Sales of carbonated soft drinks (CSDs) in China are forecast to reach around 20.6bn litres by 2016, representing growth of 47% against 2011, according to a recently-published Mintel report.

Per capita consumption of CSDs in China remains low at an estimated 10.34 litres, compared to around 167 litres in the US. However, the growing appeal of non-carbonated drinks in the face of rising obesity rates may dampen growth in CSDs, Mintel has warned.

In spite of rising obesity levels, Chinese consumers are equally or more concerned about artificial ingredients in CSDs than calorie content, Mintel says in its 'Carbonated Soft Drinks - China' report, released earlier this year.

Indeed, the report notes that the proportion of products with low/no/reduced-calorie claims fell to 7% of all new products launched in 2011, from 30.8% in 2006, even though Mintel's survey revealed that two thirds of consumers said they were likely to purchase such drinks.

There is also a dearth of naturally-sweetened CSDs which might appeal to the many consumers who are apprehensive about artificial sweeteners. "Consumers want to maintain a healthy lifestyle but there is a lack of natural CSDs in the market to meet these needs," the report states, adding that this creates "a particularly strong opportunity for innovation around natural sweeteners such as stevia, sugar cane and agave".

Meanwhile, untapped demand for single-serve options, growing interest in new flavours and expansion in the on-premise sector offer further growth potential for CSD producers, the report adds.