Retro Soft Drinks: A nostalgic creation

By Claire Dodd Claire

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Soft drink

I'm in a lab, trying not to cough and splutter while putting a lot of effort into forcing my face to produce a convincing smile that I hope says...

I'm in a lab, trying not to cough and splutter while putting a lot of effort into forcing my face to produce a convincing smile that I hope says 'ummm, yummy'. It's not easy.

Flavour technician Dionne is looking at me enthusiastically. Ten seconds earlier she handed me one of her creations to try. Conclusion: apple pies are fantastic to eat. But really quite foul when reinterpreted as a soft drink.

Why am I here? Because it's said that in times of trouble and unrest we look back to past eras. There's something about nostalgia that makes us feel secure. It's a theory that has held in the past few years.

As a nation, we've been comfort-eating our way through the recession. Fondness for the puddings of our childhood and grub that gran used to cook have almost become ingrained in our national psyche. Even top restaurants will now readily serve you a corned beef hash.

And somewhere along the line we happily forgot how such dishes, in my house at least, were greeted at the time with a turned-up nose and derogatory mutters of 'war food'. Sorry mum, but you always burned the bottom of it.

Money from nostalgia

To cunning entrepreneurs, this whimsical fever has meant business opportunities. You can now pay £35 for the privilege of owning a box of retro sweets like sherbet dips and shrimps which in your childhood probably came to the princely total of £2.50.

Fashions from the 1930s and 1940s have been reproduced on the high street whether it be clothes, cars, radios, greetings cards or food packaging in the supermarkets.

Traditional tea rooms complete with bunting and chintzy tea cups are having a renaissance. Burlesque is big. On the bar scene the resurgence of speakeasies and even cocktails popular during Prohibition in the country's most hip night spots is a telling sign people are after something a bit retro on their nights out too. Vintage has become a byword for luxury.

But for pubs, behind the bar, the love of nostalgia has been especially evident in soft drinks. From packaging, to recreations of classic flavours, manufacturers have taken inspiration from the past and customers, bored of the same old choices, have lapped it up.

According to data from CGA, new product launches in the past 18 months have included Barrs Original Ginger Beer, Feel Good Cloudy Lemonade, Hartridge Cloudy Lemonade and Ginger Beer and Luscombe Organic Cool Ginger Beer. Well-established brands such as Fentimans Dandelion and Burdock, Fever Tree's Ginger Ale and Old Jamaica, have also grown.

Classic flavours

Though this list reflects the current trend for ginger, classic flavours including rose lemonade, colas, shandys, cream sodas and root beers have also been revived, reworked, and repackaged. With such drinks able to command premium prices, it's a good profit driver for pubs.

So when Silver Spring, maker of the 1870 range of mixers and Perfectly Clear flavoured spring water, set me the challenge of coming up with some flavours from my childhood to be recreated into a nostalgic soft drink, how could I resist? The brief was simple: 'From curry to Christmas pudding flavour, we can make it, so be as adventurous as you like'.

Just one problem. Though it occurred to me I would actually have to try a number of the more bizarre ideas we came up with, I didn't bank on Silver Spring's boffins actually going for them.

Dionne Ifill is Silver Spring's product design technician. It's her job to turn ideas for flavours into a finished product. Once a flavour has been identified, such as our apple pie concept, Dionne decides exactly how it should taste. What type of apples? What kind of pastry? Should there be a sugary note too? And how strong should the cooked apple taste be?

When a base has been chosen such as spring water or fruit juice, and the style of drink such as fizzy, flat or lightly sparkling, the other flavours are added on top and the product is tested by consumer panels before making it to the shelves.

"It's like you're cooking in the kitchen," says Dionne. "You create a base, so you'd add a bit of butter and things like that and your flavour would go on top. We tend to make up syrups, and the flavours are added to that."

But if you have images of ingredients being picked off shelves and thrown in a big pot, let me ruin the illusion. Flavours, natural and artificial, come from a flavour house which supplies to product developers across the food and drink industry.

The skill lies is blending the right combinations to create the desired taste, and of course, smell.

Sweet shortlist

From our shortlist Dionne chose our sweet-inspired flavours to make sparkling drinks for me to test. In the line-up is Fruit Salad, Rhubarb and Custard, Black Jack and perhaps our two most unusual flavours, Candy Floss and that infamous Apple Pie.

So what were they like? It's weird how, when you think of a certain food, you think of the texture as well. Although the Candy Floss drink smelled as sickly sweet as the real thing and had that toffee tang, my confused brain just could not accept the absence of that sticky, gritty texture. Similarly, with the Apple

Pie, it was that pastry note, though perfectly captured, that didn't enamour me.

However, Dionne got the sugar, menthol, aniseed amazingness of Black Jacks spot on. And it tasted like a flavour that would lend itself well as a mixer in spirits such as vodka.

The star of the show by a mile - for me at least - was the syrupy loveliness of Rhubarb and Custard. Smell is an evocative thing. And it was as though those sweets of my childhood had been melted down. Heaven.

Think that flavours like this would never make it onto the market? You'd be wrong. Last Christmas, Silver Spring did indeed launch a Christmas pudding flavour, complete with notes of cinnamon, biscuit, fruit and even custard. Trials on consumers suggested it would make a great mixer too. But the market is not quite ready for that yet.

The adult soft drink market is in 1.1 per cent value growth and is currently worth just over £4bn in the on-trade. So, with all these possibilities at our finger tips, where will the soft drinks market go? Hopefully back to our childhoods and down the sweet shop.

Keeping up with the trends

"People are looking for products with traceability and a point of difference, whether it be premium adult soft drinks or mixers," says Julian Aitken, sales and marketing director at Silver Spring.

"They want something that gives them extra value. They don't just want a lemonade, they want one with Sicilian lemons in it. An adult wouldn't just drink a lemonade at home. Why would they want to do so in a pub?"

With this in mind, Silver Spring has updated, repackaged and reformulated its 1870 range of mixers. As well as a packaging redesign and new flavours, existing products such as its bitter lemon have been enhanced, in this case with the addition of Sicilian lemons. All products have been formulated to complement alcohol too, with quinine levels in the tonic adjusted to complement gin. It will be available in March.

Related topics Soft & Hot Drinks

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