During the festive period, designated drivers or those who simply need to give their bodies a rest from rich food and alcohol will find a wider array than ever of interesting and exotic soft drinks to refresh and restore. Annette Farr takes a look at some of the new products adding sparkle and variety to the soft drinks shelves this Christmas.

What's the betting that more soft drinks than alcoholic ones will be consumed this coming festive season? The odds are good. With health and hydration to the fore, 2006 has seen an unprecedented level of new product development within the soft drink repertoire, much of it aimed at the adult consumer.

At long last, pubs and bars are getting the message that the 'designated driver' needs more choice than just the ubiquitous cola and ridiculously small 180ml bottle of fruit juice. The success of Britivc's J20 in the UK is evidence of the potential in this market. A new limited edition J20 Orange & Pomegranate flavour will, says the company, further drive adult soft drinks sales.

But there is a host of new drinks which ought to be finding their way into pubs and HORECA outlets. For example, hibiscus flowers, said to be rich in 'healthy' flavonoids, polyphenols and anthocynanis, appear in two new drinks positioned as alternatives to wine - the organic Simply Hibi and Shalai Tropical Hibiscus.

The former is made from pressing hibiscus flowers and fusing them with 100% natural tropical flavours. The drink can be served chilled or hot as a non-alcoholic alternative to mulled wine. Shalai Tropical Hibiscus is produced from the red flowers of a variety of tropical hibiscus plant grown in Africa and then sweetened with grape juice.

As a Champagne replacement, Bateel is a new drink from ISK Beverages, made from fresh dates, apple juice, mint and sparkling water. The drink might retail for a pricey GBP8.50 (US$16.74) for a 750ml bottle but, according to ISK, dates are one of today's super foods, fat- and cholesterol-free and rich in minerals and vitamins.

Moving to continental Europe, the recent SIAL show witnessed the launch of a raft of new drinks, including the 'CanéO' range of botanical drinks with natural plant extracts from Boissons Caneo; Bionade International's lightly sparkling drinks in elderberry, lychee, herb and ginger orange flavours; and Parmalat's new Jeunesse drink enhanced with Coenzyme Q10 and vitamin E in orange & peach and mango & guava flavours.

The Christmas period is equally important for the buoyant bottled water category. As Tom Gardener of the US International Bottled water Association points out: "Whether as a replacement for high-calorie beverage choices or as an alternative to alcoholic beverages for guests and designated drivers, bottled water offers consumers a refreshing, hydrating beverage that provides consistent safety, quality, convenience, and good taste."

Consumers are spoilt for choice. Besides the traditional still and sparkling spring and mineral water brands, there is an ever-increasing number of enhanced water products on the market, such as the US Hint essence waters now being introduced to the UK. This water is lightly infused with 100% natural flavours, with no artificial additives or preservatives. The range comprises tangerine, lime, raspberry-lime, cucumber, pomegranate-tangerine, peppermint, pear and tropical punch variants.

V Water's new range of vitamin waters is another development to address consumer moods. The three variants are mango and ginger-flavoured spring water with ginseng and vitamins B and C to give a 'kick'; a spicy citrus flavoured water infused with echinacea and astragalus to 'shield' from illness; and a green tea-flavoured water to 'de-stress', which is a mix of camomile and hibiscus to help maintain a sense of calm - an attribute much needed over the festive period.

Indeed, there is an array of functional drinks to address the stressful demands of the season, not to mention the increasing number of energy drinks to keep you partying through the night.  And when the dust has settled and the decorations put away, consumers have a choice of detox drinks to help put bodies back into shape (or at least make them feel good about themselves!).

Whether hype or not, these drinks have found a market, as confirmed by innocent, the UK's No 1 smoothie maker. Giles Brooks, UK commercial director, said that January 2006 saw innocent sales rise by over 50%. The company is hoping for the same effect this coming January, more so since the launch of the 'super foods' range, developed using fruits and berries with acknowledged health benefits. The range comprises Natural Detox with pomegranates, blueberries and açaí (the Amazonian berry du jour); Natural Vitamin A & C, with oranges, carrots and mangoes; and Natural Vitamin C, made from blackcurrants, acerola cherries and rosehips.

So as the party season gets underway let's raise a glass to soft drinks and hope that pubs and clubs will act responsibly in promoting non-alcoholic options, even going so far as to give free soft drinks to designated drivers. They have no excuse on the choice front.