Despite the difficulties presented by the recession, the UK soft drinks market has shown encouraging signs of growth. Britvic's 2010 Soft Drinks Report stated that industry sales rose 2% in 2009 to GBP8.5bn (US$12.74bn), fuelled mainly by a strong performance in the on-trade.

However, the news is not so good for makers of pricey healthy drinks, as value-hungry consumers have sought cheaper alternatives.

Figures showing that sales of soft drinks in the UK have grown at a time when many markets are contracting will be welcomed by the multitude of industry players. According to the report, the total value of soft drinks rose by 2% from GBP8.4bn in 2008 to GBP8.5bn last year. Soft drinks in the on-trade were particularly successful, growing 3% to GBP2.4bn during the period and overtaking spirits sales in the process.

However, not all soft drinks manufacturers enjoyed such a prosperous year in 2009. Smoothie manufacturers, for example, witnessed a 27% decline in their sector, with the associated price premiums and diminishing novelty value both proving to be large factors in this downward trend.

This is not to say, however, that consumers are no longer interested in their health when purchasing drinks. Indeed, the growth of soft drink sales in the on-trade suggests that more consumers are switching to spirit/soft drink mixers instead of calorific beers and wines, while others are switching away from alcohol altogether.

“After snapping at the heels of spirits for some time, soft drinks have finally moved into second place,” said Murray Harris, sales director at Britvic. “Alcohol has been relatively resilient, but with more pub visits now centred on food, alcohol sales have taken a decline.”

Ultimately, the main consideration for consumers at this time is value. This is emphasised by results from Datamonitor's 2009 consumer survey, in which 67% of UK respondents said that they were buying food and beverage products on the basis of value-for-money either 'most' or 'all of the time'. For the majority, soft drinks, especially the likes of fruit squashes, represent a desirable compromise between taste, health and cost. For industry players, continuing to appeal to consumers by emphasising the money that they can save is likely to see this trend continue, in the short term at least.

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