The adult soft drinks market is now well established, so John Porter rounds up the latest sophisticated tipples for marvellous mocktails
Caterers could clearly be forgiven for experiencing a certain amount of confusion when it comes to planning an appealing and profitable soft drinks range. With figures from analysts CGA showing on-trade soft drinks sales with a value of £4.4b (moving annual total to 3/11/2018) and growing, the market is buoyant but more diverse than ever.
The Soft Drinks Levy introduced in 2018 helped to drive both reformulations of existing brands and a wave of product development, but more fundamental is the changing consumer demographic.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that 20% of the adult population is teetotal, with the figure slightly higher than the average for younger consumers. In 2019, two alcohol-free days a week – ideally consecutive – became an official Public Health England recommendation, and 90% of the population now tell the ONS that they hit the weekly ‘two days off’ target.
Help is at hand for operators, of course, with no shortage of support from suppliers, both long-established brands and the new kids on the block looking to take a share of the market. Among them is Barr Soft Drinks, which has launched a new approach built around the three key drivers it believes will be a major contributor to category growth: health and wellbeing, taste and fun and lifestyle and culture.
Adrian Troy, marketing director, says: “Understanding your customer base and tailoring your soft drinks offering accordingly is key when it comes to driving sales. Soft drinks are an important part of a meal, and a great-tasting beverage can really maximise consumer enjoyment and encourage loyalty as well as boosting profits for caterers.”
Brand owners argue that soft drinks have become more just than a purchase for customers avoiding alcohol. Russell Goldman, commercial director of foodservice and licensed at Britvic, says: “With the growing number of people abstaining from or reducing their alcohol intake, the soft drinks industry has aimed to seize this opportunity by increasing range and visibility.”
“Alcohol consumption has become a more considered purchase in out of home occasions, and soft drinks are the most popular choice for those moderating their alcohol intake due to a healthier lifestyle.”
One factor sometimes cited as a missed opportunity is food, with many consumers opting for water with a meal rather than soft drinks as they believe they will be too sweet. Adult soft drink Kolibri, which has a ‘nectar’ in the cap which allows the flavour to be intensified drop by drop, is served by operators including Gaucho. Co-founder Kamila Sitwell says: “Our different variants pair beautifully with food, as the botanical flavours enhance but don’t compete with the chef’s creations. At the same time they offer the flavour complexity and interest that is lacking in water.”
Mix it up
With the Wine & Spirits Trade Association (WSTA) reporting double-digit volume growth of spirits in the on-trade, the role of soft drinks in cocktails and mixers, as well as a standalone category, is key to range planning.
Peter Spanton, a former restaurateur who created his own soft drinks range in 2011, says: “I put down a marker when I released my first drink, the Nº7 Acai blend. It’s complex, like a port, was created for the adult palate, and is presented as a sexy product.
“At the time, no one else was looking at this space, creating drinks to be enjoyed by grown-ups in bars, whether mixed or not. It’s something I continue to do throughout the range – our Nº13 Salted Paloma and Nº4 Chocolate Tonic are genuine ‘adult soft drinks’ enjoyed in bars and, due to demand, soon to also be available in cans.”
Amy Burgess, senior trade communications manager at Coca-Cola European Partners, believes the popularity of premium mixers is playing a big part in the overall premiumisation trend in on-trade drinks sales. “Consumers are drinking less but drinking better, and are prepared to pay more for an indulgent beverage. This is helping to grow adult soft drinks, as people increasingly look for drinks that are of higher quality, use better ingredients and have a more authentic story to create a sophisticated drinking experience.”
Citing the six-strong Schweppes 1783 mixer range, she says: “Each flavour is carefully created to marry perfectly with the finest spirits to elevate the taste sensation. Mocktails are becoming an increasingly popular non-alcoholic option as people look for a more indulgent soft drink, creating a great opportunity to increase soft drinks sales. Operators can get inventive with mocktails by making the most of exotic flavours from adult soft drinks like Appletiser and Schweppes 1783, to keep their offering fresh and exciting.”
Andrew Turner, director of wine at Halewood Wines & Spirits, which manufactures Eisberg alcohol-free wine, says: “For adult soft drink choices, luxury is the key factor. The teetotal customer still celebrates the same social occasions and wants the same excitement, visual appeal and quality that make regular cocktails so appealing. Eisberg’s sparkling Blanc and Rosé are excellent bases for a whole series of mocktails, giving mixologists something to work with while creating new drinks.”
Emma Cotton, communications and marketing director for Luscombe Drinks, believes that overall “the sugar tax has had a positive impact on the market – it is important that as a nation we take more responsibility for our health and wellness.” With Luscombe’s range below the levy threshold and made with naturally occurring sugars or natural raw cane sugar, she says tastes are evolving. “The consumer is becoming more savvy – they don’t just want a mainstream product – instead they’re looking for sophisticated, non-alcoholic alternatives that come with a story and have a premium taste profile.”
Cotton adds: “The increased popularity of artisan spirits means that selecting the correct mixer is essential to the consumer experience. It’s important for tonic and mixer producers to stay ahead of the curve – consumers are demanding genuine ingredients, simple but tasty recipes, and clean labelling with no additives or artificial sweeteners.”
Operators are adapting their drinks menus to this new opportunity. Clean-eating restaurant concept Redemption has opened a flagship site in Seven Dials in Covent Garden, London, that claims to be the world’s first alcohol-free cocktail bar.
The Corn Stores cocktail bar and restaurant in Reading has also put a special focus on non-alcoholic drinks. Jordan Hallows, managing director of owner Rarebreed Dining, says: “Since opening in December we’ve had great feedback on our British-focused drinks list and the non-alcoholic options, especially during ‘Dry January’. Many people drive to our site, so it’s especially important for us to offer quality mocktails, such as our espresso-based Cool Beans, which has the same theatre, balance and intricacies of the alcoholic version.”
Low sugar, high taste
The various trends in soft drinks don’t always run along parallel tracks, but often cross over. Funnybones Foodservice distributes Grace 100% coconut water, a soft drink consumers appreciate for perceived health benefits as well as enjoying in cocktails such as a coconut caipirinha.
Marja Lawrence, operations manager, says: “Consumers who are not drinking want a premium alternative to give them the same ‘treat’ factor that their friends receive from an alcoholic drink. This means that the serve as well as the drink itself needs to be desirable – the drinks must look beautiful as well as taste wonderful. With coconut water a key component of some on-trend alcoholic drinks, it’s easy to create alcohol-free versions using the low- or no-alcohol spirit alternatives on the market.”
Matt Cheadle, operations support manager at six-strong pub operator Parogon Group, believes health is high on customer’s agendas. He says: “Originally, having healthier drinks was on everyone’s radar because of the sugar levy. But as we’re more aware of the health effects of sugar and also of the reduction in people who drink alcohol, we’re choosing to put our customers first and offer them a great selection of healthy soft drinks that don’t break the bank.”
The pubs stock Double Dutch tonics, which have a low sugar content, and Cheadle adds that, “we also try to use natural fruit and purées in our cocktails and mocktails rather than syrups, so our drinks are healthier and fresher.”
Smoothie specialist Coldpress has rebranded and expanded its range, which is made using the high-pressure processing (HPP) cold pasteurisation technique, citing its own testing, which shows that its fruit and vegetable juices retain more naturally occurring vitamins compared to conventionally pasteurised juices and smoothies.
In addition, the range is being fortified with additional vitamins. Founder Andrew Gibb says: “Our own and other consumer research indicates that although consumers are aware that fruit juices are a good source of vitamins, awareness of specific vitamins contained in fruit juices is surprisingly quite limited. This research also confirms that consumers believe fruit juices are an excellent way to get extra vitamins and nutrients into their diets.”
Mark Bell, strategy and planning manager at Red Bull UK, believes this type of functionality is important to the market. “Taste and refreshment are always going to be key drivers in the soft drinks market. Busier lifestyles and increasingly time-poor consumers, however, mean that the market is looking for more all the time. Products that deliver added value for a range of occasions, such as multi-vitamins, protein or a functional energy boost, continue to be popular.”
Andy Howie, co-founder of milkshake brand Shaken Udder, argues that operators also need to think beyond fizzy drinks and juices, particularly when planning ranges with appeal to families. “For caterers that don’t have the time or facilities to produce their own milkshakes, our Shaken Udder milkshakes are made from real ingredients. Children also love milkshakes, so offering a choice of milk-based drinks will help target younger customers.”
Vimto Out of Home is the third-largest post-mix provider in the UK, supplying Coca-Cola products as well as a range that also includes Ocean Spray and Irn-Bru. Marketing director Emma Hunt sums up: “When putting together a softs menu, it’s essential to offer a wide range of choice. This ensures non-drinkers feel like they are being catered to and enjoy each round as much as the rest of the group.”
“A wide range of choice will only keep customers coming back if publicans also take care in the delivery of a soft drink. The perfect serve needs quality glassware and garnishes and even a chilled glass so that customers feel the drink has been prepared, not just poured.”
Make mine a mocktail
Supplied by Britvic
The tartness of the cranberries and raspberries combined with the refreshing bitter lemon make this a drink to awaken the senses.
40ml Britvic Cranberry Juice
100ml Britvic Bitter Lemon
15ml Teisseire Liquid Cane Sugar
5 fresh raspberries
Place the raspberries in a highball glass and muddle with a pestle. Add Britvic Cranberry Juice and Teisseire Liquid Cane Sugar. Stir and add crushed ice.
Top with Britvic Bitter Lemon and stir. Garnish with fresh raspberries or redcurrants.
Garden Smash Twist
Supplied by Red Bull
15ml strawberry purée
35ml apple Juice
5 mint leaves
15ml sour mix (1:1)
1 cold can of Red Bull Sugarfree
Mix the ingredients together with ice and garnish with mint and strawberries.
Lixir is a portfolio of naturally flavoured tonics in five flavours. The range is designed to encourage people to rethink the classic gin and tonic as well as giving bartenders new possibilities, such as spicing up rum with rhubarb and ginger, pairing a bourbon with blood orange and cinnamon or even lengthening white wine with elderflower and lemon.
Franklin & Sons has launched an Infused Soda collection, providing unusual flavour combinations in a premium soft drink. The flavours include Fragrant Guava & Persian Lime with Root Ginger; Exotic Pineapple & Aromatic Cardamom with Cracked Cubeb Pepper; and Succulent Pomegranate & Floral Hibiscus with Delicate Rose.
Twinings Cold In’fuse is a cold-brew product created to infuse still or sparkling cold water. Available in watermelon, mint and strawberry; passionfruit, mango and blood orange; and blueberry, apple and blackcurrant flavours, Cold In’fuse turns water into a sugar-free, natural adult drink.
Wild Fizz Kombucha offers four flavours in both cans and bottles: jasmine tea; blood orange; lavender, rosemary and lemon; and ginger, turmeric and black pepper. Naturally effervescent with delicate flavours, each variant claims different beneficial health qualities. Wild Fizz is also an alternative to traditional mixers and cocktail bases.
Green Lady Sparkling Green Tea from Thomas Ridley Foodservice offers a more sophisticated adult beverage at just 75 calories, combining cold-brewed Darjeeling green tea, carob fruit, nutmeg and rose oil.
Barr Soft Drinks www.agbarr.co.uk
Coca-Cola European Partners www.ccep.com
Double Dutch www.doubledutchdrinks.com
Franklin & Sons www.franklinandsons.co.uk
Funnybones Foodservice www.funnybones.co.uk
Halewood Wines & Spirits www.halewood-int.com
Luscombe Drinks www.luscombe.co.uk
Peter Spanton Drinks www.peterspanton.com
Red Bull www.redbull.com/gb-en
Shaken Udder www.shakenudder.com
Thomas Ridley Foodservice www.thomasridley.co.uk
Vimto Out of Home www.vimto.uk
Wild Fizz www.wildfizzkombucha.com