Children returning to the classrooms this autumn are able to add to their RDA quotas of vitamins and minerals by drinking a range of school-compliant soft drinks. In response to consumer and government concerns about childhood obesity, health and wellness issues there has been a plethora of new beverage developments for the children's market. All the boxes are ticked: high juice content, use of all-natural ingredients, no artificial flavours, sweeteners or preservatives, and low or zero calories. Annette Farr reports.

In the UK, significant new product development has occurred in fruit juices and juice drinks. The Feel Good Drinks Company, for instance, has launched a 100% natural juice drink called Feel Good Kids, in child-friendly 180ml Tetra wedges and Tropicana has introduced a 'Kids' range comprising a 100% pure juice and a juice drink (70% pure juice, and 30% water) in 200ml pack format, claimed to be ideal for school lunchboxes.

Elsewhere, Britvic has launched Robinsons Be Natural squash range and announced a GBP8m (US$) investment in its Fruit Shoot portfolio with new packaging and flavours, whilst Welsh producer Radnor Hills' JuFru 330ml (60% fruit juice and spring water) is squarely aimed at drinking in schools.

Bottled water producers have also targeted children. Breccon Carreg launched Breccon Carreg for Kids, backed by a marketing message reminding parents that offering their children water helps create "healthy habits". Antrim Hills, meanwhile, has introduced cartoon-characterised Drip and Drop still and juicy waters in 250ml plastic bottles with sports caps at the IFE show, again promoted as ideal for school lunchboxes.

But where to next? What opportunities are there to expand the child repertoire? The answer could lie across the Atlantic, where US beverage producers are pioneering functional drinks for children.

Last year, Crayons All Natural Beverage Company of Bellevue, Washington, launched what it claimed to be the first all-natural line of FUNctional beverages. These fruit juice drinks contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre for "multi-vitamin total body support, calcium boosting bone health, antioxidant wellbeing, immunity support, afternoon pick-me up and good old fashioned refreshment." The range of six flavours includes a D-fense for first thing in the morning, Super-V for midday and 3PM fruit punch for the afternoon.

"No longer will kids have to choose based on the flavour alone," says Crayons' founder, Duncan Seay. "Now they can choose based upon how they are feeling that day or even by what time of day it is. We believe this will revolutionise the way parents and kids will choose their beverage."

KIDStrong Enterprises is another example. This New Jersey-based company says it works on the belief that children are our planet's most valuable asset. Its mission is to "deliver a message of strength, health, vitality, and optimism by providing products and understanding that empower children both physically and mentally." Specifically developed for children aged between four and 13 and aimed at combating childhood obesity, the company's all-natural hydration drink is low in sugar and scientifically formulated, incorporating some 22 vitamins and minerals.

Dr George Murphy, molecular biologist and the scientist behind KIDStrong, adds: "Whether playing sports, studying for an exam, or conversing with friends, we want kids to be armed with all the vitamins, nutrients, and energy they need to be active, healthy, and filled with positive energy in order to be better prepared for life's challenges."

Currently available in two flavours (natural orange and natural grape, with more to follow) KIDStrong contains no artificial flavours, colours, sweeteners, or preservatives, and is low in sugar (3g of sugar per 8oz serving).

Then there are the entrepreneurial parents. Thomas Arndt, wanting an organic alternative to the sugary drinks his own children chose, created and launched Y Water in New York City.

There are four variants: Brain, Bone, Muscle and Immunity; each, says the company, provides children with all-natural vitamins and minerals, packaged in recyclable plastic bottles that double as toys.

Also in north-east US, Amy Guerrieri, a mother of four young children, has developed Rockin' water, a vitamin-enhanced flavoured water with the tag line, "Made by Moms Who Love Their Kids". The drinks feature 11 vitamins and minerals with fibre and come in apple, cherry, grape and orange flavours. Guerriere decided the only way she was going to find her children the nutrition they needed was to take matters into her own hands and produce a healthy, flavoured water drink. Two cents from every bottle sold also goes to support the Rockin' Appalachian Mom Project - an organisation that helps families-in-need in the Appalachian region.

The development of functional drinks for children has not, however, been confined to niche companies and aspiring parents. In April this year, Nestlé USA added two fortified juice drinks for children to its Juicy Juice line. Called Brain Development and Immunity, they specifically target brain and immune development in the under-five age group. The company says Juicy Juice Brain Development is the only children's fruit juice beverage on the market currently offering DHA. Juicy Juice Immunity helps support a healthy immune and digestive system by offering beneficial nutrients, including zinc and vitamin C; it is also one of the few juice beverages targeted towards children that contains prebiotic fibre.

Leading iced tea company AriZona has also taken a closer look at the opportunities for children with this summer's launch of AriZona Kidz teas. This lemon-flavoured iced tea contains no preservatives, artificial colours or flavours, and uses pure cane sugar as a sweetener. Each bottle contains 100% of the suggested daily intake of vitamin C and 60 calories per serving. Further, the company has pledged that for every six-pack of the 10oz version purchased it will donate 5% of net sales to Operation Smile, a non-profit organisation that works globally to help children born with facial deformities.

The functional children's market is in its infancy, but has potential to grow. According to analysts Euromonitor, children account for more than one in every four people on the planet. The combined children's populations of India, China, Indonesia, the US, Brazil, Philippines, Mexico, Egypt, Vietnam and Russia adds up to some 950m. Globally, India has the biggest children's population (374bn spanning 0 - 14 years), almost double that of China (218m). Rob Walker, senior drinks analyst at Euromonitor, believes these figures alone should be "incentive enough that the time to invest in children is now".