If you want to cater for the new generation of drinkers, put a sophisticated soft drinks list at the top of your menu. John Porter looks at the mocktails and alcohol-free options guaranteed to add some fizz to your offering
As the ‘Cinderella’ category of the eating-out sector, soft drinks have traditionally only received their last-minute invitation to the ball when they were needed as a mixer or as an alcohol-free alternative.
A combination of factors, including changing demographics, the health agenda and higher consumer expectations have all played a part in raising the profile of soft drinks, and on-trade figures for the year to 3 December 2016 compiled by CGA Strategy help tell the new story. Soft drinks in the on-trade are worth £4.3b, accounting for 15% of drinks sales and up by +0.5% in value and +3.3% in volume – a clear sign of ongoing premiumisation, says CGA. It also found that:
- Full-sugar soft drinks are in volume decline, down -0.3%, with low calorie options up +2.6.
- Cola, the largest soft drink category, is seeing growth driven by low-calorie cola, where volumes are up +4.5%
- Mixers have also grown impressively, and now account for 5% of the overall soft drinks market. Volume is up +13.4% and value up +16.7%, with sales helped by the continued growth of premium spirits.
- Juice is the third biggest category in volume terms at 10.9%, but sales performance is flat.
The Soft Drinks Levy, due to come into force in April 2018, will impose a charge on soft drinks companies for drinks with added sugar, and a total sugar content of around 5% or more. Lobbying continues, with the British Soft Drinks Association pointing out that sugar intake from soft drinks is reducing. Meanwhile, brand owners big and small have begun reformulating and focusing on low- and no-sugar brands, such as Pepsi Max and Coca-Cola Zero Sugar.
However, a changing consumer profile is more fundamental to the need for operators to rethink their approach to soft drinks, in term of both range and serve, says Russ Kirkham, senior shopper marketing manager – out of home, for Britvic. “The two big things happening specifically in the licensed environment is that, firstly, people are looking for a great experience. Secondly, they’re not necessarily drinking as much alcohol, and that’s particularly true among 18- to 35-year-olds, who are so important to the licensed trade. There’s more moderation, so they are looking for better quality.”
This expectation for premium soft drinks shouldn’t be taken in isolation from other categories, says Nick Harding, a partner in Gin Rickey’s bar in Chester. He says: “There’s been a huge explosion in the interest in premium adult drinks – not just in soft drinks, but in spirits and other alcohol categories, too. Our drinkers want an experience, not just a single drink, so they’re looking for brands with a story and a character behind them.”
The benefits of aligning soft drinks with the wider drinks range is also emphasised by Amy Burgess, trade communications manager at Coca-Cola European Partners, who cites CGA figures showing that 29% of people would consider a mocktail if offered: “As demand for premium soft drinks grows, introducing a menu of mocktails is the ideal way to encourage people to increase spend,” she says.
Drinks distributor Halewood Wines & Spirits points to Nielsen data showing a 39% value increase in sales of alcohol-free wine, and 40% for its own Eisberg brand. Dan Harwood, head of wine education for Eisberg, says: “Those choosing not to drink alcohol don’t want to be restricted to sugary pop or fruit juices, especially at the start of a long night, such as a party or wedding. Alcohol-free wine provides a more grown-up, low-calorie choice for non-drinkers, while allowing them to feel part of the occasion.”
A few unique touches can add to consumers’ perception of value, advises Andrew Jackson, marketing director at Fentimans. “Operators should be knowledgeable about the ingredients in their soft drinks and be able to give advice on flavours and garnishes or added fruit. We’re confident our drinks pack enough flavour to be enjoyed on their own without any adornment, but gooseberries go well with our Wild English Elderflower, and lime wedges with our Traditional Ginger Beer,” he says.
Taking a similar approach is Franklin & Sons, which has recommendations for its range of adult soft drinks including garnishing with cinnamon, ginger slices and star anise. With flavours including Wild Strawberry & Scottish Raspberry with cracked black pepper, and Ginger Beer & Malted Barley with a squeeze of lemon, the brand also emphasises its food-matching credentials.
Adrian Troy, AG Barr’s marketing director, underscores this point: “Maximising interest in food is a key way of boosting profits as soft drinks are an important part of a meal. In outlets where food is served, consumption of soft drinks is higher; particularly as a result of family dining. Family-friendly drinks such as our Simply Fruity can help you take advantage, and outlets could consider meal deals or discounts on drinks when food is purchased.”
Health concerns, while clearly an issue for consumers, become more complex in the eating out market, with choices often changing according to occasion and time of day. Kelley Walker, purchasing manager at Beacon, which supplies the Oranka juice dispensing system, says: “At breakfast, the demand for a healthy option is higher, as many wish to begin the day in a ‘clean’ way, but another significant trend is eating breakfast on the go.” She advises the dispensed juice options for those with time to enjoy their breakfast at leisure, alongside bottled options for those on the move.
Steve Carter, sales and marketing director for Frobishers Juices, sums up the challenge: “The boundaries between health and indulgence are continually blurring. Consumers may be looking to make healthier choices in the home, but our research has also indicated that when it comes to a night out, they’re still looking for a bit of indulgence. It’s up to soft drink manufacturers to ensure that they supply drinks to the on-trade that both tap into the desire for more sophistication while also meeting customers’ expectations on sugar levels.”
1 Hartridges Apple Pressé
Apple Pressé is a value-for-money soft drink combining natural fruit flavours with carbonated spring water to offer a crisp and refreshing long drink.
2 Coldpress Coconut Waters
Coldpress is launching a new range of coconut waters, in Blood Orange & Mandarin, Lime & Mint, and Raspberry Lemon flavours.
3 Sekforde Bespoke Botanical Mixers
Sekforde Bespoke Botanical Mixers complement the flavours of rum and whiskey without overpowering a cocktail. Sekforde for Whiskey is made with orange and a hint of rosemary, while Sekforde for Rum features lime and green herbs.
4 Folkington’s mixers
Sussex drinks company Folkington’s has launched a range of six premium mixers using natural botanical extracts in 150ml mini-cans. The range includes Indian Tonic Water, Light Tonic Water, Dry Ginger Ale, Bitter Lemon, Lemonade and Club Soda.
5 Funnybones Aloe Refresh
Soft drink Grace Aloe Refresh from Funnybones contains aloe vera pieces. It is available in Original, Strawberry and Mango flavours, as well as an original ‘smooth’ variant with no pieces, and Grace Aloe Zero Smooth with no sugar and five calories per 500ml bottle.
6 Pip Organic
Pip Organic has launched two new products: Fruit Quenchers and Fruity Water. Both contain just organic fruit and spring water, and count as one of your five a day.
7 R White’s Lemonade
Britvic has added three new flavours to the R White’s range: Traditional Cloudy Lemonade, Raspberry Lemonade, and Pear & Elderflower. The 330ml bottles also feature a new design.
8 Feel Good 275ml
Feel Good, the natural soft drink brand from Nichols, has overhauled its branding and range. Supplied in 275ml glass bottles are ‘refreshingly still’ Orange, Mango & Water; and Cranberry, Pomegranate & Water, while ‘a bit bubbly’ includes Orange, Passion Fruit & Water; Apple, Elderflower & Water; and Cranberry, Lime & Water.
9 Bottlegreen pressés
Bottlegreen has added to its range of sparkling pressés with a Fruity Raspberry Lemonade and a Refreshing Ginger Beer.
10 Ponthier Purées
Three new exotic purées have been added to the Ponthier range, supplied by Harvey & Brockless: Yuzu, perfect to flavour the rim of a margarita glass as an alternative to salt, as well as Bergamot and Calamansi purées.
11 Country Range Frozen Fruit
Wholesaler Country Range has launched frozen strawberries, raspberries and a summer berry mix featuring redcurrants, raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, blackberries and blueberries, all supplied in 1kg bags.
Coca Cola European Partners
Franklin & Sons
Halewood Wines & Spirits
Harvey & Brockless