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A sophisticated sip: The rise of premium adult soft drinks
Phoebe Fraser

Phoebe Fraser

9 July 2024

A sophisticated sip: The rise of premium adult soft drinks

The beverage landscape is entering a new era of sophistication, where innovation and premium quality reign supreme. From botanical brews and functional fizzes to big bold flavours, premiumisation is reshaping the adult soft drinks category. FoodBev Media's Phoebe Fraser explores the trends poised to elevate the refreshment experience.


The soft drinks market has long been dominated by sugary sodas and juices often catered towards children and teenagers. However, in recent years, a new wave of ‘adult’ soft drinks has emerged, capturing the attention and taste buds of a more mature demographic.


“In the adult soft drinks category, consumers are seeking sophisticated flavours and the same craft and quality found in alcoholic drinks,” said Oliver Winters, director of communications at Fever-Tree, a British producer of premium drink mixers.


“Historically, the category has been characterised by non-premium options laden with sugar and artificial sweeteners,” Winters continued, pointing out that a new wave of beverages now offers a refined drinking experience that competes directly with alcohol – one that emphasises superior flavour profiles and healthier alternatives.


Jayne Andrews, marketing director at botanical brewery Fentimans, added: “Consumer interest in the provenance and heritage of what they eat and drink has driven sustained growth in premium choices”.


She continued: “Pressure on disposable incomes has led some people to reduce their spending and the number of occasions they go out each week. However, this has also increased the desire for quality when they do go out, with a preference for crafted, artisanal and premium options. Nearly a third (29%) of consumers in CGA’s OPUS survey in 2023 indicated they are likely to pay more for a better-quality drink, and more than half (53%) said the quality of ingredients influences their choice of drink.”


First-rate flavours


Flavour is pivotal for differentiation in the competitive beverage market, enhancing consumer enjoyment while showcasing a brand’s commitment to quality and innovation.


Tapping into the trend of sophisticated flavours, Fever-Tree blends high-quality, authentic profiles to complement the evolving tastes of consumers.



“We identified a gap in the market to develop a selection of sophisticated soft drinks ranging from our Mexican Lime Soda to our line-up of gingers,” said Winters. “We source the finest natural ingredients from around the world, such as ginger from Nigeria and India and lemons from Sicily.”


Similarly, Fentimans’ focus is to provide consumers with soft drinks that are “just as good” as alcoholic beverages. “Our recent consumer research confirmed what we already knew: big bold flavours are in,” Andrews commented.


The brand “scours” the globe for the finest natural, high-quality ingredients, from Bulgarian rose oil to “China’s best” ginger root. Fentimans also employs a ‘one-of-a-kind’ botanical brewing process, using a secret base that only a select few people in the world know. “This multi-stage process from botanicals to bottle results in an exquisite and unique flavour in every Fentimans drink,” added Andrews.



Botanical ingredients such as herbs, flowers and spices are experiencing a surge in popularity within the adult soft drinks category. Elderflower, lavender, rosemary and ginger are now considered key components in creating sophisticated and aromatic beverages tailored for discerning palates.


Some of Fentiman’s best-sellers include botanically brewed takes on timeless classics, such as its Cherry Cola, Dandelion & Burdock, Pink Ginger, Rose Lemonade, Victorian Lemonade, Mandarin and Seville Orange Jigger and its Curiosity Cola, an artisanal take on the popular beverage that features sweet cinnamon for a deeper flavour.


UK-based Nuisance Drink’s canned botanical beverages, for example, feature flavours such as Grapefruit & Basil, Elderflower & Nettle, Bramble & Rosemary, and Mint, Chilli & Cucumber. While iced tea brand Mangajo has added variants like Japanese Yuzu & Lemon, Acai-berry & Green Tea and Red Grape & Rooibos to its line-up.


Body-boosting beverages


Beyond their taste, botanicals are proving popular due to their association with naturalness and health, as Duncan O’Brien, founder of craft soda company Dalston’s told FoodBev. “The biggest megatrends are health and wellness and the movement towards cleaner labels with a focus on simplicity and quality ingredients. ‘Functional’ is the word on everyone’s lips in the industry right now.”


In January, the East London-based firm introduced a new line of prebiotic sodas, fortified with magnesium and plant fibre – two things that O’Brien says consumers are lacking in their diets. The ‘For your gut’ line also includes botanicals like baobab and lemon balm, traditionally known for their digestive support properties.



Meanwhile, Nestlé-owned Perrier recently introduced a new collection of premium sparkling beverages – marking the brand’s debut in the sophisticated drinks segment.


“We remain dedicated to growth and innovation in this category, which is an integral part of Nestlé’s nutrition, health and wellness strategy, especially with our low-calorie beverage options,” said Elisa Gregori, French business unit director at Perrier Global.


Maison Perrier has launched four distinct lines – Forever, Chic, Magnetic Juice and Energize – developed through “deep consumer research, market-leading R&D capabilities and collaboration with top flavour houses,” Gregori added.


‘Forever’ combines bubbles with natural fruit flavours, offering a fresh, zero-sugar, zero-calorie experience in Lemon, Lime, Orange and Grapefruit flavours. ‘Chic’ blends bubbles, fruit juice and natural flavours for a sophisticated, low-calorie non-alcoholic cocktail experience, featuring variants like Citrus Fizz, inspired by a virgin collins, Roséllini, akin to a virgin bellini, and Lemonjito, reminiscent of a virgin mojito.



The ‘Magnetic Juice’ line fuses carbonated water with fruit juice for a refreshing, intense fruit taste with low calories, in Peach & Cherry, Strawberry & Kiwi, Mango & Pineapple and Lemon & Guava flavours.


Lastly, ‘Energize’ targets the premium energy drink market with a ‘power blend’ of B vitamins (B1, B3 and B6), green tea and caffeine, offered in Lemon & Lime, Blackberry and Peach variants.


Better for you, and the planet


UK-based craft lemonade brand Gunna Drinks has launched a range of planet-positive, immune-boosting beverages to cater to the increasing health consciousness among consumers.


“Our planet-positive sodas are designed to be tastier, healthier and more sustainable, aligning perfectly with current consumer preferences,” founder Melvin Jay commented. “We recognise the increasing demand for healthier options, and our sodas provide an additional layer of value beyond mere refreshment.”


Each of Gunna’s functional lemonades provides 100% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C and zinc, supporting immune health while maintaining low sugar content.



The brand also emphasises eco-friendliness. “Consumers are increasingly concerned about single-use plastic pollution and are adopting sustainable practices,” Jay explained. “We’re rapidly approaching a tipping point where sustainability will be a fundamental consideration in purchasing decisions, and consumers are demanding products that align with their environmental values.”


Gunna Drinks has embraced this trend by packaging its sodas in ‘infinitely recyclable and reusable’ aluminium bottles, proudly claiming to be the first in the UK to offer immune-boosting soda drinks in aluminium packaging.


“When it comes to packaging, we believe that metal packaging for consumables represents the future,” agreed Dalston’s O’Brien. Fever-Tree is similarly committed to sustainability, implementing robust eco-friendly practices. “We prioritise recyclability by using a significant amount of recycled glass and aluminium in our packaging,” Winters added.


Perrier has also reduced the weight of its cans and increased the use of recycled materials across its packaging range. “Our sustainable water resource management remains a cornerstone of our operations,” noted Gregori. “The introduction of Maison Perrier reflects our approach to water resource stewardship, category development and sustainable business growth.”


Fentimans has achieved a 70% reduction in its scope 1 & 2 carbon footprint since 2019 through decreased energy consumption and enhanced reliance on renewable energy sources. “We are now focused on further lowering our carbon footprint by collaborating with third-party partners to mitigate other emissions,” said Andrews.


As the demand for premium, sophisticated and health-conscious beverages rises, the adult soft drinks market shows promising growth. These beverages aim not only to quench thirst but also to provide an elevated drinking experience. The sophisticated sip is here to stay.

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