THERE’S hardly a week goes by without an obesity story finding its way into the newspapers, and soft drinks have taken their fair share of criticism from health campaigners in recent years.
However all that looks set to change.
With producers across the board working to reformulate their brands in recent years, and government stepping in with an added sugar levy set to go live in 2018, health has become a watchword for the soft drinks industry, and this has created an opportunity for the on-trade, a number of firms told SLTN.
Maria Lawrence, operations manager at Funnybones Foodservice, the firm behind Grace Aloe Refresh, said venues shouldn’t simply stock healthier products because they are “impelled to do so”, but in order to meet customer demand.
“We need to offer healthy choices – we also need to respond to the trends driven by consumer choice,” said Lawrence.
“Increasing numbers of consumers are turning to a cleaner, healthier way of eating and drinking, and as more people cut down or give up alcohol altogether, the pressure is on to provide quality and variety in a soft drinks selection.”
When selecting soft drinks for the chiller, Lawrence said operators should give the category “the same amount of thought and consideration” as drinks containing alcohol.
“Remember that we are nearly all consumers of soft drinks and non-drinkers want to feel valued and have options, not to be fobbed off with the same old boring choices,” she said.
Adrian Troy, head of marketing at AG Barr, agreed that healthier soft drinks are the way forward for the category.
“There is strong growth in low and zero calorie drinks in the wider market so consumer demand is definitely increasing and that is expected to continue,” said Troy.
“Licensees should ensure they offer low calorie soft drinks options, alongside regular variants to offer consumers choice and maximise this sales opportunity.”
To meet demand, Troy suggested publicans stock “fundamental brands to protect their core business”, while also offering “something more special” as customers visiting the on-trade are “prepared to pay more for a premium offering”.
Carol Saunders, head of customer marketing at Highland Spring Group, reckons sparkling water provides health-conscious customers with a viable premium alternative “without compromising on taste”.
There is strong growth in low and zero calorie drinks and that is expected to continue.
Saunders added that sparkling water presents bartenders with the opportunity to get creative with mocktails, while still water also has its place.
“Whilst sparkling water is the ideal treat during the week or when socialising at the weekend, a still water offering is the perfect accompaniment for food at all occasions,” said Saunders.
“It’s important for operators to recognise that consumers need to be provided with adequate choice as a solution to health concerns.”
Variation in customer preferences depending on the occasion was also highlighted by Bottlegreen.
A spokesman for the firm said there is research to show that soft drink choice is “actually driven largely by the occasion” with many customers “creating a credit/debit system” whereby they are “‘good’ or opt for ‘healthier’ choices during the week,” and more likely to treat themselves at the weekend or special occasions.
Nutritional motivations were also raised by Steve Carter, sales and marketing director at Frobishers Juice, the firm behind the Frobishers range of juices, soft drinks and smoothies.
Carter said customers are “definitely more concerned about and taking more notice of the nutritional value” of what they eat and drink.
“There is an undeniable popularity for healthy choices,” said Carter.
“Changing attitudes towards soft drinks mean diners and drinkers are wanting healthier alternatives too.”
One of the more influential trends in the premium soft drinks category is the move towards more “adult flavours”, Carter said, suggesting this is a “reflection of the increasing proportion of adults who now opt for a soft drink when enjoying a night out”.
“Interest in the adult soft drinks sector always heats up in the summer months and operators stocking up early with premium, profit making brands are the ones who will reap the rewards,” said Carter.
The importance of catering to adult drinkers through the soft drinks range was also highlighted by Fentimans.
A spokeswoman for the brand said that with an increasing number of young adult drinkers foregoing alcohol on nights out, “the soft drinks market is continuing to grow”.
“We don’t see any signs of this trend slowing down and our sophisticated selection of premium beverages offer those wanting a grown up soft drink a credible and authentic choice,” she said.
Knowledge is key, according to Fentimans, and the firm’s spokeswoman suggested operators look to not only stock a range of standard and premium soft drinks, but also ensure staff are up to speed in the way they would be with other categories.
“Operators should not only stock a range of standard and premium soft drinks, but they should understand them too,” she said.
“Bar owners need to be able to recommend different drinks with confidence, give advice on flavours and ways to enhance the drink, such as garnishes or added fruit.”
Russel Goldman, commercial director for licensed and leisure at Britvic, the firm behind Pepsi and J2O, also put service top of the pile of considerations for publicans looking to lift their soft drinks sales.
“We know one of the most important parts of a consumer’s experience in outlet is the service they receive,” said Goldman.
“Staff should be trained not only to provide outstanding customer service at all times, but they should also be knowledgeable about the product range so that they can make considered recommendations to those consumers who are open to the suggestion of trying something new.”
One area where Goldman reckons operators could elevate the customer’s experience is in food and drink pairing.
The Britvic commercial director suggested operators put some thought into this aspect of their offer as getting it right can reap rewards.
“Pairings require consideration and understanding of matching flavours so at Britvic we have carried out extensive work on our brands in this area, working with mixologists and chefs to suggest example matches, providing clear tasting notes and food pairing wheels to help our customers,” said Goldman.