Premium Soft Drinks Trends

By Jessica Mason

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Soft drinks Soft drink Coca-cola enterprises

Soft drinks are becoming more stylish
Soft drinks are becoming more stylish
We’re on the brink of a pivotal moment for the way soft drinks are represented in pubs.For the savvy publican, the opportunity to showcase a range of premium soft drinks and suggest them as both a stylish and credible alternative to alcohol is ripe and for the taking.After all, there are big sales to be made and things have certainly moved on from bar staff asking if you’d like that with ice and a slice.

The recent See the Opportunity report from Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) highlights “the importance of adult soft drinks in the on-trade” and Phil Thomson, CCE associate director of portfolio brands, reminds that “there is a £52m growth opportunity for outlets that successfully tap into the ‘best social mix’ occasion.”

According to CCE, soft drinks continue to play a valuable role in the licensed channel and are worth more than £4bn in sales in the GB on-trade, making up more than 35% of total category sales.

Soft drinks help outlets to offer a wide choice, both as an alternative or  as an accompaniment to alcoholic beverages. The importance of the category is heightened in summer, when the need to refresh and rehydrate during warmer weather and the traditional increase footfall experienced by licensed outlets can potentially result in higher sales.

Cola and lemonade continue to dominate on-trade soft drink sales, but as a whole, mixers experienced value growth in the past year, offering licensees a strong sales opportunity, while the water sector delivered the greatest value growth — up 6%, according to CGA brand-index data (MAT 25/01/2-14).

Mixers are also growing in popularity, as consumers seek out drinks that offer flavour, refreshment and enjoyment. Mixers provide an experience that perhaps differs from what they would normally enjoy at home, helping licensees to meet consumer needs.

“The mixers sector grew by 3.2% last year, with a total value of more than £292m. Pre-packaged formats accounted for more than £288m of this, growing by 3%,” says Dave Turner, trade communications manager at Coca-Cola Enterprises.

“With summer under way, this is a key time for on-premise outlets to ensure they are prepared and well-stocked with the right mix of soft drink products to meet customers’ needs. The category grew in value in the past year and offers licensees many opportunities,” adds Turner.

Hitting trends head-on

The trends that exist in other categories and even across different parts of the trade are coming to the pub. The recent spike in sales of coconut water in the off-trade, combined with the ongoing rise of the mojito, has influenced the likes of premium soft drinks producer Belvoir Fruit Farms. The Lincolnshire-based company, known predominantly for its traditional use of English fruit and flowers in its drinks, has entered the ‘convenient exotic mixers’ category with a Coconut & Lime Pressé.

“The pressé contains real coconut water from young green coconuts, pressed lime juice and gently bubbling spring water,” says Belvoir managing director Pev Manners, pointing out that it can be served chilled for a refreshing summer drink, or used as the perfect mixer with gin, vodka or rum.

“It’s an exciting new route for Belvoir and in this more exotic pressé recipe we’re using coconut water for the first time. Sales of coconut water have been soaring over the past few years due to its superb hydrating properties — so it seemed the perfect new ingredient for us to work with.”

Marrying orchard with exotic

A pattern is certainly developing across other soft-drink brands. Partially following on from a lift in fruit cider sales, which are seeing mixed fruit flavours combining one core widely recognised orchard fruit with one fruit that is more exotic, soft-drinks combinations are also seeing sense in this magical pairing.


While orchard fruits are recognisable, they offer the consumer something they know and understand — some familiarity to anchor flavour expectations. The marriage with exotic fruits balances their need for something new and exciting. It is something that we are seeing across all fruit drink categories: the assurance of local provenance twinned with the allure of tropical and balmy sunnier climes.

J2O, available in variants including Orange & Passionfruit, Apple & Mango, and Apple & Raspberry, has brought back its summer limited-edition flavour, J2O Pear Gold, pairing what it calls “a refreshing and exotic blend of pear and guava”, and suggesting the marriage of the two fruits as “an exciting alternative” according to Jonathan Gatward, GB marketing director at Britvic Soft Drinks.


The premium adult soft drink Appletiser,  distributed by CCE, is also building on its impressive 22% growth in the in the licensed channel by extending its sparkling soft-drink line-up with the launch of a new variant that hits this trend too. The brand has launched a new Apple & Pomegranate Appletiser variant in a 275ml format to help licensees to boost their adult soft-drink sales and offer consumers something bang on-trend for the summer months as a means of stylish refreshment.

Fentimans’ botanically brewed light tonic water uses 100% natural ingredients such as Sicilian lemons, and features a blend of Kaffir lime leaves, cardamom and juniper, with lemongrass extract to enhance the flavour profile — giving the consumer both a drink style they understand and can find accessible, while delivering a taste of the exotic.

The light tonic, which contains 30% fewer calories than the brand’s regular tonic, is a steer for the brand into the health-conscious premium adult soft-drink category. While Fentimans has previously made its tonic water and ginger beer available in mixer bottles, the company claims its new addition is the world’s first botanically brewed light tonic water that uses only natural ingredients.

group drinking cola

The Bottlegreen Drinks brand of cordials, which has included Elderflower; Pomegranate & Elderflower, and Ginger & Lemongrass in its core range as well as Apple & Plum; Lime; Raspberry & Grapefruit; Blackcurrant & Coffee, and Spiced Berry during selected months, has recently launched Strawberry to replace its Strawberry & Elderflower cordial, turning the trend on its head by reversing a mixed variant to a single fruit flavour.


Bottlegreen Drinks, which produces both Bottlegreen cordial and the Bottlegreen sparkling pressé range, uses the same traditional wine-making techniques and cold-filtration process it employs for its flagship elderflower cordial and sparkling pressé “to produce the refreshing, clean taste of the strawberry variant,” says Simon Speers, managing director of Bottlegreen Drinks, pointing out that there are many different ways to use the drink during the summer months — on desserts as well as within punches.

SHS Drinks, which looks after Bottlegreen Drinks, is also investing in a stylish new look for the 275ml bottles of its Shloer range. The sparkling soft drinks Shloer Red Grape and Shloer White Grape will receive new point-of-sale materials for stockists that hope to boost visibility of the brand in their pub.

Tapping into a wider audience

According to Britvic, launching new flavours permanently as well as getting behind premium soft drinks in the summer months has a lot to do with premium softs reaching a broader newer audience for current ranges in existence.

“Last year 72% of consumers purchasing Pear Gold were completely new to J2O, with repeat-purchase rates well above average at 25%,” says Gatward, explaining that “as a British summer is so unpredictable, it is important we make the most of the sunshine and enjoy the balmier weather with friends and family.

“By providing limited editions we attract new consumers to J2O and help retain people who already enjoy the brand by igniting the juice drink sub-category with a little
summer excitement.”


CCE agrees that this is certainly the time to put premium soft drinks in the eye-line of your customers. It’s worth remembering that people who are seeking refreshment in warmer months don’t always want to drink something alcoholic.

“We are committed to bringing new products to the on-trade channel to help to grow our customers’ sales, particularly ahead in the key summer trading period, which  potentially offers outlets significant sales opportunities,” says Thomson.

Red Bull, which has previously been seen as the underdog of the soft -drinks category and almost single-handedly pioneered the energy-drink market in the UK, combines its presence at extreme sports events with its broad appeal as both a soft drink and an energy-drink mixer.

But Monster Energy brand development manager Mike Swingwood says: “Since its UK launch in 2009, Monster Energy has grown to become the outright challenger brand to Red Bull, both in the on-trade and off-premise. In the US it remains the number one by unit sales energy drink”.

Swingwood adds: “Monster’s successes in the on-trade has included exclusive listing in some major national accounts, including JD Wetherspoon, Novus Leisure and Mitchells & Butlers, accounting for 39.4% of the managed on-trade” and  continues: “Amongst the global roster of talent and sponsorships that continue to drive the brand forward are the Mercedes Amg Petronas Formula One Team and significant activations through sports and music.”

CCE’s Turner says: “Coca-Cola has acted as an official partner of the 2014 FIFA World Cup this summer, and the event has represented a key sales opportunity, with CCE offering customers bespoke PoS and themed packs of the 330ml icon bottle to drive visibility and rate of sale around Coca-Cola and Coke Zero.

“Social gatherings, such as audiences watching important sporting events, are a key opportunity for licensees, and soft drinks play a key part in satisfying the needs of consumers at this time. The Share a Coke campaign has also made a comeback this summer and will be activated in licensed premises.”

Bel;voir elderflower_presse_lifestyle_dining_ret_small

“Schweppes is the number-one mixer brand, worth £138m,” he reminds, pointing out that “it’s an iconic name: one that people look for and recognise when deciding which drink to purchase, and is particularly key in summer months when consumers seek out refreshment together with a serve and experience they may not get at home.”

According to Turner, CCE has plans to unveil some on-trade initiatives to appeal to its core demographic of adults aged 35-plus in the coming months, helping its customers capitalise on the growth of the mixers sector.

“The first phase of this activity sees the introduction of refreshed packaging for the Schweppes mixers range in the licensed channel. The new packaging design features a modern new look to provide greater stand-out at the bar, increasing its appeal to its target audience, and follows a successful introduction of the refreshed look in retail channels earlier in 2014,” he explains.

Respecting the hashtag

Social media, giveaways and competitions are also being seen across the soft-drinks sector to give a further push to brands that are battling to be heard over bigger stalwarts.

The return of J2O Pear Gold is supported by a heavyweight campaign with nationwide print advertising at large-scale outdoor sites. Six-sheet posters and text messages will drive consumers into outlets stocking J2O Pear Gold, accompanied by social media activity The J2O Golden Hour — a competition giving away 14 pairs of designer aviator sunglasses daily for six weeks from 30 June.

To encourage licensed-trade distribution of J2O Pear Gold, the brand will run an exclusive wholesale competition to give away a garden makeover, transorming a pub garden into a J20 summer destination; while a social media competition will run across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, asking consumers to enter by uploading a photo of themselves and friends making the most of summer moments with J2O.

“The hashtag #J2OGoldenHour will be heavily weighted from Thursdays to Sundays and tweeted during major events or sunny weather,” says Gatward.

Dual purpose

But let’s not forget that premium soft drinks, especially those targeted at adults, are versatile enough for pubs to be able to use them as mixers as well as an alcohol alternative —  an essential factor for a busy bar. Drinks must work both as a soft option and as a  plausible mixer upsold in a cocktail.

“Bottlegreen cordials are extremely versatile and the succulent blend of strawberries is perfect for creating summer punches and cocktails as well as being enjoyed in its own right mixed with cold still or sparkling water topped with plenty of ice.  Or try drizzling it over vanilla ice-cream for a quintessential summer dessert,” says Bottlegreen Drinks MD Simon Speers.

Fentimans offers a range of mixers in handy 125ml servings specifically for the on-trade.

The range includes tonic water and ginger beer as well as a light tonic water and a ginger ale — the latter having been added to the mixer range to take advantage of the popularity of ginger drinks — and is designed to be mixed with whisky. The variant, with a smooth ginger flavour, uses herbal infusions of galangal and cinnamon with a pale colour from added pear juice.

Fentimans MD and master brewer Eldon Robson says: “Ginger ales  used to have a more pronounced ginger taste. Fentimans Ginger Ale is a cooler drink than our original fiery Ginger Beer and is the perfect accompaniment to whisky.”

Convenience and practicality for the on-trade has led to ergonomically designed packaging, with  more cans and screw-cap closures entering the category to avoid issues such as fridge space and wastage.

The new pack-design for Shloer, being rolled out this summer, features a screw-top closure, replacing the crown cap to make it easier and more practical for licensees and consumers to open the bottles.

“With the growth in popularity of Shloer in pubs, bars and restaurants, we’ve decided to move to a screw top, for more practical closure in an on-trade environment. It’s easier for licensees to open and pour, and in a summer scenario where customers need to carry the bottle into a pub garden, the unopened bottle can simply be handed over to customers with a glass, avoiding spills. And, of course, there’s the added bonus of the cap being resealable,” explains Amanda Grabham, marketing director — soft drinks at SHS Drinks.

Turning point

This pivotal moment for soft drinks in pubs is two-fold. There is a revolution in new flavours and provenance being represented alongside one another. The familiar is jazzed-up as a more exciting version of something vaguely recognisable and reassuringly understandable. If we look at what the pub trade wants: quicker pours with higher margins to be made, no wastage and convenience, alongside what the consumer wants: theatre, an exciting drinks range and low-calorie natural drinks which taste great and still feel indulgent — we build a picture of how contradictory the two appear.

Over the past few years we have celebrated the return of the ingredients-savvy consumer, who wants to know the origin of what they’re drinking and how their drink was made, while nurturing a sweet palate that unwittingly craves an indulgent hit of flavour. It may feel like a minefield to navigate the brands that all claim to answer their demands. We can assure you of one true trend that exists across both consumer and trade drinks ranges: premium drinks are in vogue.

If the quality matches the price-point, you are on to a winner.

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