Blamed for contributing to rising obesity, traditional carbonated soft drinks, notably colas, have suffered in recent years. But the sector has responded with a plethora of new, healthier drinks, many targeted at the increasingly vibrant adult soft drinks market. Annette Farr takes a look at the new generation.

The carbonated soft drink has had a difficult few years. The most popular category, colas, has been castigated for adding to the global obesity epidemic, while the popularity of traditional flavoured carbonates has waned, their low juice count and use of artificial ingredients failing to meet the criteria of the health-conscious consumer. Indeed, such has been the stigma surrounding the word 'carbonated' that last year The Coca-Cola Company ditched it from its corporate language, replacing it with 'sparkling'.

The carbonates backlash, however, has resulted in a new generation of diet variants, revised recipes and innovative drinks using natural ingredients. Many of these new products are targeted at the increasingly significant adult soft drinks market and carry a premium price. All respond to health and wellness concerns.

Simple, natural ingredients are claimed as the hallmark of Red Bull's latest innovation, Simply Cola. This cola is currently being introduced in the UK, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Ireland, Russia and the US (Las Vegas). It is said that Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz had a vision to produce a premium 100% natural cola, and so strong was his belief in the product that the packaging design had been locked in his safe for nearly 20 years.

Now unveiled, Simply Cola claims to be the only cola which contains both the original cola nut and the coca leaf. There are no preservatives, additives, phosphoric acid, artificial colouring or flavours.

"This is an incredibly exciting innovation for Red Bull and a fantastic addition to our portfolio," says Red Bull UK managing director Nigel Trood. "It may have been unexpected, but we're quite fond of surprising people and we thought it was about time we refreshed the cola category."

Capitalising on the growing consumer demand for premium and more natural products, PepsiCo and Britvic Soft Drinks, in a global first, launched Raw into the UK on-premise market earlier in the year. This cola is made from a blend of quality ingredients, including natural plant extracts, with a more subtle carbonation as well as distinctive colouring. It contains no artificial colours, preservatives, flavourings or sweeteners.

Further cola activity is being seen in the US. Pepsi-Cola North America has introduced Tava, a vitamin-enhanced fruit-flavoured zero calorie carbonate, whilst New York-based 'grown up' soda brand GuS has developed an all-natural Dry Cola which uses real cola nut extract, notes of citrus and cane sugar for sweetness.

Meanwhile, US drugstore chain Walgreens has introduced Health Cola which analysts say is reminiscent of the original Coca-Cola invented by pharmacist John S Pemberton. This features natural ingredients including extract of cola nut and the caffeine-containing nut of two evergreen trees of the cocoa family.

Former UK Red Bull managing director Harry Drnec is behind the development of a new 100% fruit carbonated drink called Suso. Introduced to retailers last year, the drinks come in Lemon, Berry and Orange flavours, and count as one of your '5-a-day'. The second phase of the launch is currently underway with the introduction of a 275ml glass bottle for the on-trade.
Edward Hauck, on-trade controller at Suso, says: "It is a great-tasting fizzy drink, with quality fruit ingredients, and as such has broad commercial appeal. However, as a 100% fruit juice, with carbonation, and free from additives, Suso is also perfectly placed to cater for consumers' growing awareness of health issues."

There is also nothing artificial about Fruitiser, the latest addition to the Appletiser stable, part of Coca-Cola Enterprises in the UK. The Fruitiser range comprises lightly carbonated 100% juice drinks (Pomegranate & Raspberry, Mango & Mandarin and Apple & Dragonfruit), with the launch being supported by a GBP1.5m (US$2.94m) marketing campaign.
"The Fruitiser range will be a stylish, adult alternative to alcohol, but will instead target a younger audience of women between the ages of 18 and 30. It will be the perfect accompaniment to food or refreshment when on a flirty night out with the girls," says Sally Marshall, marketing manager for the Appletiser brand.

More evidence of a renaissance in carbonates is Tropicana's launch of Tropicana Spirit. This is the UK's leading juice brand's first venture into carbonates. The drink is a blend of 70% juice and 30% lightly sparkling mineral water, and provides one of the recommended 5-a-day fruit and vegetable portions.

Tropicana Spirit is available in three flavours, Orange & Mango, Blueberry & Blackberry and Lemon & Grapefruit, and is targeted predominantly at the impulse market. The launch is being supported by a GBP5m investment which will include press and outdoor advertising, sampling, direct mail, promotions and PR support.

The drink is marketed as a more natural, healthier alternative to a traditional carbonated soft drink. "Consumers are increasingly looking to soft drinks with healthier, better-for-you credentials, but they also expect to find refreshing drinks when they're thirsty," says Tropicana managing director David Johnston. "Tropicana Spirit taps into both these consumer needs."

Carbonates have also recently received a further push, with the launch of Barr's Originals, a revitalised range of traditional carbonated soft drinks. The four flavours, Real Lemonade, Ginger Beer, Dandelion and Burdock and Cream Soda with a twist of Raspberry, come in 750ml traditional glass bottles.

Adrian Troy, head of marketing at Barr Soft Drinks, notes that the drinks are "bang on trend. Authenticity, naturalness and great taste are major trends which are driving consumer choice and our drinks deliver on all these fronts," he adds. "Being bottled in glass reinforces our quality message and enables easy recycling."

Barr says it has been working on developing the range for the last two years, taking four recipes from its archives and refining them for the launch.

As the all-important summer soft drink season gets underway, this new wave of carbonates might very well add that extra sparkle.