Key trends in adult soft drinks

Alex Beckett, associate director of Mintel Food & Drink, answers the big questions facing the category

WHAT ARE THE MAIN TRENDS IN ADULT SOFT DRINKS?

Adaptogens are coming through and fashionable but are hard to find and premium-priced. Consumers are reluctant to pay out for something they don’t completely understand or get a tangible feeling from, hence why drinks with added energy boosts are flourishing. People are tired and need to be productive. Many just choose caffeine for the mood boost. But whether it’s B vitamins, vitamin C, ginseng, slow-release carbs or caffeine, so many drinks are promising energy, now. Caffeinated sparkling waters are big in the US and can flourish here, too.

Away from health, the need for escapism is met with transportive drinks, which use aroma and flavour and beautiful branding to whisk drinkers away to a far-flung place. The tasting notes and sell-in seen in spirits are emerging in soft drinks, to justify value and build an emotional connection. It’s flavour tourism.

WHAT’S DRIVING THESE TRENDS?

I think boredom has a lot to do with it. Soft drinks are characteristically innovative and have a history of fun, indulgent innovation that people rely on in such grim times. In terms of added health boosts, people are willing to give things a try despite being fairly dubious about the efficacy of the functional claim. But at a time when incremental nutritional boosts to diet are attractive, and mentally make you feel reassured, it’s a suspension of disbelief that’s worth taking, for an extra £1.

WHICH BRANDS ARE CATERING TO THESE TRENDS?

Punchy’s flavours take you on a holiday away from the pandemic. Innerji is embracing traditional medicinal ingredients and consumer curiosity about herbal remedies to expand beyond the typical energy drink audience. Meanwhile, What a Juice is extolling the sustainable virtues of being shelf-stable in an interesting way.

HOW DO YOU EXPECT THE WORLD OF ADULT SOFT DRINKS TO EVOLVE?

Information about healthy ingredients and claims will be more relatable, as it must be. Mid-level caffeine drinks will emerge to offer a controlled mental and physical energy boost. We’ll see accelerating evolution to more supplements, reusable bottles and personalisation needs. Brands will look further back into the history books to explore local, medicinal plant concoctions, not least as unsweet adult alcohol alternatives. And, inevitably, innovation that addresses the worsening climate crisis, through sourcing, packaging and everything in between, will be important. 

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