Soft drinks: little mix can pay off big

By Nikkie Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Alternative: cocktails are one way operators can change up their soft drinks offer
Alternative: cocktails are one way operators can change up their soft drinks offer

Related tags Soft drinks Alcoholic beverage Cocktail

The rise in popularity of soft drinks isn’t just down to thirsty designated drivers or those on a health kick. It is the flavour they provide in cocktails and mixed drinks that is helping the category push on.

It is well-known the soft drinks category is on the up, with consumers becoming more health conscious and campaigns such as Dry January​ and Stoptober​ being heavily pushed at all opportunities in a bid to turn them away from the alcohol category.

However, soft drinks also play a crucial role when it comes to cocktails and mixed drinks. More than 75% of customers are happy to pay for a better quality cocktail, according to recent research from bar group Be At One.

The operator’s annual guest survey, which was completed by more than 5,000 customers, revealed men have increasingly developed a taste for cocktails, with almost a third (29%) drinking one every time they go out.

This shows cocktail lovers are ex-panding outside the stereotypical fe-
male audience, so growth in the category is increasing dramatically and should lead operators to look at all their options.

Premium growth factor

The premium drinks category is now worth more to the on-trade than ever before, with a combined sales total for up-market softs, long alcoholic drinks and spirits reaching £7.2bn in the past year (up to 11 June 2016) according to CGA Strategy data.

Global Brands marketing controller Justin Horsman explains why premium adult soft drinks are a growth driving category. “The crafted appeal of certain alcohol products such as beer and gin is now transcending into the soft drinks category and there is now more consumer demand for hand-crafted drinks with provenance.


The proportion of consumers looking for more unusual flavours in their drinks, which, according to Global Brands’ Justin Horsman, is down to a rising number of pleasure seekers, looking for new and exciting experiences.

“More than half (51%) of consumers prefer cocktails with their evening meal to wine or beer, and cocktail culture is growing year on year.

“It has been reported outlets that serve cocktails sell a third (36%) more spirits than ones that don’t.”

Soft drinks are more important to licensees than they have ever been before and play a key role in mixed drinks as well as on their own, according to Coca-Cola European Partners​ trade communications manager Amy Burgess.

She says: “Statistics show that more than a fifth of people are now choosing not to drink alcohol at all.

“This means they are a key performer in pubs and bars with traditional favourites like Coca-Cola and Schweppes Lemonade still among the biggest sellers, while mixers such as Schweppes Indian Tonic Water are popular too.”

But what about soft drinks with alcohol? Burgess outlines the importance of soft drinks in cocktails. She adds: “The art of cocktail making can be visually entertaining and as demand for premium soft drinks grows, introducing a cocktail menu is the ideal way to help encourage people to increase their spend on soft drinks while adding a touch of theatre.”

The ever-rising popularity of cocktails is reflected by the fact they are now offered by 28% of licensed outlets nationwide – a rise of 5,750 year on year, according to the CGA Mixed Drinks Report​ from April 2016.

Burgess adds: “Statistics also show that more than half (59%) of women consume cocktails during a special celebration, which makes offering a wide selection important as people celebrate personal occasions like birthdays or anniversaries.

“Long mixed drinks too are enjoyed by 57% of women and 47% of men, with the average consumer drinking three spirit and mixer drinks over the course of a night out.”


The proportion of men who drink a cocktail every time they go out according to BE At ONE’s annual guest survey, which was completed by more than 5,000 customers.

Importance of carbonation

When thinking about beer and wine, carbonation pops to mind, but they are also important in other categories.

Cocktail Credentials global cocktail ambassador Ben Reed, who spoke to delegates about carbonation at The Morning Advertiser​’s Future Trends: Spirits event last year (October), says bubbles are just as important in cocktails and mixed drinks as they are in a pint of lager​.

Bubbles bring with them many flavour benefits and help to release the aroma of drinks.

He adds: “When you pour liquid into a glass, there is a little bit of turbulence initially and the bubbles ascend to create a mousse at the top.

“This explodes into your nostrils with aroma and with around 70% to 80% of the flavour, the carbonation allows you to let the flavour of the liquid impact a much more heightened play on your sensory receptors. Similarly, inside the mouth, the bubbles move up through the mouth and impact retro-nasally on your olfactory passage.”

Burgess agrees with Reed and adds that, just as with any good Champagne, the hallmark of a high-quality carbonated mixer is in its effervescence.

“The rise and collapse of bubbles lifts the aroma and conveys the flavour to the nostrils, while the additional sensation of pops and bursts on the tongue delivers a bite,” she says.

Red Bull head of on-premise marketing Alex Dullard, claims mixed long drinks are becoming more relevant in a broader range of occasions and are an increasingly important category within the on-trade.

He explains: “Long mixed drinks are outperforming both long alcoholic drinks and wine across all key on-trade occasions, including celebrations, socialising with friends, big nights out, with a meal and after-work drinks.

“Driving consumer choice is the quality of the serve and getting this right can have a significant impact on sales. A survey by CGA explored consumer expectations and showed 43% of consumers demand a garnish in their long mixed drink. Ignoring this and delivering poorly served long mixed drinks has a long-term impact on consumer loyalty.”

The CGA data also indicated that more than a third (37%) of consumers would leave a venue after being served a badly made drink and wouldn’t return in the future.

Dullard adds: “Some 16% would not order another spirit and mixer in that venue and are likely to trade down to a less profitable alternative.”

However, consumers are becoming more and more promiscuous with little brand loyalty, always wanting something new and adventurous instead.

What’s in the glass isn’t the only area of importance, according to Britvic senior shopper marketing manager for out of home Russell Kirkham, who highlights the significance of what’s going on outside the glass.

“What consumers are looking for are more interesting experiences,” he says. “Using soft drinks in different ways is
a great approach for operators to come up with more interesting options to
get consumers into their outlet.”

He looks overseas for inspiration on super-sized cocktail serves. “One of the trends in Canada is an entire deep-fried chicken wing on top of a bloody Mary, which is a really good example of how people are looking for those different experiences,” says Kirkham.

He suggests making better use of the products you have in the bottle bar, by thinking about how you can meet consumers’ desires to have great times and memorable drinks.

He adds: “Something like the trend towards more interesting versions of classics, so a twist on a Bloody Mary for example, could be a Bloody Maria – with Tequila and tomato juice served with a different garnish or following the Canadian model, Bloody Marys with greater toppings on them.”

While image is important, taste is one of the most important factors that will keep customers coming back for more.

Almost half (41%) of consumers look for more unusual flavours in their drinks, which is down to a rising number of pleasure seekers, looking for new and exciting experiences, says Global Brands’ marketing controller Justin Horsman.

He adds: “The survey shows 51% of consumers prefer cocktails with their evening meal to wine or beer, and cocktail culture is growing. It has been reported that outlets that serve cocktails sell 36% more spirits than ones that don’t.”

Using interestingly flavoured soft drinks, such as Franklin & Sons Apple & Yorkshire Rhubarb with Cinnamon, is an easy way to grab customers’ attention, while also ticking the taste box.

So, don’t just think of softs as a category that needs to stay sober. Using all of the ingredients in your arsenal could lead to increased consumer interest and more profits. 

Related topics Soft & Hot Drinks

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