Soft drink sales may be down but they remain a central offer and operators have never had a wider range of flavours and variants to choose from, reports Angela Frewin
While soft drinks weathered the grim recessionary climate in 2011 to increase overall value sales by 4% (to £9.7b), hospitality channels took a bit of a hit as rising unemployment, commodity prices and tax tariffs widened the gap between take-home and on-premises consumption.
The latest Britvic Soft Drinks Report reveals that on-premises sales dropped by 1% in value (to £2.7b) and by 4% in volume, with only managed pubs, fast-food restaurants, coffee shops and canteens bucking the trend.
Nevertheless, soft drinks remain the third highest-selling category by value after beer and spirits - a fact that hoteliers and caterers neglect at their peril.
"The soft drinks range in bars can be very limited and doesn't cater for families, women or those wanting a premium product without artificial ingredients or simply something more interesting than the usual soft drinks on offer," says Sarah Walker, on-trade channel manager at Belvoir Fruit Farms.
The British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) testifies that the market is becoming more premium and diverse, with the not-from concentrate sector now commanding a 27% market share, up from just 4% in 1995. Consumers are still interested in health and nutrition, and operators need to consider low- or no-added-sugar, additive-free and nutrient-rich options - plus lines for kids - in addition to the explosion of new flavours flooding the market.
But exciting new lines can still fail to tempt if they are in effect hidden away. Make your most adventurous lines visible on the top shelves in place of standard mixers and waters (which customers expect to be stocked), Walker suggests, and promote them with tent cards on tables.
Confirming that soft drinks have not escaped Britons' increasing appetite for more adventurous flavours in food, the BSDA says that the old faithful, orange, has lost market share since 1995 (from 78% to 54%) to more exotic blends and tropical tastes.
While spearheaded by the premium sector, the trend is clearly evident in mainstream brands. PepsiCo's Tropicana line of gently-squeezed pure juice now includes pineapple and raspberry (as well as the UK's first still lemonade) alongside the original orange, while CCE has launched Grapetiser - a from-concentrate sparkling juice in both red and white grape varieties - as an offshoot of its popular Appletiser drink. Four cranberry blends have joined its Ocean Spray 100% juice range (including a blueberry and pomegranate superfruit mix) along with a standalone blueberry.
And Britvic's latest J20 offer, a papaya-and-peach blend, was devised by its own customers in an online competition. The company also added a new taste sensation to the flagging flavoured carbonate sector with Turbo Tango, which delivers a foamy blast of orange using nitro-fuelled aerosol technology.
Mixers, which benefited from a revival in spirits, have proved a fertile ground for new and sophisticated flavours that are good enough to drink on their own. Peter Spanton's intriguing new tonics team cardamom with cucumber or mint and aromatic bitters with dark chocolate, for example. Juicology's latest blends of fresh purées, juices, botanicals, herbs and spices (which include Lychee, Berry & Basil and Coconut Water & Sweet Guava) even come pre-fortified with liver-friendly milk thistle extract.
By taking inconsistency and guess-work out of both standalone spiced tomato juices and Bloody Marys, James White Drinks says its premium-priced Big Tom continues to appeal even to price-motivated customers who are unwilling to pay the extra cost for its organic pure juices.
The Britvic report highlighted ginger as an increasingly popular mixer, and pure juice supplier Pago has responded to a similar trend in fine cuisine with its new Ginger-Citrus blend, which, it says, offers endless food-matching and cocktail combinations, complementing Thai and Chinese dishes, tart fruits, chillis, cardamom and chocolate.
If you are after unique, then Melia Food offers Honey Melon; Acai, Pomegranate & Sour Cherry; Fig; and Black Mulberry and more in its Proganics line of organic, 100% fruit juices. Even more startling are newcomer Juna UK's juices from South America - such as the rhubarb-and-lime-flavoured Lulo, pineapple-like Guanabana, and the bitter-berry Mora.
More delicate processing techniques are also delivering innovation. Procedures adopted from pressing olive oil have enabled WB&Co to deliver the UK's first pure, unpasteurised line of organic herb-and-spice-flavoured vegetable juices as an option for the fructose-intolerant.
And Closed Loop's cold pasteurisation technique (at 4°C rather than 75°C) has breathed fresh life into the apple. It preserves not only the nutrients but also the distinctive flavours of the fruits, allowing the group to market individual varieties such as Pink Lady, Braeburn and Gala as well as blends.
Provenance is also of increasing interest to consumers, prompting Metro Drinks to provide details of the supplier farms and fruit varieties in its British Cloudy Apple and British Cloudy Pear drinks, two of four new gourmet Folkington's juices.
Classic British heritage (with a twist) also informs Belvoir's new quintet of presses, cordials, lemonade and ginger beer designed to commemorate the Queen's Jubilee which, along with the upcoming London Olympics, offers increased opportunities to boost soft drink sales this summer, especially during the day.
But Walker warns that deliveries are likely to be disrupted by planned diversions along the Olympic route and changes being imposed as to when deliveries can be made. So it's worth getting your orders in early.
The Britvic Soft Drinks Report 2012 can be viewed at www.britvic.co.uk/en/Media-Centre/Reports.aspx
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Colas continue to dominate sales (followed by lemonade and fruit juices) with Pepsi and Coca-Cola and their faster-growing sugar-free variants topping the brands table. Britvic and Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) account for nearly 80% of all soft drinks supplied to the trade.
Channel-wise, Cola and energy drinks topped the menus in managed pubs, while mixers fared well in independent pubs and in hotels. Pure juices (popular with meals and breakfasts) thrived in hotels but dropped sharply in restaurants, where lemonade was the big success story.
Energy drinks, boosted by the trend of mixing them with spirits, proved the biggest growers in 2011 - falling only in restaurants - and pack leader Red Bull cites Mintel research that they will account for 50% of soft drinks growth by 2015.
Notable additions included CCE's sugar-free Relentless Libertus, Britvic's UK-only Mountain Dew, and AG Barr's Rockstar Pink - the first aimed at women.
Sales may be down, but you can't do without water. At the very least, it's an essential palette cleanser with meals and a vital hydrator in hotel gyms and lengthy meetings. Still water outsells sparkling, but cash-strapped consumers are less willing to pay for plain tap water. Adding value can help upsell water:
Naturally-filtered, attractively-bottled branded mineral waters Shropshire's Wenlock Springs recommends using a food service-exclusive brand to avoid unfavourable comparisons with supermarket prices. The brand's regional provenance was a factor behind its sole listing at the Belfry golf and leisure resort in Sutton Coldfield.
â- On-site bottling systems Firms such as Eau de Vie, EcoPure and Vivreau offer a cheaper, greener but still premium solution with packages that will purify, chill and carbonate tap water for serving in sealed, own-label designer bottles. After installing a Vivreau system, Yorkshire's Wellington Inn generated an extra £6,000 a year when its restaurant customers proved happy to pay £3 for a bottle of sparkling or still water (followed by free refills) in place of free jugs of tap water.
â- Flavoured and vitamin-enriched waters Britvic's low-sugar Robinsons Fruit Shoot Hydro for kids outperformed the sector last year. New lines include Highland Springs' Hydr8 Flavours and additional carbonated, nutrient-enriched SoBe V Waters from Britvic/PepsiCo.
Danish flavoured and vitamin water specialist Drink Moments predicts growing competition from other natural drinks offering better hydration, such as electrolyte-rich coconut water. Chef and flavour specialist Gary Barnshaw spotted the opportunity with his new Icoco line of coconut waters blended with fresh fruits, and more launches in this sector are imminent.
Belvoir Fruit Farms
Britvic Soft Drinks
0845 7581 781
Closed Loop Foods
0845 301 7686
08475 102 030
01323 485 602
James White Drinks
01473 890 111
07957 208 632
075 0424 4698
Melia Foods 020 7487 4907
Pago 07798 53244
PepsiCo UK 0118 930 6666
Peter Spanton Beverages 0844 875 2423
Red Bull 020 7434 0100
Vivreau 0845 674 9655
Wenlock Spring 01694 781 277