Is the carbonated soft drinks (CSD) category facing a perfect storm in the US? To some observers - myself included - it certainly looks like it.

A conference hosted by Beverage Digest in New York on Monday learnt that CSD sales in the country last year fell by 3% in volume terms. The broader soft drinks category was down by only 1% in 2013.

Jim Trebilcock, executive VP of marketing at Dr Pepper Snapple Group, presented at the conference and added colour to the numbers.

US households with incomes of below $75,000 per year are prime CSD consumers and have been hard hit economically, he noted. At the same time, CSD prices have been raised and the gap with bottled water is at an all-time high.

The sub-category is also losing drinks occasions to energy drinks, coffee and home-made soda, Trebilcock flagged, while health and wellness concerns, exacerbated in his view by the media and "misinformation", are also having an effect.

And, all the while, more punitive taxes on CSDs in markets like Mexico and France suggests there is little in the way of joy on the horizon.

"In our view," says Caroline Levy from CLSA in a clients' note today (25 June), "the prevailing theme of (the conference) was “fragmenting consumer desires”. Consumers are demanding healthier or more effective drinks and their purchasing habits are evolving at lightning speed.

"Beverage companies must make radical, not incremental, changes to their supply chains and products in order to stay relevant," she argues. "Pushing product via TV ads and shelf space grabs won't work; pricing power will only come from consumer pull."

The Coca-Cola system, then, will have its fingers crossed that Coca-Cola Life (set for UK and US launch this year) proves a success, while DPSG is in the process of testing naturally-sweetened versions of Dr Pepper and Canada Dry. PepsiCo, meanwhile, is looking to its partnership with Senomyx to develop an alternative sweetener.

The fruits of these labours can't come soon enough for the CSD players.

Expert analysis

USA Carbonates Category Profile 2013

USA Carbonates Category Profile 2013

A competitively priced comprehensive overview of the Carbonates market....read more