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The Origins of the Next Trend in Soft Drinks

For many years soft drink brands have been associated with the whole family, but this could be about to change as Craft and Adult Soft Drinks are being touted as the big drink trend of 2016/17.

While simple flavours remain popular, a growth in healthy, innovative and diverse flavours is also driving the market forward; quirky tastes on the market currently include florals like Elderflower, Dandelion, Jasmine and fruits/nuts such as cucumber, almond, coconut and lychee.

In 2016, data from the Office for National Statistics revealed that one in five adults in the UK doesn’t drink alcohol – that’s a significant number of adult consumers that might prefer a soft drink – and, in its Attitudes to Premium Soft Drinks report, Mintel revealed a growing percentage of adults choose soft drinks when visiting bars.

But is this actually a new trend – or the return of an old one? The truth is that the demand for healthy, flavoursome liquid alternatives to water started hundreds of years ago. In fact, before modern soft drinks came into being – and into a can – three types of commercial beverage were available to consumers: small beers (weak), spring waters and fruit flavoured soft drinks.

It’s in the Tudor period that we first find a sweetened drink come to market; ‘Water Imperial’ contained cream of tartar and was flavoured with lemons, while ‘Manays Cryste’ was a cordial containing rosewater, violets or cinnamon designed to help the disabled.

Cycle forward a royal turn to the Stuarts, and we see the introduction of an early lemonade from Italy. Of course there was no carbonation, yet the recipe differs little from today, containing simply lemons, sugar/honey and water. Another hundred years saw the arrival of orangeade, a beverage actually invented to make the most of oranges too bitter to be eaten in solid form.

Many of these early drinks – like the manays cryste – were drunk specifically for their perceived health advantages. Lime juice – imbibed by the Royal Navy in the 1700s – was taken for the prevention of scurvy. Strangely, perhaps, the carbonation of drinks was also lauded as a treatment of this disease!

When one of the early founders of modern soft drinks, Jacob Schweppe set about to perfect the production of soda-water in 1783, he put the wheels for the creation of the modern beverage industry in motion – yet still it was the presumed health benefits of the fizzy water that Schweppe chose to market his drink. The same could be said of many chemists and druggists also selling waters at the time. Apothecary, Richard Bewely, for example, sold Bewley’s Mephitic Julep, a water containing ‘3 drams of fossil alkali to each quart of water’ into this drink was  ‘throw(n) streams of fixed air until all the alkaline taste is destroyed’. The medicinal result was used to prevent ‘putrid fevers, scurvy, dysentery and bilious vomiting’.

This belief that carbonated water was good for the health continued all the way through the nineteenth century. It was during this time that the, arguably, most famous carbonated soft drink in history was invented. And yes, it was initially marketed as a health drink!

Coca Cola was created by Colonel John Pemberton as ‘Pemberton’s French Wine Coca’ in 1885; the drink was then a mix of alcohol, coca, kola nut, and damiana. A year later, prohibition forced Pemberton to remove the alcohol content – and his new soft drink formula began to be sold as a patent medicine. In his advertising Pemberton claimed the drink cured many diseases, including morphine addiction, indigestion, nerve disorders, headaches, and impotence. It wasn’t, however, until 1888 that the name we recognise, Coca-Cola, was set up; these days the recipe for Coca-Cola has changed dramatically, it is no longer marketed as a health drink and the brand is still going strong.

Returning to the present – and looking to the future. It’s true that, unlike these early versions, the Adult Soft Drinks coming to market have not been designed to be specifically medicinal. Nonetheless, a number do advertise the benefits of the added vitamins and minerals in their recipes, their high quality ingredients and all natural compositions. Then there are drinks being designed to suit specific health diets – high protein for example, and the water alternatives such as coconut water.

Arguably, it is the perceived added health advantages that are driving more adults to consume soft drinks; according to a Drink Sector report ‘moderation’ and ‘avoidance’ is a key trend driving demand for adult soft drinks among alcohol drinkers. Meanwhile, 56% of consumers globally would like to see more craft style non-alcoholic beverages.

Sophisticated sodas not only offer an attractive alternative for consumers who wish to limit their alcohol intake, but also appeal to a broader demographic of people looking to try new flavours, healthy drinks and independent/craft options. In the last few years we have seen a revolution in craft brewing as independent beer and cider brewers and their fans have embraced canned drinks. Could we shortly see the same happening in the adult and craft soft drinks market? It’s a strong possibility; it may be in its early stages still, but in another few years, we wouldn’t be surprised if canned craft soft drinks were among the coolest beverages around.

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