated variant which was targeted at lower income consumers (Food Navigator Magazine, 2013). If this step at diversifying is successful, it could offer greater opportunities for growth in the future.
The Chinese market also offers opportunities for Red Bull to expand its sports event marketing activities. Several sports attract very large audiences in China: examples are badminton, table tennis and gymnastics (Masterman, 2014). One way that Red Bull could start to build its brand identity in that market is by sponsoring these events. The company has already started to undertake some sports marketing activities in the Chinese market, sponsoring the Red Bull Badminton Tournament in 2013 and 2014 (Euromonitor, 2014).
The success of the company has brought with it a number of threats:
When the Red Bull energy drink was first developed in the mid 1980s, it was a unique product. Indeed, Red Bull has been described as the instigator of the entire energy drink sector (Gorse, Chadwick and Burton, 2010). However, more recently, its success has attracted interest from a number of key competitors, especially Pepsi Co. and The Coca-Cola Company (TCCC). The latter acquired a 16.7 per cent equity stake in Monster Beverage Company in August 2014 (Fortune Magazine, 2014). This is an important strategic move, because through this deal, TCCC expects to “transfer ownership of its worldwide energy business, including NOS, Full Throttle, Burn, Mother, Play and Power Play, and Relentless, to Monster.” (Fortune Magazine, 2014, online). Coca-Cola and Monster have already capitalised on their extensive distribution network to launch push ‘Burn’, a direct competitor to Red Bull in emerging markets in Latin America (Euromonitor, 2014), while in the US, another energy drink produced by Monster Beverage Company, ‘Monster’ has now overtaken Red Bell in terms of volume sales (Euromonitor, 2014). The latter product is also enjoying huge gains in Eastern Europe, the United Kingdom and Australia (Euromonitor, 2014). Given the large number of markets in which the energy drink sector now has a presence, the development of the Monster/Coca-Cola collaborative project should be considered a significant threat to the dominance of Red Bull.
Another threat to the company is posed by the decline of the North American economy, which has traditionally been the company’s stronghold. That region’s Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) - a measure of economic growth- which was 9.9 per cent in the period 2008-2013, is expected to half in the period 2013-2018 (Euromonitor, 2014). The likely outcome of a lower rate of growth is a reduction in consumer demand, especially for premium priced products like Red Bull.
There is also a threat posed to the company by the growing concern for health. Red Bull is packed with sugar, an ingredient that is increasingly coming under fire given the growth in obesity in the West (Clauson, Shields, McQueen and Persad, 2008). If this development continues, Red Bull’s sales could be harmed.
As a direct response to increasing health concerns among the populace, governments globally have begun to inspect the energy drinks industry (Hoflander, 2011). For instance, at the local level in the USA education administrators have started to ban the sale of Red Bull and other similar products from sale within schools, as a response to increasing incidences of diabetes Type II among school-aged children (Babu, Church and Lewander, 2008). In New Zealand in 2006, a high profile agreement was signed by regulators to prohibit the sale of energy drinks in schools (Rockell, Parnell, Wilson, Skidmore and Regan, 2011). There is even a growing lobby against the sale of Red Bull on University campuses (Attila, and Çakir, 2011).
Increased public concern for the environment has also been codified in regulatory arrangements in many economies. As a direct response to this development, Red Bull in 2003 (Marketing Magazine, 2003). In an effort to reduce waste, and accommodate the green lobby, the company was also forced to introduce slimmer cans that utilise less aluminum, and to promote a recycling programme via their website (Red Bull, 2014).
In spite of the recent recession, generally the outlook for the world economy is positive. Technological developments, and increased efficiency and productivity in emerging markets in Asia and Latin America are likely to drive significant increases in global output over the coming years (The World Bank, 2014). This is good news for Red Bull, since rising incomes generally translate into rising demand.
However, as the company expands into the Asian Pacific market, it will need to take adequate account of the fact that income disparities remain between households in the Low Income Countries (LICs), Middle Income Countries (MICs), and High Income Countries (HICs). Currently, prices for the energy drink are constant across markets, which has been highlighted as a weakness by analysts (Euromonitor, 2014). In terms of future development, the company might need to adopt a more diverse pricing strategy that takes account of rising demand for the product among individuals with lower income levels.
Generally, the attitude of the public towards Red Bull energy drinks is accepting. However, there is a growing campaign among educators and health groups against the possible toxic effects on adolescent and adult health, and negative impact on behaviours (Alford, Cox and Wescott, 2001; Seifert and Schaechter, 2011). Much of the criticism concerns the target market of the company and its efforts to court them. In Europe and the United States, Red Bull energy is particularly popular among young athletes and bar and club patrons, and it is argued that this group has been courted through Red Bull’s marketing efforts which are sports and culturally inclined (Seifert and Schaechter, 2011; Borg, 2010; NPR 2012). For instance, Red Bull sponsors junior basketball teams, and runs a music academy for aspiring musicians.
A key challenge facing the company is not only how to deliver products that meet the changing demands of consumers, but also how it can itself stimulate demand through the development and offering of innovative products. Product innovation is a key strategy for business development for Red Bull, because its main product line, Red Bull Energy Drinks, has no variants aside from its sugar free alternative (Euromonitor, 2014). Regular innovation in product formulation and packaging is a key characteristic of the beverage industry (Ashurst, 2008). Thus, Red Bull could offset its lack of product diversification by adopting an innovation strategy.
The internal and external audit conducted above has yielded a number of insights about the current activities and future outlook of Red Bull. Firstly, there is little doubt regarding the success of both the company and the brand. Red Bull was the first product of its kind, and largely as a result of creative sports and event marketing initiatives, the Red Bull energy drink brand and energy drinks as a whole are synonymous. This has been translated into vast growth in terms of both volume sales and company value. On the whole, and in the context of likely rising global demand, the outlook for the company is good.
However, the analysis has raised some concerns. In terms of its formulation, the Red Bull energy drink has barely changed since it was first produced 26 years ago, and very few variants of the formula are available. This is a crucial weakness of the brand, particularly given the strength and growing sales of key competitors like Monster and Burn, which are available in a range of flavours and formulas. Furthermore, Red Bull pursues an undifferentiated pricing strategy, which may place the product out of the reach of low-income consumers in some of the markets to which it is expanding. Another challenge facing the company is how to deal with criticisms of the key product by health groups and educators. In the future, it is possible that the key product will need to be reformulated in order to counteract claims that Red Bull is linked with obesity, poor levels of concentration and bad behaviour among young people. The company needs to be cognisant of these issues and respond to them appropriately if it is to remain the leader n the energy drinks market.
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