Soft drink consumers are coming of age and producers are keen to take advantage of this maturing trend. This summer's new products have an altogether adult feel, therefore, as Annette Sessions reports.

Time was when soft drinks were viewed very much as drinks for youngsters. "Grown ups" drank tea, coffee and alcoholic beverages and, indeed, could drink and drive until Barbara Castle, then Minister of Transport, introduced the breathalyser laws in 1967.

Even then there wasn't a great deal of choice for adults over and above the ubiquitous cola, mixers such as tonic, bitter lemon and ginger ale and a small range of fruit juices.

Fast-forward to 2004 and the majority of this season's new products are aimed squarely at the adult market. What has happened in between, according to Datamonitor's Innovations in Soft Drinks report, is that consumers aged 35 and over now represent the first generation to grow up with soft drinks. What's more, they have taken their drinking habits into adulthood.

Look a bit closer and that adult market embraces a host of lifestyle issues based on convenience, refreshment and health awareness. Datamonitor observes that many soft drinks manufacturers now offer propositions targeted to the needs of adults, such as refreshment on- the-go and age-related health benefits.

According to Nielsen, the UK adult soft drink sector is worth £354m and growing at an annual rate of approximately 17%. Shloer, owned by Merrydown, has stylised itself as "The Grown-Up Soft Drink" and boasts that it is outperforming the market with a growth rate of 25%. This summer, in addition to its seasonal variant (White Grape, Rhubarb & Ginger), the brand is extending its range with a herbal juice drink under the Sorelle name and a cordial called Posh Squash.

Sorelle comes in two variants - Serene White (infused with passion fruit) and Gentle Blush (cranberry) - both containing herbal ingredients, principally ginseng, gentian and damiana. It is the functionality of these herbs that, as Kristina Everest, product manager explains, "taps into the desire of many consumers to live a healthy and positive lifestyle." Women aged 25 plus are the targeted consumers.

Tongue-in-cheek Posh Squash is available in two flavours for the sophisticated palate: White Grape, Strawberry & Black Pepper and White Grape, Blueberry & Rosehip. Its high juice content means that it is designed to be diluted one part cordial to 10 parts of still or sparkling water; each 500ml bottle contains 25 servings.

Health is the driver behind The Feel Good Drinks Company latest offering, This relatively new company, formed in October 2001, has enjoyed significant success with its Feel Good Juice Drinks. Now it has developed the Feel Good Spritz range specifically for the adult sector.

Dave Wallwork, MD, explains: "We're really excited about Feel Good Spritz as there's a huge opportunity for deliciously healthy, naturally sparkling drinks. Many of the great carbonate brands target teens, but many adults are looking for something slightly different, they want drinks which taste great and are good for you too."

There are three flavours in the Spritz range Orange + Passionfruit; Cranberry + Lime and Lemon, each a blend of fruit juices (circa 10%) and sparkling spring water, plus the RDA of vitamin C.

The drinks are not dissimilar to the very successful adult 'schorle' drinks popular in Germany and its neighbouring countries. Typically, these are a combination of about 50% juice and sparkling water with no added sweeteners or artificial colours. They are reported to be experiencing significant growth in Germany due to the combination of healthy ingredients coupled with attractive and convenient packaging.

Acknowledging the similarity to a schorle, Honest to Goodness, the new drink from Welsh company Radnor Hills Mineral Water, has also taken a leaf out of the advertising slogan; "it does exactly what it says on the tin". But in this case it's a glass bottle.

As the company says: "Honest to Goodness represents the positive choice for a healthy lifestyle as it provides light refreshment with no added sugar, alcohol, or artificial ingredients. Its stylish and fresh contemporary look and message fit perfectly with the demanding tastes of today's young professionals".

The drink combines sparkling water from the company's own Heartease Spring and pure fruit juice in two flavours, Apple and Apple & Summer Berries.

Elsewhere, three well established 'traditional' companies supplying the premium/adult sector, Belvoir Fruit farms, Bottle Green Drinks Company and James White are each promoting the health /refreshment aspects of their activity in 2004.

Gooseberry & Mint, Fresh Cherry and Plum & Damson cordials are all new from Belvoir. Called 'Fruits of the Seasons' the flavours are only available during the fruit's natural harvest. Gooseberry & Mint is already on-shelf, the others will follow in July and October respectively.

A Blueberry variant has been added to the award-winnng pressé range by Bottle Green. For many, blueberry is the new cranberry as it contains the highest concentration of antioxidants amongst all fruit and vegetables. Antioxidants combat the body's free radicals - unstable oxygen molecules associated with cancer, heart disease and the effects of ageing. The berry is high in vitamin C, contains no fat or cholesterol and traditionally has been used to purify the blood, promote urinary tract health, calm the nervous system amongst expectant mothers and to combat eye ailments.

And at James White, under its Great Uncle Cornelius brand, there is a new natural still lemonade, Lemon Refresher, and Vintage Still Ginger Beer, The development team said it identified a niche in the health food market for a still lemonade that contains no preservative or artificial flavourings and, most significantly, no added sugar. The Still Ginger Beer comprises freshly crushed ginger root, lemon juice, sweetened with apple juice.

Beyond 2004 the future looks very bright for the adult soft drink. Analyst Mintel has just published its 'Functional Food & Drink Products' report, in which it predicts that, currently valued at £835m, the UK functional food and drinks market is forecast to double in the next five years, reaching £1,720m in 2007. What's the betting that soft drinks will be spearheading that growth?

Expert Analysis

Functional Food and Drink Products - UK

Mintel last reviewed the functional foods market in Market Intelligence, March 2000. The intervening period has seen, on the downside, the withdrawal of functional food products and ranges marketed by some big players. However, it has also been a period of significant market growth. Mintel estimates that the market for functional foods and drinks has grown, from its small base, by 159% since 1999 and now has a market value in the order of £667 million. Much of this growth has been due to the repositioning of established brands, bringing them into the functional foods arena, and the launch of some successful new products and product range extensions.

To find out more about this report, download your sample or to order your copy, please follow this link