During the festive period, soft drinks do not tend to perform as well as their alcoholic counterparts. Spirits sales increase by 38.5% while the wine and Champagne category steal the show and rise by 40.6%, according to CGA Strategy. Conversely softs only grow by 15.3%.
However, licensees should not be discouraged. Softs still have the potential to drive sales in the run-up to Christmas after growing by 4.3% in the past 12 months and achieving a value of £4.1bn, according to drinks company Global Brands. As a result, operators should expect to see softs play a crucial part this season with more health-conscious customers on the loom.
Molson Coors trading manager for spirits and soft drinks David Styring says: “Healthier, natural, vitamin-based or low-calorie soft drinks have seen real growth in the past few years.”
Indeed, licensees have spotted a trend in low-alcohol or low-calorie drinks, with 29% of cocktail drinkers saying they would rather opt for a mocktail or low-sugar-content alternatives, according to Lucozade Ribena Suntory (LRS).
Substitute soft for alcohol
Additionally, an increasing number of young adults have started to substitute soft drinks for alcohol and are making softs their preferred choice.
“We’ve seen the 16 to 25-year-old age group grow by more than 40% in the past decade,” says Hartridges sales and marketing director Edward Hartridge. “In 2015, they accounted for one in five adults choosing not to drink alcohol, so the relevance of soft drinks is stronger than ever.”
With a higher proportion of consumers, premium adult soft drinks are taking the lead. Whether served on their own or as part of a festive meal, sophisticated, hand-crafted soft drinks mean licensees should not only get their hands on the best seasonal quality ingredients, but also use them creatively.
Apples, rhubarb and oranges will be a focus this Christmas, especially when blended with spices, such as cinnamon, to give the serve that extra kick. Attention to detail can also turn a mocktail into a real show-stopper for customers, with the right garnish and glassware to add to a more sophisticated, personal touch.
Global Brands marketing controller Justin Horsman says: “Some 41% of soft drinks consumers look for more unusual flavours and there is a rising trend of pleasure seekers with a desire for new and exciting taste experiences.”
Franklin & Sons, for example, has played freely with some bold flavours, its British Dandelion & Handpicked Burdock with Star Anise, or the Wild Strawberry & Scottish Raspberry with Cracked Black Pepper can offer some creative ideas for operators this Christmas.
Seasonal ingredients are very important, but mainstream soft drinks brands should not be neglected. Coca-Cola, for example, performs well during this period as a stand-alone soft drink or as a mixer. Coca-Cola European Partners associate director Paul Robertson says: “Cola is the biggest-selling soft drink in the licensed channel during Christmas, accounting for 42.8% of all festive soft drink sales in 2015 (CGA Strategy’s Christmas Report).” Operators can also reward designated drivers with special offers, such as Coca-Cola’s Designated Driver promotion, to push more wet sales, adds Robertson.
Pairing them with food
Stocking a variety of soft drinks is key when pairing them with food offers. Sparkling soft drinks can recreate that Champagne-like effect and can cleanse the palate after a savoury dish.
Different soft drink offers should be well paired with a festive menu or a particular main dish, think of clashing, sweet-savoury flavours – sparkling soft apple and cinnamon cocktail with a pork dish — or a sweet indulgence such as botanical flavoured softs with the all-round crowd-pleasing Christmas pudding.
Cordials and pressés also work well during this season, particularly the former when served hot and infused with spices. Bottlegreen’s Cranberry & Orange pressé or Ginger and Lemongrass cordial can deliver high-margin returns and are worth including on cocktail and aperitif menus, says SHS Drinks marketing director for alcohol and soft drinks Jo Sykes.
Customers do tend to over-indulge with food over the festive period so softs, with healthier ingredients and a more sophisticated presentation, can lure drinkers to opt for a suitable non-alcoholic alternative, whether served on its own or accompanied by a main meal.
A higher proportion of people are turning towards the soft drinks movement and operators should tap into this category to maximise their takings.
- ‘Champagne’ cocktails
Add a splash of blackcurrant cordial to Appletiser for an alternative to Kir Royale. Or for a soft version of pink Champagne, choose Appletiser’s Apple & Pomegranate. Chilled and served in a flute, these are elegant alternatives to sparkling wine.
- ‘Gin’ and tonic
With gin it is the botanicals that confer the distinctive flavours – not the spirit that is almost flavourless ethanol. Seedlip is the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirit.
Ingredients include lemon peel, cardamom, cascarilla and tree bark. To serve, pour into a copa glass with plenty of ice, add tonic water and an attractive garnish and you have an aromatic drinking experience that is hard to distinguish from a G&T.
When drinking cider, it is not just the alcohol that hits the spot but acidity and tannins too. For a non-alcoholic version of cider choose an apple juice made with cider apples, such as mostly Devon Apple Juice from Luscombe Drinks. Up-sell by serving as a winter cocktail, such as the Spiced Apple Citrus Grove. Mix apple juice, fresh ginger (or ginger beer), and cinnamon in a highball or half-pint glass filled with ice. Garnish with a twist of grapefruit studded with cloves.
- Mock the whisky drinker
Whisky drinkers looking for a soft alternative may respond to the fiery nature of ginger beer made with ginger root that has the breath-taking effect of neat alcohol. Try a Mock Moscow Mule cocktail with full-flavoured ginger beer served over ice in a highball or senator glass. Squeezein lime juice and garnish with a lime wedge and mint leaves.
- Mulled ‘wine’
Drivers and abstainers will eschew mulled wine but there is a non-alcohol version courtesy of Mulled Winter Punch from Belvoir Farms. This is a richly spiced fruity number made with a blend of red grape, elderberry, blackcurrant and orange juices spiked with nutmeg, clove and cinnamon. Gently heat it and serve in a tumbler.