Focus - Giving thanks to CSDs

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Carbonates are coming out of the doldrums, claims Annette Farr. The category has been becalmed for some time. But now, with a party season on the horizon and some upbeat forecasts from analysts, the sparkle is definitely coming back. Evidence of this can be seen in brand activity and encouraging sales.

The festivities kick off in North America with Thanksgiving, which is today (26 November) in the US. In typical, quirky Jones Soda style, the US company has introduced a new variant for the celebrations, the improbable sounding Tofurky and Gravy. Joth Ricci, the company's president and CEO, says: "While many think that eating turkey is the only way to celebrate Thanksgiving, we at Jones Soda suggest that this year you try something new and toast the noble bird with a cold bottle of Tofurky and Gravy."

Further, to help Americans get back on the health track after Thanksgiving, Jones is including a bottle of each flavour of its new zero-calorie Jones Zilch with each Tofurky and Gravy purchase. Zilch is fortified with 30% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C and is available in pomegranate, vanilla bean and black cherry flavours.

Regarding financial health, the company's third quarter figures show "meaningful improvement over the same period last year".

Another brand that trades on being irreverent is the UK's Tango from Britvic Soft Drinks. The latest figures show that Tango has bounced back from the brink, the result of some clever marketing campaigns. Britvic reports the flavoured CSD has attracted 600,000 new households and is driving fruit carbonate cans back into growth. Tango had the sixth highest rate of sale of all the single serve SKUs (stock keeping units) in independent retail outlets in the UK over the 12 summer weeks.

There are further buoyant figures from AG Barr. The company's half-year figures showed a 27% jump in sales thanks, in part, to the growing demand for its iconic, and Scotland's favourite CSD, Irn-Bru.

Meanwhile, Coca-Cola's largest producer and bottler, Coca-Cola Enterprises has reported third-quarter 2009 net profits of $254m, 12% above results for the same quarter a year ago. Whilst profits in North America remained in line with expectations, Europe achieved strong volume, growing 4% driven by 4½% growth in the Coca-Cola trademark brands. Coca-Cola Zero grew 15% whilst brand Coca-Cola achieved 4½%.

According to research consultants Canadean, the global market for CSDs saw its growth rate halve in 2008, dropping from 3% in 2007 to 1.4%. However, better times are ahead; the market growth rate is expected to accelerate next year as the world comes out of recession.

Despite the recent slowdown, CSDs still lead the soft drinks sector, accounting for nearly four in every ten litres of soft drinks consumed around the world.

Worries over obesity and health has spawned a new generation of carbonates, and not just diet, low cal or zero variants. Fledgling UK company Evoid is typical. It has created a fruit-based cola which is 'schools compliant'. With no additives or added sugar, the Evoid range relies on the natural flavours of real fruit juices and natural ingredients for taste and colour.

Bottle Green and Shloer also produce fruit or grape-based drinks which do not contain artificial flavours, colours, sweeteners or preservatives. For the Christmas market, Shloer has introduced a Rosé variant while Bottle Green offers White Grape and Red Grape premium sparkling drinks.

There is no getting away from it. Despite the health concerns which have intermittently plagued the carbonates category - 100 years ago the inclusion of cocaine in cola drinks caused worries that it was habit forming, detrimental to health and it was duly banned - consumers nevertheless like the taste of cola and other drinks that fizz.

Now, there is further evidence that the sparkle, or bubbles, in carbonates enhances the drink's taste. Reading Scientific Services Ltd reports that research published in the journal Science shows that the human tongue can taste the 'flavour' of carbon dioxide in the bubbles of fizzy drinks. In the article, the researchers speculate that the ability to taste carbonation may have evolved as a reaction to help humans avoid foods that are going off and have begun fermenting. They claim that sour and bitter tastes often indicate foods that should be avoided, while sweet, salty, and the savoury taste sensation called umami, are those that can be beneficial.

Good news then for the recipe creators at Jones Soda with its tofu-based Tofurky and Gravy.

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