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Soft drinks embrace health trends

The no and low alcohol category continues to boom, driven by a growing cohort of Brits who seek lighter choices, with 69% of soft drinks consumers trying to lead a healthier lifestyle.

Health has been a rising trend among consumers over the last decade, but its prominence has spiralled following the coronavirus pandemic. Some 75% of consumers say it is important to have healthier options available when eating or drinking out, rising to 84% for 18-34-year-olds.

This trend is notable in core drinks ranges within foodservice and licensed, with low-calorie taking the majority share of cola sales in October 2021 for the first time, and low-calorie mixers following suit for every one in three serves.

Sugar-free drinks continue to grow faster than their full-sugar counterparts, and are likely to grow further as 58% of soft drinks consumers want to see more healthy drinks on offer in venues.

Focus on healthier soft drinks will deepen as HFSS legislation, due to be rolled out from October 2022, comes into force, requiring outlets to display calorie labelling. The legislation could prove challenging for operators with seasonal, sample or frequently changing drinks menus. This is because any new menu will require updated calorie information. Yet, some might argue the labelling is redundant for drinks as the data indicates consumers are switching to healthier options without prompts.

Giving and taking – drinks with health benefits

Consumers aren’t just concerned about ingredients, including sugar, being taken away from drinks. They also seek beverages with added benefits or functions in the form of immunity-boosting qualities, minerals and vitamins provided by brands such as Purdey’s, a natural energy drink.

As has been the trend in recent years, the health or functional benefits of various drinks will continue to attract the attention of customers in the coming months and years.

Consumers will continue to seek more functional drinks to help them focus, relax and also relieve their emotional health concerns. This will in turn drive soft drinks innovation into new categories and occasions.

Wellness is also bolstering soft drink innovation, with half of the new drinks on the market tapping into sugar-free and no-added sugar credentials to align with health-conscious consumers’ needs.

Hot drinks and sparkling waters lead the way in new product development, holding 50% of new launches. Drinks is also one of the largest categories when it comes to new product development, accounting for almost 20% of total food and drink innovation.  

Soft drinks are also tapping into meal replacement, with the likes of Bol Power Shakes, positioning themselves as a food alternative and appealing to time-poor consumers looking for something that is easy to consume on the go. Although focused in the off-trade, foodservice and licensed venues could develop their own ranges of on-the-go meal replacement shakes.

Drinks that tap into the health trend

Kombucha – A fermented tea, kombucha is claimed to have probiotic benefits
Cold-pressed juice – Made by pressing rather than blitzing fruit and vegetables, cold-pressed juices offer raw flavours and are packed with the vitamins, antioxidants and minerals of their former hosts
Iced tea – Tea is claimed to be full of antioxidants and other benefits. Herbal and fruit teas, as well as green and other variants to add interest, e.g., Lipton
Seltzers and sparkling waters – The perfect way to add sophistication to a healthy, hydrating drink. Sparkling waters can be used to top off juices and teas or can be the star of the show themselves with the addition of natural fruit syrups and cordials

Yet, it’s not just pre-packaged or dispense drinks that are able to cater to the rising health trend, mixed drinks and cocktails also have the potential to drive revenues in foodservice and licensed venues.

A third of UK adults have tried a low and no alcohol product in the last six months, equating to £15.5m consumers, seeing category sales rise by +48% between 2019 and 2020 to £60m. Cocktail sales have also tracked up in recent years, increasing by +5.3% in the third quarter of 2021 when compared with the first three months of the year

Combined, the two growing trends provide outlets with an opportunity to attract new customers and to also trade regular soft drinks customers up into a more profitable segment.

Dan Crowther and Jonathan Lee, owners of Leeds-based bar Hedonist Drinks, are experts in No and Low cocktails and have outlined their top eight tips:

  1. Price No/Low cocktails at the same level as alcoholic cocktails to ensure a premium perception
  2. Integrate alcohol-free and low-alcohol cocktails into the main menu to ensure drinkers consider them to be of the same quality and value as their alcoholic counterparts
  3. To create an enticing No/Low cocktail menu, challenge your bar team to develop cocktails at one unit of alcohol or under
  4. No/Low cocktails are a great footfall driver for city centre bars in the early part of the week
  5. Be aware of the shelf-life on non-alcohol spirits to maintain a high-quality of serve
  6. For alcohol-free drinks, start with a base non-alcohol spirit and build a flavour profile around it
  7. Syrups can replace flavoured vodkas, such as vanilla, in drinks like the Espresso Martini
  8. Flex your No/Low cocktail menu up or down, depending on how it’s received by your customers

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