This month, soft drinks commentator Ray Rowlands takes a look at how various beverage companies are still keeping bubbles alive, despite the on-going decline in the world's carbonated soft drinks markets.

We are constantly being told these days how the CSD market is in its death throes. In many parts of the world, especially North America, once-loyal consumers are scaling back consumption fuelled by growing fears over product sugar content and the issue of obesity.

Obviously, if you are a major international beverage producer, this situation poses serious cause for concern. In the US, The Coca-Cola Co has come up with a partial solution, by shifting its gaze towards sparkling water. Though only a fraction of the size of the still water market, carbonated water volumes in America are growing at an impressive rate, no doubt sourcing at least some of its traction from the decline in CSD consumption. In November, Coca-Cola released a carbonated version of its established Smartwater brand to tap into the opportunities afforded by this burgeoning market. Bottled water is generally anticipated to become the largest category in the US soft drinks market before the end of the current decade, so focusing in this direction makes perfect sense.

Not all consumers are satisfied with just plain bottled water, healthy though it may be. Sometimes, we crave something with a little more taste, hence our erstwhile obsession with flavoured sodas. To this end, beverage producers have also been experimenting with the alternative of flavoured sparkling waters, to attract the taste buds of those who, deep down, still crave CSDs, but don't want the calories. Of course, such products are not entirely new, Perrier with lemon, or lime, for example, has been around for many years, but the segment is certainly raising its profile. In 2013, Coca-Cola successfully introduced a range of Dasani sparkling flavoured waters in the US; a result, I'm sure, the company hopes to emulate with its new Smartwater variant. In 2014, Nestle subsequently added unsweetened Pure Life Exotics Sparkling Waters to its line-up whilst, at the start of last year, Danone's UK division launched Volvic Touch of Fruit Sparkling in the country.

Adding flavours to water has not been immune to failure, however, even with multi-national backing. PepsiCo put a lot of effort behind a sparkling version of its Aquafina FlavorSplash water brand in the US, but it still failed to make the grade: Late last year, reports claimed that the variant was being delisted. Coca-Cola suffered a similar disappointment with its Glaceau Fruitwater, a zero-calorie sparkling water sweetened with sucralose, which has recently been axed after a poor sales performance. A carbonated variant of the Minute Maid juice brand is taking its place. Whilst Glaceau Fruitwater apparently contained no actual fruit, its low-calorie replacement will contain 6% fruit juice, natural flavours plus a mixture of sugar and artificial sweeteners. It is aimed at consumers seeking an alternative to mainstream sugary soft drinks and, hopefully, will benefit from strong parent branding: Minute Maid already holds top spots in the US juice and juice drinks markets.

How can the juice segment avoid soft drinks' sugar war? - Click here for an NPD round-up

So, perhaps sparkling juice drinks provide a safer avenue to success than low- to no-juice content flavoured water. For sure, Minute Maid is not the only juice brand to have recently added fizz. Schweppes sparkling juice drinks (with 6%  to 8% juice content) made their UK debut last year. Innocent, the UK-based juice company bought by Coca-Cola in 2013, is another innovator in this direction. In April, the company brought out Innocent Bubbles, a blend of sparkling water and natural fruit juice. Innocent Bubbles may not have the same level of brand credentials as the Minute Maid or Schweppes launches, but it is claimed to be completely natural, comprising a blend of around 60% pure fruit juices, spring water and nothing else.

Other beverage companies toying with the concept of what actually constitutes a carbonated soft drink include Valio Oy. As Finland's biggest milk processor, and one of the country's key juice producers, the company has not been sitting idle since losing its export trade with Russia. It has introduced a CSD under the name of Horppy ('Gulp' in English). Nothing too surprising there, except that the product comes in a 1-litre carton. Like Minute Maid Sparkling, the Horppy range contains around 5% real juice and is low calorie. It also contains 0.1% carbon dioxide. The product has been out for around a year now and, according to trade sources, it has met with encouraging consumer support, so much so that it is rumoured that rival Finnish juice company Eckes-Granini is about to embark down a similar route in product development.

Despite an on-going contraction in the global soda market, the bubbles still keep coming. And don't forget, besides sparkling water and sparkling juice drinks, some 10% of global sports drinks volumes are carbonated as well as around 90% of energy drinks, outside of Asia. At the same time, category boundaries are becoming decidedly blurred. Take the case of Rockstar Energy Water, which AG Barr introduced to the UK just last year, in peach or blueberry & pomegranate flavours. The company claims that the product delivers a full hit of energy, but with 50% less sugar and calories than standard Rockstar Energy. So, is it a low calorie energy drink or a sparkling, caffeine packed, flavoured water? Come to that, is Horppy a sparkling juice drink or a low carbonated soda, but in a carton?

I think I need to lie down; my head's beginning to hurt.