Best served cold

The peak selling period for cold drinks is just around the corner, so it’s time to pack your fridges – and wait for the sun to come out

The soft drinks market is staggeringly big. And there are some eye-watering stats that prove the point.  According to the British Soft Drinks Association, in 2013 we Brits consumed 14.5 billion litres of fizzy drink, bottled water, cordials and fruit juices. Fizzy drinks is the biggest category, followed by water, then fruit juice. Together, they add up to a market worth £15.5 billion – that’s about the same as nine UK organic food and drink industries.

So, while the naturally healthy end of the soft drinks market is a relatively small percentage of that total, it’s not hard to see why the search to find the next health ‘superdrink’ is always on.

And there are quite a few products – and brands – with their eyes on the prize. We’re hearing lots more about plant- and tree sap-based drinks, with birch and maple waters getting lots of media attention. But don’t forget cactus and artichoke-based drinks – or bamboo, which Canadian natural drink entrepreneur Vincent Villanis thinks has the biggest potential of all (he’s even started a bamboo farm to produce local, sustainable ingredients for his Bamboo Water product).

Fermented drinks – in fact, all things fermented – are also firmly on the up. So there’s a big interest this year in kefir, kombucha and kvass, with manufacturers developing all sorts of new twists on very traditional themes. Look out too for some exciting new speciality veg drinks as juice brands respond to the current outbreak of celebrity-fuelled veggie-mania.

View from the shop floor
So, how is this translating into sales – and how are indie retailers planning to make this summer a sizzling one for cold drinks?

Alan Martin, who owns Food For Thought (Kingston and Guildford) is seeing lots of interest in premium speciality drinks. “We’re getting a fantastic interest from our customers in cold-pressed juices. They’re part of the continuing trend for raw. They have a short shelf-life (up to ten days), and they’re not cheap at around £5-6 for a 250ml bottle – but they sell well. Plenish does really well for us – and very really supportive and so enthusiastic.”

Food For Thought is also doing well with natural birch water. “People know they should drink water, but they just get bored with it! Yes, there are lots of flavoured waters out there but they’ve often got crappy stuff in them. So something like birch water, which is naturally sweet and doesn’t have any flavourings, has real appeal. We’re selling huge volumes of it – the Sibberi product is really popular, and again, the brand gives lots of support. We’re also having a look at maple water, which I hear is being tipped as the next coconut water.”

On the subject of which, there is just no stopping the coconut water phenomenon. “It’s still such a big category. We’re selling lots of Unoco, which has a lovely subtle pink colour due to the antioxidant activity of fresh green coconuts.  It’s the closest thing to straight off the tree, sliced open with a machete coconut water. We’ll push this brand heavily this summer.”

Martin also singles out Ucha Kombucha  (“it flies out”) along with Donat MG, a sparkling mineral water naturally rich in magnesium, and Plenish Cashew Milk.

Don’t forget the kids
But not everyone’s ready to shell out £5 or £6 on a lunchtime drink, says Martin. “That’s why we still do a really good range of classic and affordable natural soft drinks – Fentimans, Whole Earth and so on. We get lots of mums coming in, so you need to have a good selection for the kids. We do well with the Provamel 250ml cartons – chocolate, strawberry, etc. They also do a rice milk with coconut and pineapple, which is popular.”

Sally Marshall at Wild Oats in Bristol says that
customers are increasingly looking for “something different, with extra functionality or taste benefit”. “I’d say we’ve seen a decline in straight fruit juices, but that’s more than being made up for in other areas.”

There’s no let up in coconut water’s fortunes in Bristol either. “We still sell tonnes. Vita Coco does well, especially the flavoured ones. Biona and Tiana are also good sellers. Unoco, which is raw – so two popular features in one – has gained quite a following too.”

Telling the story
The first hint of hot weather is guaranteed to bring customers in for water, says Marshall. “It seems obvious, but water is a big seller. We really like FRANK Water. It was started by a Bristol girl after she came back from travelling, and it raises funds for clean water projects in India. We have a notice in the store telling the story and that creates interest and support.”

Marshall agrees there is growing interest in fermented drinks. “Kefir is increasingly popular. We sell two milk-based kefir drinks, from Nourish and Biona, and also do well with a coconut kefir from Rhythm. Kombuchas sell well too; we especially like Gavin’s, based in Totnes.

Plant milks are another category with a growing following, says Marshall. “Coconut milk, rice milk and soya drinks all are steady sellers. The little Provamel cartons  are popular. Rebel Kitchen’s coconut drinks are interesting and tick lots of boxes. They’re sweetened with dates, they’re dairy-free, and they come in really striking packs, so have strong shelf presence too.”

In the can
Wild Oats has a good selection of classic canned drinks. “Whole Earth, both colas and fruit flavours, sell well. Scheckter’s is really popular – it’s organic, sweetened with agave and fruit juice and contains guarana and ginseng for a bit of added kick. The new canned drinks from Cawston Press come in some lovely flavours – Rhubarb is very popular, but Elderflower Lemonade and Cloudy Apple sell well too.”

Marshall thinks brands are missing a trick by offering only a limited range of veg drinks. “There are quite a lot of veg and fruit blends out there, but I’d like to see purely vegetable drinks, especially things like cucumber and celery which are naturally cleansing.”

So, how can retailers make the most of the soft drink category with the peak selling period just around the corner? For Martin, planning ahead is key. “We’ve just bought two new fridges especially for cold drinks so we can really push them this summer. We’re going to have premium speciality drinks blocked by type on one side, and classic cold drinks and juices on the other. And we’ll simply re-merchandise in the winter with soups, pots and pastas.

Wild Oats meanwhile has a small selection of soft drinks in a fridge close to the till.
“It’s the perfect place for the lunchtime grab-and-go trade,” says Marshall.

Martin says samplings are  a great way to stimulate sales. “The really premium priced drinks almost demand to have someone talk about them – and they often have a great story behind them. Things like recipe books can also add real value to a brand and a category.”


Hot Stocks

Pretty in pink
Unpasteurized, unrefined and untreated, Unoco Raw Coconut water is naturally pink in colour (a sign of freshness and antioxidant activity) and beautifully fresh tasting. “The closest thing to straight off the tree, sliced open fresh coconut” as one retailer told us!

Green dream
Plenish Green Juice comes in two chlorophyll-packed variants – Sweet Sexy Green and Mind Body Green. Raw, cold-pressed and brimming with micro-nutrients, they’re both great natural detoxifiers and immune-boosters.

With Gusto
Described as a “craft cola in a can” Gusto Cola is also billed as Europe’s first organic, Fairtrade, low-calorie cola. At 49 calories per 335ml can, the drink blends botanicals and spices, including cola nut, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and coriander, and is sweetened with organic cane sugar and organic stevia
leaf extract.

Perfectly FRANK 
FRANK Water is the bottled water that gives something back – in this case to clean water projects in India. Sourced from a family-owned artesian spring in Devon, it’s available in PET
or glass bottles.

Rebel, rebel
Very fetchingly packaged, and with the highest natural credentials, Rebel Kitchen’s coconut ‘mylks’ are sweetened with date nectar and flavoured with coffee, cacao, matcha or chia botanicals.


Juices & soft drinks products

Dr-OrganicSuperfruits Sour Cherry Juice Super Concentrate

Optima Consumer Health Ltd
Tel: 01274 526360
E-mail:  [email protected] 

Part of the advanced range of juices that utilise the latest super antioxidant fruit and combine them with a unique blend of natural actives to produce products which help the body’s natural defence system fight oxidative damage. The Sour Cherry Super Concentrate uses only the highest quality Montmorency cherries to produce this product. These cherries are from the lighter coloured ‘amarelle’ prunus cerasus variety and have a tart flavour. This great tasting juice is naturally preserved to help maintain the integrity of the product.


PulsinPulsin’ Organic Whey Protein Powder

Pulsin’ Limited,
Tel: 01452 729000
E-mail:  [email protected]

Pulsin’ have added Organic Whey to their award winning range of natural and unflavoured protein powders. Available in 250g and 1kg pouches it is great to add to juices and drinks along with your other favourite foods.  The product containing 75% protein is vegetarian, gluten free, non GM, with no added sugars or sweeteners and is low in fat.  It is produced using the finest quality rBGH hormone free European milk, from organically reared happy cows.  Organic certification guarantees some of the most ethical and sustainable farming standards.   The RRP for the 250g is £16.99 and the 1kg £49.99.

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Jane Wolfe has worked in journalism since leaving University with a BA (Hons) in English in 1991, covering industries as diverse as energy, broadcasting, wellbeing and animal welfare. She first became part of the Natural Products News team in 1998 as a sub editor and freelance journalist before relocating to Greece in 2004. In 2013 she returned to the magazine as assistant editor, then deputy editor.