The Christmas season may be a time notorious for over-indulgence, but soft drinks companies see it as a key period for adult soft drinks, where the emphasis is increasingly on healthy offerings. Annette Farr reports on the plethora of new products targeted at health-conscious professional women.

The festive season has always been a key period for adult soft drinks. It starts in late November/early December and peaks a few days before Christmas and, according to market researcher Nielsen, is a major sales opportunity for the category.

Within the adult soft drinks sector, the 18 to 35-year-old health-conscious woman has been the target consumer for significant new product development. Female consumers are often looking for healthier drinks, while young professional women have substantial spending power and are prepared to indulge in exotic and premium products.

Manufacturers of juice drinks in particular have responded with a raft of NPD using ingredients which offer functionality and added value. So-called 'superfruits', such as cranberries, blueberries and pomegranates, are being mixed with various 'new' berries like acai and goji, sourced from Brazil and elsewhere. The combinations, high in antioxidants and nutrients, claim to protect the body against a number of medical conditions including cancer and heart disease.

For example, Happy Monkey markets two acai-based juice drinks, one mixed with red grape juice and the other with pomegranate, both aimed at women in the 25 to 35 age bracket.

Meanwhile, Bottlegreen has developed World Domaine, a blend of 100% organic fruit juices, spring water and herbal infusions. The company believes the drinks to be an ideal offering for adults who are looking for a high-quality, healthy, non-alcoholic drink. There are three wine-inspired flavours: Passionate Rose from the Orient, Calming Red from Australia and Vitalizing White from the Amazon. All come in wine-style 75cl glass bottles and contain no added sugar, artificial sweeteners or preservatives.

Range extensions from other premium UK juice suppliers, such as James White, Belvoir, Sunraysia and Passion Fruit, include organic variants and Fairtrade products appealing to the growing green and ethically-conscious adult consumer.

In the on-premise market, Britvic Soft Drinks has just launched a pomegranate juice drink. Paul Linthwaite, on-premise business director at Britvic, says that consumers in pubs and clubs are becoming more adventurous in their choice of drinks flavours and are also looking for healthy drinking options. According to Nielsen, sales of pomegranate juice in the UK alone have grown by 122% in the past 12 months.

Datamonitor research confirms that consumers are seeking the exotic. The research company 's Productscan Online service predicts that superfruits will become increasingly mainstream in 2008 and more categories will emerge, such as the Chinese yumberry, which boasts a high antioxidant content with cranberry-like flavour. Yumberry is the basis of a new line of drinks in the US from Frutzzo Natural Juice, featuring Yumberry Cherry and Yumberry Pomegranate blends.

But what of carbonates? In its February 2007 report on carbonates, Mintel reveals that 89% of 25 to 34-year-old women firmly believe that sparkling drinks are unhealthy. According to Mintel, 35% of women do not buy carbonates and 42% do not drink them.

However, Peartiser - a sister brand to Appletiser from Coca-Cola Enterprises - has sought to overcome this. A sparkling 100% pear juice drink with no preservatives, additives or added sugar, Peartiser is aimed squarely at 16 - 34 year old females. The packs carry a 'part of your 5-a-day' message on the bottle caps.

The drink won 'Best New Juice Product' of the year at the 2007 World Juice conference in Barcelona. The judges were impressed by Peartiser's positioning as an adult soft drink tapping into several different consumer trends including indulgence and the desire for healthy alternatives.

On its home territory in South Africa, Appletiser reports that a marketing emphasis on upper-income females aged from 25 to 49 has boosted sales significantly. This year, it ran a campaign centred around a popular female pastime, 'doing lunch'. According to Gwen Risdale, Appletiser's South Africa brand manager, the drink's market positioning is "100% pure pleasure to the modern woman".

Mike Coppard, managing director of sparkling juice drink producer Shloer, which also targets women drinkers, says that although "Christmas may traditionally be viewed as a period of excess consumption, especially on the alcoholic beverage front, year-on-year sales growth proves consumers still want the choice of a sparkling non-alcoholic alternative".

Coppard adds: "Last year, Shloer Christmas sales were up 8% and this year we're anticipating double figures in terms of percentage growth."

Designed for the adult palate in the US is a range of carbonates from GuS (the Grown up Soda), containing 100% natural ingredients. The New York city-based company has recently added a dry cola flavour to its line-up.

Izze is a further example of an American carbonated drink brand with adult appeal. The range, which includes a number of superfruit variants - blueberry, blackberry and pomegranate - is also made from natural flavours. The company was acquired by PepsiCo in 2006, but operates independently from its headquarters in Boulder, Colorado.

Meanwhile, for younger adults in the UK looking for something different there is Suso, a sparkling 100% fruit juice from Suso Drinks. With trendy packaging and the tagline, 'No Can't Do', the range comprises three varieties: Orange, Lemon and Berry. This company also markets the drinks as being 'one of your 5- a-day', free of added sugar, sweeteners, preservatives and colourings.

Suso' s chairman is Harry Drnec, former managing director of Red Bull UK. He explains: "We believe that Suso is ideally placed for today's youth audience and answers a clear brand and product need with an exceptionally well-thought emotional and functional proposition."

Has the adult soft drink sector reached maturity? Certainly the choice has never been better or, for that matter, healthier, but there remains one relatively untapped demographic: the over 65 with spending power.

The UK's Institute of Grocery Distribution has said that by 2030 over 1bn of the world's population will be over the age of 65. And, according to IGD analyst Michael Freedman, purchases that contribute to health and anti-ageing are highly important to this group. Third-age soft drinks? Now there's a thought.