The View from A Farr - Soft drinks attackers: Just chill out

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As the attacks on the soft drinks and bottled water industries grow increasingly vocal around the world, companies in the two categories have looked to products offering whatever the consumer wants. Maybe, Annette Farr argues, the detractors ought to look at some of the more relaxing alternatives on offer.

Once more, soft drinks are in the firing line; the industry, it seems, can't be doing it right for doing it wrong. The latest recent salvo in the UK is an unworthy headline in The Times ? 'Killing us softly'. Ouch, that's not nice, and inaccurate (as the British Soft Drink Association (BSDA) informed the editor). And in New York, a dramatic advertising campaign is underway which depicts fat oozing from a soda bottle, with a tagline 'Are you pouring on the pounds?'

Further, the American Heart Association has set down strict guidelines for added sugar intake that puts a woman over the daily recommended limit for drinking just one 12oz can of regular soda or carbonated drink. Some US states are still tabling the motion that soft drinks and other so-called 'junk' foods should be taxed whilst bottled water remains under assault from environmentalists; only recently a tax on bottled water was being proposed in Michigan.

The American Beverage Association (ABA) and the BSDA speak with one voice in rebutting detractors.

"Obesity is a complex issue and the industry provides an array of beverages with a wide range of calories, including zero calories," the ABA says. "This ranges from regular and diet soft drinks, bottled water, flavoured waters, enhanced waters, diet beverages, teas, sports drinks, low-calorie and mid-calorie juice drinks - all of which can be part of a balanced lifestyle."

Meanwhile, the BSDA says: "Obesity is a complex issue and has many contributory factors, such as the decline in physical activity, and all aspects of diet and lifestyle need to be taken into account. As a responsible industry, we take this issue very seriously and are committed to working with Government on its health and wellbeing initiatives and to encourage people to consume soft drinks as part of a balanced diet and active lifestyle."

There's trouble afoot, too, with energy drinks. The Australian state of New South Wales is looking at the possibility of banning the sale to children of energy drinks (such as Red Bull) with high levels of caffeine after five Year 7 pupils who had consumed high-caffeine energy drinks on their way to school one day in early September became ill.

Taurine, a mainstay ingredient of many energy drinks, has also been the subject of controversy. There are some who believe that this energy boosting amino acid, which stimulates the nervous system and increases energy, could have potentially negative side effects when offered in high concentrations. Mintel's Global New Products Database reveals that, despite strong growth in the energy category, manufacturers are turning away from using taurine.

So what's a person to drink? It appears that almost every category is under attack. It is somewhat ironic, that, in these days of austerity, it is the traditional soft drinks which are proving most popular and reassuring - the 'fizzy' drinks of yesteryear, so derided by the media and nutritionists as being responsible for the global obesity epidemic.

Last week saw industry leaders converge on Munich for the Drinktec event, Europe's biggest drinks show which takes place every four years. Globally, soft drinks continue to outsell any other liquid refreshment category. In 2005, the industry was focused on functionality and bottled water was coming of age. Fast forward to 2009 and health and wellness issues have truly made their mark on new product development, along with climate change and sustainability concerns, which now feature in every aspect of drink production.

The industry is constantly evolving, responding to lifestyle changes and health and wellness worries. Yet still it gets a 'bad press' highlighted by scaremongering headlines.

Perhaps opponents should just chill out. And, lo, there is a new wave of soft drinks, 'relaxation drinks' to help them. In the US, a drink called Drank - described as a calming blend of melatonin, rosehips and valerian root, launched last year by Innovative Beverages - is enjoying ever-wider distributorship. Then there is iChill, a relaxation shot to help consumers unwind and relax. Again, the all-natural ingredients include melatonin, valerian root, rosehips and B vitamins.

And now, launched last month, and arguably the most interesting of all, is Mary Jane's Relaxing Soda containing kava. Featured in Polynesian ceremonies in the South Pacific for hundreds of years, kava roots are primarily used in a drink to experience relaxation, to counteract stress and induce a sense of euphoria.

Getting high on a soft drink? Hmmm, I wonder what sort of headlines that will produce.

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