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This month, Ray Rowlands explores the world of adult soft drinks and highlights the growing threat they pose to the alcoholic drinks industry.

Younger LDA drinkers are less interested in alcohol than their forebears

Younger LDA drinkers are less interested in alcohol than their forebears

"Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants," said Henry Ford. "So long as it is black".

Though not meant to be taken entirely seriously, Ford's inference was that the choice was limited but the quality was reliable. In many respects, Coca-Cola could be considered the black Model T of the soft drinks world; reliable in quality and often the first choice when buying a soft drink. But, just as car designs have changed enormously over the past hundred-or-so years, so too have consumer beverage tastes.

Take the bottled water revolution. Around 50 years ago, few people in the western world would have seriously considered buying water off the shelf,. Today, bottled water is almost an essential accessory. We have also witnessed the births of other booming trends, such as energy drinks and iced coffee.

Progress within the soft drinks arena has subsequently become a bit confusing. With all the main categories now well covered, producers have needed to become more adventurous and innovative in order to address broadening consumer demand. One area that is facing increasing attention in this respect is adult soft drinks. Some of the segment's more prominent brands are not new. Shloer is a well-established example. The brand has an 80-year pedigree and even once carried the tag line "the Grown-Up Soft Drink". Produced in the UK, but found as far afield as Australia and Bermuda, Drinksinfo estimates that its global sales today are an impressive 25m litres per year.

Over the years, the adult soft drinks market has had its ups and downs. Established products have sometimes struggled in their relevance to newer generations whilst public attention has been distracted by a growing array of competing beverages. But, as classics such as Shloer, J20 and Appletiser, have been joined by a host of new products, consumer interest has been renewed. At the same time, the flavour range and ingredients, geared towards serving the more mature palate, has broadened and continue to do so.

Back in June, just-drinks highlighted the launch by Britvic of a new zero proof drink called Thomas & Evans No. 1, named after two historic supporters of the temperance movement. The brand is a lightly-sparkling blend of fruits and botanicals with a dry taste. The fact that it was created by Britvic's WiseHead Productions offshoot, which has been established specifically to develop premium adult soft drinks, underlines the company's commitment to becoming a leading light in this market.

Other brands are due to be launched by Wisehead in the coming months. At the same time, Britvic is not sitting on its laurels: Last month, it added raspberry & cranberry and grape & elderflower sparkling variants to its reformulated Drench range, specifically aimed to appeal to the 30-plus consumer. This followed the Spring release of white-grape-and-lychee-flavoured J2O Flamingo Fling, the latest variant in this popular range that also has a more mature audience in mind.

Recent NPD in adult drinks is not restricted to Britvic. Last year, Coca-Cola Enterprises significantly extended its low-calorie, sparkling Finley soft drink range across Europe. Developed for the "more mature palate", a raft of new flavours was introduced. Also last year, retro Fanta Klassik, containing apple pulp and whey, was re-released in Germany to address the desire among adult consumers for a more tart refreshment. And, how about Suju flavoured organic drinking vinegar that targets Millennials and was launched in the US this summer?

Whilst a small number of premium products, such as Fever-Tree tonic water, have appeared that are specifically designed to be mixed with alcohol, adult soft drinks generally serve two main purposes; they provide a more premium alternative to standard soft drinks, as well as offering a socially-acceptable alternative to imbibing alcoholic beverages. Alcohol consumption is falling in many countries, often supported by toughening drink-driving laws and high taxes, as well as health considerations. People still want to drink, though, hence this rise in non-alcoholic alternatives with adults in mind.

The fact that, last year, Appletiser was made the official soft drink at Ascot races, an event traditionally associated with Champagne, is a clear sign of the times. Even spirit producers have seen the writing on the wall. Diageo, owner of such iconic multi-national brands as Gordon's gin and Johnnie Walker Scotch, has recently taken a stake in Seedlip, a UK producer of distilled non-alcoholic spirits. The Seedlip brand, which first went on sale in late-2015, is clear like gin or vodka, consists of distillates of six blended botanicals, but contains no alcohol or sugar. We have had alcohol-free beer and wine for a long time now, but this is alcohol-free spirit is a commercial-first.

Adult drinks serve as an ideal solution for consumers who want to graduate from mainstream soft drinks and/or are unable - or unwilling - to consume alcohol. They also represent a profitable means for producers and retailers to drive up product value due to premium image and focus on sophisticated flavours and ingredients.

As such, their place in the beverage world would seem to be assured.

The move away from alcohol and the soft drinks opportunity – Consumer Trends

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