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We have an unquenchable thirst for flavours. All categories of soft drinks are responding to consumers who are demanding more adventurous and exotic flavours, and if the ingredient or flavour has added functionality, so much the better. Annette Sessions reports.

Bottled waters have witnessed a new category emerging on the back of flavours. Sometimes called 'clear' waters, the UK's Strathmore Mineral Water Company's new Apple & Cinnamon, Lemon & Elderflower and Mango & Guava variants are typical of the activity taking place in bringing new flavour sensations to the market.

Then there's The Big J's new Cooler range unveiled last month, a juice and spring water fusion in four flavours: Mirabelle Plum & Passion Fruit, Strawberry & Vanilla, Apple & Elderflower and Cranberry & Lime.

In the US, kiwi-strawberry flavoured Recovery is one of seven low carb multi-vitamin flavoured waters from New York-based Energy Multi-Vitamin Enhanced Water Corp. Others in the range are: Rejuvenate (orange flavoured), Power (peach-strawberry), Revitalize (tropical citrus), Sports (tropical punch), Refresh (peach-melon) and Replenish (orange-carrot). All contain minerals and vitamins A, B, C and E.

It's not just western palates that are being stimulated. In South East Asia, Wan Ken Group, producer of Three Legs Cooing Water, a well known beverage brand, has rejuvenated its purified water with a grapefruit flavour enriched with vitamin C. The functional ingredient is shi gao (also known as gypsum fibrosum) which is said to relieve problems caused by body heat (for example, headaches and the effects of spicy food). The drink, Rhino Water, is thus being targeted at a younger market as providing the means to avoid the downside of late nights by dampening body heat.

The juice drink category is perfect for flavour experiment. According to Euromonitor's report, World Market for Soft Drinks Sept 2004, while orange remains the most popular flavour in all regions, exotic, unconventional and mixed flavours are gaining popularity.

Some examples include the work of Austrian juice manufacturer Lembachof which recently introduced its 100% natural fruit juice range to the UK market. The range comprises apple and pear juices made with blends of elderberry, carrot, forest fruits and blackcurrant juices. Meanwhile, Capespan has extended its current juice drinks range with the addition of a raspberry and lime flavour.

Berries are particularly popular and more and more exotic varieties are being sought. J.O. Sims, fruit ingredients specialist, expects demand for its berry blends to escalate. In particular, the company has seen increased sales of Ocean Spray's cranberry purée, following the French government's approval of a health claim for the North American variation of the berry.

Acknowledged for its health-giving properties and efficacy in treating urinary tract infections, the cranberry has become ubiquitous. This summer, Coca-Cola added a cranberry variant to its Five Alice juice drinks range. Called Cranberry Splash, the drink is a blend of five fruits - apple, grape, blackcurrant, cranberry and pear.

And now we have the white cranberry. Ocean Spray is currently promoting its 'white range' in Australia and New Zealand. The three variants - White Cranberry, White Cranberry Peach and White Cranberry Strawberry - are simultaneously being marketed as the foundation for both alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails. Anne-Maree Ogilvie, Ocean Spray's regional sales and marketing manager, said the white cranberry taste would "open up Ocean Spray to a whole new, younger market."

The blueberry, however, is fast becoming the new cranberry. Blueberries are said to have the highest concentrate 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. Since they are also naturally very high in vitamin C, a blueberry-based drink has obvious appeal to the health conscious.

The UK's Bottle Green Drinks Company introduced a carbonated blueberry variant this summer (a blend of blueberry and aronia berry juices) and Pomegreat added a new blueberry flavour featuring 20% pomegranate and 10% blueberry juice.

New and unusual berry and tropical citrus flavours are also the hallmark of flavour extensions within carbonates. Coca-Cola's flavoured carbonate brand Fanta, for instance, has launched Fanta Mano Magent in Thailand, a mango-flavoured carbonate featuring an unusual magenta colour.

In France, two interesting flavour combinations have been added to the Schweppes Fruits range: Orange/Mango/Cinnamon and Lemon/Lychee/Cactus. The company said the launch was motivated by that country's love of fruit flavoured carbonates, the second most popular category in France.

J.O. Sims also reports it has sourced a new range of indigenous fruits from La Union in Colombia allowing manufacturers to offer a range of truly tropical fruit flavours such as uchuva, guanabana, lulo, dragonfruit and Andean blackberry.

So where will the quest for flavours end? Never it seems. In the UK alone, Leatherhead Food International's Product Sight database registered 241 new product launches in 2003 compared to 193 for the previous year, the majority of which are in response to the growing demand for healthier products along with new flavours. Marry this to the wealth of exciting packaging design options for all drinking occasions and you have a win-win situation.

Sectors: Soft drinks, Water

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