This year, the words 'all-natural' have been appearing on more and more soft drinks labels, a reflection not only of the growing well-being trend, but also a sign that drinks producers are responding to consumers continuing to seek out wholesome, natural goodness, despite the difficult economic times we are living in. Annette Farr looks at the rising tide of natural products offered by the soft drinks industry.

The move towards the use of all natural ingredients was apparent as the credit crunch began to bite. Mintel Global New Products Database records that, in 2008, food and drink claims classified as 'natural' were the most frequently featured on new products globally with natural claims appearing on nearly one in every four food and drink products launched last year, a 9% increase on 2007 figures.

The natural movement is more evident in the UK, as Mintel figures show. Over one in three new food and drink products highlighting natural qualities were introduced in the country in 2008, up 17% on 2007. The indications are that the figure will increase further for 2009.

According to Dr Evangelita Komtopoulou of Leatherhead Food Research, the use of natural flavours is currently growing at a rate of 4.4% per year. She writes in the consultancy's publication, FoodCom: "It is forecast that, by 2012, the UK market for natural flavours will reach 6,551 tonnes, driven by increased demand in soft drinks and confectionery, and overtaking synthetic and nature-identical flavours."

Indeed, in 2009 the first new product Britvic announced in the UK was the launch of Robinsons 'Be Natural' fruit squash. The drink comes in three flavours - orange & passion fruit, apple & strawberry, and blackcurrant & pear - and, being free from artificial preservatives, must be refrigerated after opening and consumed within three weeks.

Geraldine Phillips, senior brand manager for Robinsons at Britvic, says Be Natural squash was created to "offer mums increased choice and value so they can give their families the best".

The Feel Good Drinks Company, meanwhile, is also promoting naturalness with its new range of 100% natural juice drinks for children, called Feel Good Kids. The drinks, a blend of two-thirds juice and one-third water, come in a child-friendly 180ml Tetra Wedge pack. This Water, another water and juice combination drink, also uses all-natural ingredients; Douglas Lamont, the company's managing director, confirms: "With the continuing trend to more natural drinks, all-natural recipes such as ours are the ideal way to meet this growing demand and grow sales."

Brands worldwide are responding to the natural movement across all sectors. For example, in the US, Nestlé Juicy Juice has introduced two functional fruit juice drinks - Brain Development and Immunity - designed to benefit children during different stages of development: They are made with all-natural fruit juice ingredients, fortified with nutrients and blended with filtered water.

All-natural flavours are also a feature of Coca-Cola's new flavoured Dasani water. Brandon Leck, director of Coca-Cola North America Water Brands, says: "Unlike highly sweetened and more intensely flavoured beverages, Dasani offers the healthful purity of water with a splash of all-natural fruit flavour excitement."

Also from the Coca-Cola stable, fruit-flavoured CSD Fanta Orange has been reformulated to include 100% natural flavours. Orange is the first flavour in the Fanta range to feature 100% natural flavours; apple and grapefruit variants are to follow by the end of the summer.

Helping to boost the all-natural offering in the US has been the FDA approval of natural stevia-based sweeteners. No sooner had the ink dried, than Coca-Cola launched Sprite Green, claiming it to be the first sparkling, naturally sweetened, reduced calorie beverage in the country and PepsiCo launched SoBe Lifewater featuring the stevia-derived PureVia.

Others have followed, including Dr Pepper Snapple Group with its All Sport Naturally Zero, marketing it as the first - and only - zero-calorie sports drink sweetened with rebiana, another brand of sweetener from stevia. It comes in 20oz bottles in three flavours: dragonfruit, strawberry star fruit and mandarin Orange.

In Europe, Finland's leading producer Hartwall has revised its Jaffa range of fruit drinks using natural flavourings. Matti Ristola, Hartwall's division marketing manager for soft drinks, says: "Naturalness is a fundamental feature of the health and wellness trend that informs Finnish consumer purchasing behaviour at present and this trend for health, naturalness and wellness is picking up momentum. We have reviewed and updated the recipes of all drinks in the Jaffa stable. Prior to this, some of our Jaffa soft drinks used natural flavours, but now we use natural flavouring exclusively." Jaffa's packaging has been revamped to reflect the change.

Eco-friendly packs complement the natural movement. For instance, Canadian company Live Young Forever Health and Wellness has chosen a 16oz Akumi-Tek aluminium bottle from Ball Corporation for its Live Young Forever citrus beverage, a vitamin-enhanced water which is 100% natural, with fruits and vegetable juice providing colour. "I am bringing products to market that are as natural as possible and may improve overall health," explains company CEO, Gwen Miles. "This bottle provides a perfect vessel for these products because it has a very distinct and premium image that is consistent with the benefits the beverage offers, plus it is reclosable, tamper-resistant, chills quickly and is 100% recyclable."

Elsewhere, Honest Tea, a leading US producer of RTD organic teas, uses a new PET bottle called Escape developed by Graham Packaging Company of Pennsylvania. Escape is said to be the lightest bottle in the smooth-walled, hot-fill category, suitable for teas, juices and isotonic drinks. Honest Tea president and CEO, Seth Goldman, says: "As a company, we have a very high commitment to minimising our environmental footprint. Our packaging has always been our biggest challenge in that regard. This is the single largest improvement we've taken in terms of reducing our environmental impact."

Ingredient manufacturers such as Symrise are responding to the demand for a 100% all-natural tag, now being described as a 'clean label'. From its headquarters in Germany, Symrise says its All Be Natural flavourings comply with the new EC Flavourings Regulation, which will become binding in January, 2011. The product line includes a variety of fruity and sweet flavours such as classic strawberry and raspberry notes and 'superfruits' such as açaí and cranberry. "We're hoping that our natural flavourings will meet increasing consumer demand for natural products," says Dirk Bennwitz, vice president of strategic business Unit SWEET at Symrise.