Statistics can be manipulated to produce just about any prognosis imaginable. For example, a couple of years after Elvis's death, statisticians worked out that, if the tremendous growth in the number of Elvis impersonators continued unabated, then, by 2010, around one in every fourth person in the world would be making a living by shaking their hips and singing Love Me Tender. If the same sort of illogical logic was applied to the soft-drinks market, there could be an interesting conclusion. Last year, sales of soft drinks in the on-trade grew by 3%, which was 1% higher than for beer. What the Elvis statisticians would make of this trend could lead to the answer that, in a few decades, pubs would be making their money out of selling cola, fruit juices, and water, rather than beer. Hopefully, that won't come to pass, but it nevertheless underlines the growing importance of soft drinks to the licensed trade. In March, Britvic released its 2003 soft drinks category report, which demonstrated the nation's growing taste for having non-alcoholic drinks in pubs. Soft drink is now the fourth largest drinks category in the on-trade and over 500 million litres of the stuff collectively worth nearly £1.9bn went down peoples' throats. The category is nearly double the value of premium packaged spirits, over three times that of cider, and nearly 10 times more lucrative than Champagne and sparkling wine. The report notes: "Growth rates in on-trade soft drinks reflect the changing drinking environment and occasion. Themed pubs and wine bars continue to attract lunchtime business, whilst families, kids and food, with the associated soft drinks purchases, are a significant income stream. "Alcohol-free lunches favour the fruit juice, fruit drinks and water sectors. This highlights key opportunities for adult soft drinks such as Amé and J2O to take a greater share of throat in the on-trade." The report also warns that the on-trade is falling behind the off-trade in terms of sales growth but finds grounds for optimism. "The consistency between the two trading channels is that value is increasing faster than volume. Premium soft drinks are driving the market and this is set to continue with the development of new brands and pack formats, which deliver against the needs of changing consumer lifestyles." Britvic's research found that managed pub chains were the most adept at understanding changing consumer preferences. Managed houses saw sales grow by 8%, followed by the leased/tenanted sector with a 5% improvement, but independent pubs and wine bars saw sales values drop by 2%. "The more sophisticated retailers," says the report, "have grasped the three consumer drivers of occasionality, repertoire and choice. The recognition that pubs are visited for a wide range of different reasons, that the same person may drink different products on each of the occasions, and that customers expect a similar level of choice to that offered in the off-trade, provides significant opportunities for both volume and profit growth in soft drinks. "Soft drinks manufacturers must continue to drive awareness of the profit potential and changing consumer trends, following the lead of premium packaged lager and premium packaged spirits. Soft drinks value growth can match or even exceed that of alcohol when consumers are given the same level of choice in softs as they get in beer and spirits. "However, the free trade and the leased and tenanted estates are slower to adopt new ideas and brands, illustrated by the time taken by Red Bull and J2O to become established. They must now understand that soft drinks are a key part of their offering and replicate the successes of others in the industry. The link between the trends seen in the take-home and the need to replicate these in the on-trade sector is crucial. The same people use both, yet the on-trade falls behind in choice." Britvic's director of category planning Sue Garfitt remarks: "More pub-goers than ever want a soft drink, and growth is coming from expanding and evolving consumer repertoires. In the last year, we have seen people transferring their at home' soft drinks preferences into the on-trade. They want better quality soft drinks with choices and pack formats that suit their changing lifestyles and preferences and are prepared to pay for them." Jim Reade, Britvic's business unit director for on-trade adds: "Independent pubs still have a lot to learn from others. They are still losing out on profit by their failure to modernise. Independents pubs need to focus on key growth areas and adopt a winning strategy by premiumisation of the brands they stock and offering larger servings." Garfitt adds: "Innovation is keeping the soft drinks market healthy as it delivers a point of difference and builds category value. In 2002 alone, there were over 250 new soft drink launches, amounting to £146m of sales. We are seeing an ongoing trend in the UK away from traditional' soft drinks. Some 1.7 million people have visited a pub in the last week and drunk a soft drink. Soft drinks value is growing at its fastest rate for some years, indicating its increasing importance to on-trade profitability." Britvic says pubs can dramatically increase profitability by adopting its Right Choice programme a three-stage strategy of encouraging pub-goers to buy a better soft drink, buy a soft drink every time, and buy a bigger soft drink. The strategy aims to help hosts build their soft drinks sales by providing the latest product, pack and merchandising solutions. Britvic's research indicates that consumers prefer and are willing to pay more for a packaged soft drink because it is perceived as better quality than a draught alternative. Six-times more people prefer packaged over draught, based on taste, and two-and-a-half-times more people feel packaged is a drink they "would buy" rather than draught. Further research showed that 75% of people either did not like or didn't notice the soft drinks range on offer in pubs. This means that those people who want a soft drink are unlikely to purchase more than one and less likely to return to the outlet. Licensees, says the UK second largest manufacturer, need to turn soft drinks into a positive choice, by offering the right range and making it visible. Getting consumers to buy a larger drink is particularly relevant in pubs serving food. Britvic has found that soft drinks are consumed with food on 79% of occasions, however, diners refill their glass less often than pub-goers just out for a "drink". So, although pub-diners spend an average of 59% more during their visit, they actually spend 36% less on drinks than other pub-goers. Getting these customers to increase their drink spend whilst retaining their food spend will increase pub revenue, which is particularly relevant as people are spending more on eating out in pubs than ever before. Garfitt says: "If executed with the correct tactics and tailored to specific outlets, these strategies have the potential to grow the soft drinks market by £25m in the next year.