Softly softly

With the summer sun (hopefully) on its way and a mass of innovative new products arriving on the market, it’s time to refresh your customers with a range of natural, healthy drinks

2013 was a mixed year for the soft drinks market, with fruit juice and smoothie consumption falling while volume sales in the still and juice drinks category – including iced tea, sports drinks and non-fruit drinks – rising 6.2%, taking the category to a value of £1.9 billion. This is according to Creating New Choices, the annual report from the British Soft Drink Association (BSDA), which values the overall soft drinks market at £15.6 billion.

“Last year’s sales increase … should serve as a reminder that this sector continues to provide opportunities for growth,” said Gavin Partington, BSDA director general. “However, product innovation has also been key to this sector’s success. By investing in new product development, reformulation and smaller portion sizes our sector continues to lead the way in providing more choices for health-conscious consumers.”

Sweet enough?
It’s impossible to have missed the continuing debate about sugar in drinks, with Sustain and over 60 other organisations calling for a duty on sugary drinks of 20p a litre to be included in the budget last year. The soft drinks industry refutes that a tax is necessary, with the BSDA claiming that 61% of soft drinks now contain no added sugar.

But it isn’t just added sugar that is causing concern. Susan Jebb, head of diet and obesity at the Medical Research Council’s Human Nutrition Research Unit, recently advised that fruit juice shouldn’t be included in the UK five-a-day guidelines because it has “got as much sugar as many classical sugar drinks. It is also absorbed very fast so by the time it gets to your stomach your body doesn’t know whether it’s Coca-Cola or orange juice.”

However, some juice and smoothie companies are fighting back against what they are calling ‘alarmist’ headlines, with Douglas Lamont, CEO, Innocent Drinks, recently saying “Our products are clearly good for you … We talk from the perspective of a net nutritional positive, taking into account the sugar that’s consumer naturally as part of the product versus the benefits that you get.”

So the sugar debate is far from over, but whatever the outcome, the fact is that in the last ten years, consumption of soft drinks containing added sugar fell by 9%, reflecting consumers’ growing concerns. In the BSDA report Partington says that companies are investing heavily in sugar-free alternatives and the evidence suggests that this is the direction consumers are continuing to head in.

Eli Sarre from Essential Trading comments: “We’ve all seen that drinking a can of fizzy pop a day increases the diabetes risk, that’s been really prominent in the media. There were always brands that offered sugar-free options, but it was a much less popular category and now it’s definitely growing.”

Mark Young, CEO of Freedrinks, which makes the ZEO brand of natural drinks, agrees that consumers are demanding something different. “Consumer behaviour is changing: people know too much sugar is bad, they are increasingly suspicious of artificial ingredients … and they want more choices.”

He adds: “With consumers showing an increasing demand for variety and healthier products, the soft drinks category is no longer limited to fizzy, sugary drinks … the market has opened up for a range of brands who are able to compete with the established ‘soft drinks giants’ by providing healthier, naturally-sourced and low-calorie alternatives.”

“The whole industry has got this as their number one priority really – to lower the sugar content in their drinks,” says Harmi Ahluwalia, co-founder of ViVA Drinks. “It’s not just functional drinks that are going that way, I think any drink manufacturer now has it at the forefront of their mind. And even the supermarkets have started pulling fizzy drinks and high sugar drinks from their front of house fixtures. They are looking for alternatives to juices and smoothies and they want these to make up less of the available drinks, so it’s being driven by manufacturers and retailers as well.”

Tamara Arbib, founder of Rebel Kitchen, agrees: “There is certainly a gap in the market for more accessible healthy food and drink products that are free from refined sugar and additives. I think people are much more aware and want to proactively venture out and source replacements to sugary drinks available on the market.”

Getting functional
Energy drinks saw volumes sales rising by 5.1% to 500 million litres in 2013, but even in this growing sector changes are afoot with many more natural versions springing up.

Harmi Ahluwalia, of ViVA Drinks which launched in March, explains how he and co-founder Sarb Bhangle developed the brand after spotting a gap in the market. “We experimented with an energy drink which is lower sugar, lower calorie and doesn’t give you a high or a low, but sustained energy,” he says.  Realising that there weren’t many options in the market “apart from coffee or Red Bull”, they saw the potential to produce a range of functional drinks using botanical extracts.

Ahluwalia sees the demand for lower sugar drinks as being both consumer and government-driven: “It’s being driven by Action on Sugar, but consumers are also becoming more aware of what goes into products and ingredients so it’s a great time to bring a range into the market where we’re not afraid of saying what’s in our drinks. We’re getting feedback that this is something that replaces not just energy drinks but also high sugar fizzy drinks, high sugar juices and smoothies.”

“The energy drink we do is Scheckter’s OrganicEnergy,” says Sarre. “There’s still sugar and caffeine in there but it’s all organic and it’s for people who want to take a step in the right direction without giving up that stuff completely. Obviously coconut water is still huge and that’s even gone into mainstream sports media now – everyone’s picked up on that as a sugar-free option.”

And the coconut product market certainly isn’t showing any signs of slowing, with hydrating coconut water flourishing in various guises.

Tamara Arbib, founder of Rebel Kitchen, which recently added a line of adult drinks to its initial kid’s ‘mylk’ offer, says: “We are actually competing against all soft drinks, not just natural soft drinks. We view ourselves as the natural continuation from the coconut water category. The natural soft drinks and free-from sector is booming and I think this sector as a whole is driven by the concept of functional foods. Consumers are looking for products that are made with natural wholesome ingredients that provide key health credentials and benefits.”

The Vivid range of matcha iced teas came about when founder James Schillcock was working for an independent tea company. He started blending matcha with fresh lime, ginger and honey at home, and after speaking to the buyer at Whole Foods about the idea realised there was demand for a ready-to-drink form that was convenient, tasted great and had a reasonable price point.

“I think for me one of the key things is the fact that it’s got natural green tea caffeine for people who want a healthy, natural boost. And it’s not good enough to just be healthy, it has to taste good as well. This was something I was creating at home, that I enjoyed drinking, the fact that it’s healthy for you is a great bonus but we would never produce something unless it tasted great. You can’t expect consumers any more to punish themselves to be healthy.”

Shillcock, who sees the brand as leading what he calls the ‘matcha movement’ says he is excited about the fact that more matcha drinks are on their way to market as this will get more people interested. “Vivid will be the brand that does for matcha what Innocent did for smoothies and what Vita Coco is doing for coconut water.”

A fruitful market
And the market hasn’t stagnated in the fruit drinks arena either with new ‘superfruit’ refreshments springing up from companies such as Berry White and London-based start-up Erbology, which bases its range on organic sea buckthorn.

One innovation in this area is in the raw category with the emergence of a number of high pressure processed (HPP) juices and smoothies. Andrew Gibb, founder of Coldpress, which recently launched a range of premium unpasteurized smoothies, explains that the idea behind this new offer was to create “a distinct portfolio of ‘fresh from the tree’ raw smoothies that were brimming with pulp and beneficial dietary fibre”.

“There is a whole host of really lovely new cold drinks,” says Sarre. “We’re doing some new Cawston Press products specially for children which are fruit juice blended with water and also sparkling canned drinks – Rhubarb and Cloudy Apple.”

As to what consumers are currently looking for from a soft drink, Sarre says: “It’s more towards the premium end of the market – definitely sparkling presses, for example Belvoir Farms which does Coconut & Lime Presse, all of this sort of thing. People want real quality juices and mixers.”

Size matters
The on-the-go sector is on the up, according to Sarres: “The trend I’m seeing right now is for on-the-go items. It’s for a more discerning option for when you’re out and about. Instead of reaching for your bottle of cola you’re going to reach for your sparkling elderflower presse!”

Young agrees that on-the-go thirst quenchers are proving popular. “Convenience and impulse-buying is on the rise as time-constrained consumers’ shopping habits and consumption habits evolve. To address this we are seeing supermarket giants as well as smaller retailers, target their promotions at those who are looking for something on the go.”

ViVA drinks developed its range specifically for this market. “We did a lot of research into the packaging options in terms of material, and for a natural drink the easiest material to go into is glass but we really wanted to make an on-the-go drink so we sourced a plastic hot fillable bottle. We also decided we wanted a 330ml bottle so that people feel okay putting it in their bags and carrying it around,” Ahluwalia explains.

Shillcock says the Vivid range has also started out as a grab and go product but that the company does have its eye on moving into larger formats. “We wanted to launch in the smaller formats  – first and foremost to get people trying it. And now that we’ve seen the amazing response that we’ve had for the product we’re looking at new product development.”

The future
“The opportunities to grow the category are significant, not least in the convenience and impulse market,” predicts Young. “The speed of change and evolution in the category in terms of innovation – driven not least by the current headwinds on the impact of sugar on health – will further accelerate. Brands and manufactures must work harder to provider healthier, low-sugar, low-calorie products that do not compromise on quality and taste, and are not packed with additives or artificials.”

Hot Stocks

Cooling tea

Hampstead Tea has recently repackaged and reformulated its range of real leaf Iced Teas in 330ml cartons. The offer, which comprises Lemon Green, Raspberry Darjeeling and Elderflower Oolong, is Demeter-certified organic as well as Fairtrade and offers the benefits of antioxidants and polyphenols.

A first in the iced tea category, Vivid’s range incorporates matcha green tea powder combined with fruit juices, and comes in Grape & Elderflower with added l-theanine to boost mood and concentration; Lime, Ginger & Honey; and Pear & Rhubarb.


In the raw

Coldpress offers a range of nine juices in a choice of 250ml and 750ml sizes, as well as its new range of raw smoothies in flavours including Raspberry, Pear & Apple, Strawberry & Banana and Mango & Passionfruit.

Vegesentials recently launched its Fresh Kids On The Go range of cold-pressurized fruit and veg drinks in handy 125ml bottles in Cool Cucumber & Pineapple, Groovy Beet & Strawberry Juice and Cheeky Carrot & Peach varieties.

Nosh Detox’s raw drinks include The Raw Fruity range and The Raw Smoothie range including Spirulina, Apple, Mint and Coconut, Banana, Acai.

Another new raw offer comes from SaVse which combines ‘super vegetables’ such as kale, spinach and broccoli with fruit smoothies which come in Super Green, Super Purple, Super Red, Super Blue and Super Yellow variants.

Added sparkle
For on-the-go fizz, Cawston Press’s sparkling drinks available in Cloudy Apple and Rhubarb, come in both 330ml cans and bottles (which include a Ginger variant too) and have no added sugar.

And another fizzy favourite is Whole Earth’s range of organic agave-sweetened fizzy drinks in Cola, Lemonade, Orange & Lemon, Elderflower, Cranberry and Ginger varieties.

Refreshing botanicals

ZEO’s soft drinks incorporate a special blend of 32 fruits and botanicals and are described as having a crisp, dry taste. The offer consists of Crush, based on blood orange; Burst based on peaches and grapefruit; and Zest, with a lime base.

ViVA drinks are designed to offer healthy, natural, functional refreshment using natural botanicals in its Mind, Detox, Defence and Calm varieties. The drinks have no added sugar, can be ambient or chilled and have a 12-month shelf-life.