Increasing numbers of consumers are seeking to moderate their alcohol intake for a variety of reasons, which presents pubs with an opportunity to grow their overall soft drink sales.
At the same time, many consumers are also looking for more premium soft drink experiences, turning away from sugary drinks to fresher, more natural and unusual products.
These trends have seen the humble cordial transformed from a simple, generic splash served with a squirt of water into tasty, attractive options that justify a premium price and carry higher margins.
The latest Britvic Soft Drinks Report classifies cordials under the wider category of squash and shows on-trade sales grew by 4.7% last year to £232m, a touch ahead of overall licensed trade soft drink growth.
Among the innovations in cordial is Brewfitt’s Mr Fitz Aqua Spritz system. It dispenses pure filtered water through a ceramic font and licensees can create a bespoke soft drinks menu, choosing from a range of 25-plus flavours of Mr Fitzpatrick’s branded cordials.
These range from Dandelion & Burdock to exotic varieties such as English Elderflower & Bramley Apple, and Lemon, Japanese Yuzu & Turmeric.
Brewfitt supplies branded glassware and other bar equipment, and suggests venues can earn GP over 85% on a £3.50 long serve.
Head of brand Mark Fenton says: “We’ve also got a great range of recipes combining flavours and ingredients, including dessert floats, which are fantastic additional revenue generators.
“We’re aiming it as an alternative to those types of bottled products in the back-bar fridge taking up space, and are giving lower, mid-60% GP. There is a proliferation of those giving quite a confusing offer.
“Venues can gain extra revenue from repositioning their offer to the front of the bar.
“The big difference is the font and the activation around it such as branded glassware, a measuring jigger and the menu card. They create a far bigger feel, which means venues can premiumise their soft drinks.
“Another key to it is the training aspect, to shift staff away from the default option towards a menu of flavours. That’s where the difference lies.”
For beer-led bars, the front of the bar can be as competitive for space as fridges, and bottled cordials still have an important role to play in such venues.
Frobisher’s Curious Cordials come in Sloe & Raspberry, Peach & Lychee, Pomegranate & Rose and Lemon & Mint flavours, which head of brand Jessica Waller says can be served solus with still or sparkling water or used to create a range of mocktails.
They can also double up as alcoholic cocktail ingredients or be lengthened with Prosecco.
“With a long shelf life, cordials can feature on menus year-round and can be sold cold or hot,” adds Waller.
Non-alcoholic cocktails offer a great trade-up for licensees because they can be offered at a premium price over soft drinks.
“Consumers are willing to pay a bit more for a fresh, fruity combination that will feel as special as a cocktail,” she adds.
“We work with operators to help them create exciting non-alcoholic menus that can be offered as specials.”
Pev Manners, managing director of Belvoir Fruit Farms, says pub operators should turn to premium cordials to improve soft drink profitability.
“The profit potential is larger than that of standard squashes and cordials as consumers will pay more for quality soft drinks with natural credentials,” he says. “GPs of around 80%-plus are very achievable.”
Like Waller, Manners points to the Belvoir range’s versatility and unusual flavours, such as Organic Lemon & Mint cordial, as strong USPs.
Its recommendations include the Blueberry & Blackcurrant Mule, which combines Belvoir’s Blueberry & Blackcurrant cordial with lime juice, topped with Belvoir Ginger Beer pressé and a sprig of mint to garnish.
“There is value in the perfect serve,” says Manners, “in making soft drinks look as good as their alcoholic counterparts.”
He suggests varying garnishes, like a slice of ginger for Ginger cordial or a raspberry for Raspberry & Lemon.
“This underlines the naturalness of the ingredients used to make them, but also adds to the perceived value of the serve,” he adds.
Nick White, head of soft drinks at Bottle Green, says a simple serve of its Elderflower cordial with soda water, a slice of lemon and sprig of mint, can cost as little as 30p, offering 90% GP if sold at £3.
“Presentation is everything when it comes to upping the appeal of cordials to customers, and licensees should take inspiration from cocktails to provide more of an experience through interesting premium serves,” White says.
“The thing that unites these consumers is their desire not to be treated like second-class citizens, not to feel as though soft drinks aren’t important to the outlet, not to feel like there’s nothing special for them.
“With mocktails, coolers and posh sodas, outlets have a variety of serves with both strong consumer appeal and high margin opportunity.”
With an array of flavours, recipe ideas and dispenses formats to choose from, premium cordials offer plenty of options for licensees to pep up soft drinks and increase profits.
“For the growing number of people choosing not to drink alcohol, cordials could well be part of the solution,” adds Manners at Belvoir.