Soft drinks and mixers report

Mark Ludmon looks at the case for adding premium soft drinks and mixers to the menu

At bars such as Lost Society, The Lost Angel and Citizen Smith in London, The Lost Group has gained a reputation for innovation in cocktails. But it has also seen enormous growth in premium soft drinks and non-alcoholic cocktails over the past two years, according to operations director Warren Lindsay. “The likes of the Virgin Mary are now selling in similar quantities to its bloodier, boozier counterpart,” he says. This is helped by their “all you can drink, make your own” option where customers are presented with a tray of ingredients for making a Virgin or Bloody Mary to match their personal taste.

For mocktails and stand-alone soft drinks, The Lost Group uses premium juices from Frobishers, ranging from juices such as tomato and cranberry to more complex mixes such as Bumbleberry which includes strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blackcurrants. “Frobishers’ mango and pear are popular with our customers, and the unique Bumbleberry is a real talking point as well as being versatile and tasting delicious,” Warren adds.

Growing awareness about the ingredients of different types of soft drinks is helping to drive interest in premium juices and juice drinks, says Frobishers sales and marketing director Steve Carter. “We have no other additives, flavourings, sugars or other nasties in our juices. Literally, the only thing we add is water and we lightly pasteurise the juices to give them a shelf life so they’re suitable for the on-trade.”

This means education is an important role for their sales team, Steve says. “It’s absolutely true to say that a lot of juices on the market are no healthier than their fizzy counterparts on the soft drinks shelf. Many are made from juice concentrate and contain mostly sugar and water and a concoction of additives and flavourings.”

Offering “grown-up” soft drinks at the bar provides an opportunity for consumers to trade up from traditional options, says Eldon Robson, managing director and master brewer at Fentimans. It has been growing on-trade distribution for its range of botanically brewed products such as its Ginger Beer and Victorian Lemonade. “At a time when licensees are under pressure to offer more for less, it is important to stock a wide range of premium drinks to entice the customer to try something out of the ordinary and generate a bigger profit margin over other non-alcoholic alternatives,” Eldon points out. “As 19 per cent of consumers in the on-trade choose soft drinks, compared with 10 per cent choosing wine and 10 per cent spirits, soft drinks represent a significant market opportunity for the licensee.”

The economic downturn has not dampened consumers’ quest for new flavour experiences when they go out but has in fact boosted it, says Simon Speers, managing director of Bottlegreen Drinks. “People may be cutting back on big-ticket items such as holidays and luxury goods but to make up for this, they are looking to treat themselves with small indulgences and are trading up to premium-quality products,” he explains.

While premium soft drinks sales have increased by 22 per cent in volume in the past year, sales by value rose by 40 per cent, which illustrates the profit potential, Simon points out. Bottlegreen has been adding to its appeal for bars by introducing flavour combinations such as the lemon and lime leaf sparkling pressé variant which is now available in 275ml bottles in the on-trade. It is also working in partnership with Diageo GB on promoting the Elderflower G&T serve, adding Bottlegreen Elderflower Cordial to the gin and tonic, which is supported by on-trade promotional packs.

Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) provides support for licensees wanting to make more out of soft drinks sales, such as its Accredited Coca-Cola Establishment (ACE) programme involving post-mix training and its website, “In some outlets, the soft drinks offering can be fairly limited so consumers revert to trusted favourites such as a cola, lemonade or orange juice which they know will be available,” points out Colm O’Dwyer, sales and customer development director for out of home at CCE. “However, 83 per cent of customers would appreciate a more interesting recommendation and 18 per cent are then likely to trade up to a more premium drink if suggested by staff. Licensees can help boost their premium soft drinks sales by ensuring their bar staff are fully prepared to upsell and talk about the premium ranges they offer.”

CCE has been running trials on the benefits of including a range of soft drinks in pub and bar menus, which resulted in an average seven per cent increase in soft drink sales in the outlets involved. “They should feature on food menus to drive awareness of an outlet’s range, especially as 51 per cent of consumers choose premium soft drinks to accompany a meal within licensed outlets,” Colm adds.

There is a lot of untapped potential for growth in soft drinks if bars and pubs extended their range and made their customers aware of the choice available, says Amanda Grabham, head of brand marketing for Shloer. Citing Mintel data, she points out: “Almost a fifth of the adult population do not drink alcohol and on social occasions there are always going to be people who aren’t drinking alcohol because they are driving or because they are mums-to-be. Three-quarters of consumers prefer to drink soft drinks at lunchtimes, half say they look for a drink that goes well with their food and 85 per cent believe Shloer is a good fit with food.”

Shloer, which is the biggest-selling soft drinks brand in grocery retail, is increasing its reach in the on-trade for its range of grape juice and sparkling water blends. Alongside a £16million marketing campaign, it has introduced 275ml bottles of Shloer Red Grape and Shloer White Grape exclusively for the on-trade. “We are confident, now we’ve got the ball rolling in the on-trade, that by developing tailored support to drive sales to benefit stockists, this will open up more opportunities both for bar operators and the Shloer brand,” Amanda adds.

Monin has seen increased demand for its range of fruit mixes which come in nine flavours including strawberry, raspberry, red berries, mango and kiwi. This owes much to bars offering mocktail alternatives, says Monin UK brand ambassador James Coston. “Monin fruit mixers are popular because they are hassle-free and cost-effective yet retain the same flavour and consistency of real fruit. For example, it’s easier to use Monin Banana fruit mix rather than buying in fresh fruit which will expire in a few days. They are more concentrated than typical fruit purees which means the shelf life is longer and the cost per drink is less.”

Non-alcoholic cocktails have been one of the growth areas for The Finest Call fruit purees which include raspberry, strawberry, mango, passion fruit and Wildberry. “It’s a great GP driver for soft drinks,” says brand ambassador Peter Thornton. “Not everyone wants to have Coke or lemonade or drinks with artificial flavours and colourings. Non-alcoholic cocktails can really open it up.” Bars are also turning to The Finest Call’s Bloody Mary cocktail mix to tap into the revival in the classic cocktail, both with and without alcohol.

Funkin’s puree range consists of 19 variants, including favourites such as strawberry, mango and green apple as well as more unusual flavours such as kiwi, morello cherry and liquid chocolate, tapping into demand for interesting non-alcoholic drinks. “As part of our on-going bartender training, we make sure we also cover mocktails and the opportunity to cater for consumers driving this trend,” says Funkin chief executive Andrew King. “All Funkin products are made from the best-tasting quality fruits and are also 100 per cent natural, which is particularly important when catering for the growing number of consumers driven by health and wellbeing.” He adds that Funkin is constantly reviewing its product range across purees and mixers and promises new developments “in line with evolving cocktail trends” in 2013.

Mocktails are the focus of new activity by Halewood International for its premium John Crabbie & Co soft drinks range, with recipes available on cards or online at “For bar owners, mocktails can be an ideal way to upsell soft drinks as an attractive and exciting alternative to the colas and juices in the marketplace,” says director of innovation Richard Clark. For example, the Ginger Raspberry Fizz mocktail combines John Crabbie’s Scottish Raspberry with Ginger with cranberry juice and fresh raspberries, topped off with a slice of lemon and ice. The range was extended last year with new flavours including Lemonade with Ginger, while more advertising is planned for 2013.

One of the newest entrants to the market is Thor Drinks, a range of premium carbonated soft drinks that are being trialled in bars in the south of England. They come in four complex flavour using apple as a base, such as Fire with added ginger and Ice with cool mint. They were founded by Alistair Scahill who felt there was a need in the on-trade for more sophisticated non-alcoholic options. He explains: “When it comes to drinking out, we found that many of the soft drinks on offer were uninspiring and to be endured rather than enjoyed.”

Product focus: Just the tonic

The premium-quality 1724 Tonic Water is being taken up by bars looking to extend choice by offering alternative mixers. Relaunched with contemporary new packaging last year, the brand’s name comes from the quinine which is hand-picked at 1,724 metres above sea level on the Peruvian Inca Trail. “The taste derived from this quinine is quite different to that experienced with other tonic waters, giving a less bitter experience and a very pleasant slightly mandarin citrus note,” explains David Relph, managing director of UK brand agency 10 Degrees C which is growing distribution of the brand in the UK on-trade. It is already stocked in bars such as Portobello Star in Notting Hill and Cold Bar at the City of London Distillery as well as The Hinds Head in Bray, Berkshire. “It is not designed to replace mainstream mixers but to provide an alternative choice in cocktail bars and restaurants that want to offer their customers really high-quality drinks,” David adds.

Product focus: Taste of the Caribbean

Afro-Caribbean food brand Tropical Sun has introduced a new bottled ginger beer to its drinks portfolio, launched to capitalise on the popularity of Caribbean and ginger-inspired flavours. It comes in 330ml glass bottles. Sales director John Payne says: “It can be used by bar staff to create a variety of ginger beer-inspired drinks and cocktails to add to their menus to capture their customers’ imaginations and entice them to spend.”

Product focus: Cocktails inspire Occasions

Fruit juice brand Del Monte has brought out a new range of fruit-based drinks targeted at adults. Del Monte Occasions are inspired by classic drinks and can be served neat with ice or mixed with alcohol. The flavours are Pineapple Mojito, Spicy Tomato, Fruit Cup and Orchard Zest. “The new Occasions juice range provides non-drinkers with something a bit more special than standard soft drinks,” says Del Monte UK’s commercial director, Tony Gill.

Product focus: For the grown-ups

The Simply Nectar range of sugar-free fruit juices and thicker fruit nectars are being targeted at the on-trade for drinking on their own or as a mixer and cocktail ingredient. Packaged in 250ml and 750ml glass bottles, they come in eight flavours including mango, peach, apricot, raspberry and pear. “Many of the drinks have a thick, puree-like consistency so they make the perfect accompaniment to spirits or sparkling wine,” says marketing manager Laura Collins. “It would especially suit grown-ups who don’t drink alcohol but who also don’t want to drink fizzy, sugar-filled soft drinks all night.”

Product focus: Back to the source

With an extra bottle format now available, the Folkington’s range of gourmet juices are set for a new push in the on-trade through agency 10 Degrees C. All eight flavours have a strong focus on provenance, such as the Cloudy Apple Juice being made from Russet apples grown at two Wealden orchards in East Sussex and Kent, blended with Jonagold red apple juice from orchards in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire. Others include Pressed Tomato Juice, made from tomatoes in the Spanish region of Navarra, and Cloudy Pear Juice, made from a blend of Conference and Comice pears grown in Kent, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire. Available in 250ml bottles, five of them have now been introduced in one-litre bottles.

Product focus: New phase for Zeo

After extensive trials in London bars last year, “unalcoholic” drink Zeo is set to be rolled out in the on-trade this spring. “The words ‘soft drink’ imply something for children but Zeo is most definitely something for adults,” says the brand’s commercial director Dave Smith. Lightly carbonated, Zeo is a blend of botanicals, fine grain extracts and spices, which is said to give you “a kick” without the need for alcohol. The perfect serve is over ice with a twist of fruit such as lime or a sprig of rosemary, coriander or mint. It is already stocked in London bars operated by Brompton Brands and Kornicis as well as other top-end venues such as McQueen and the Long Bar at Sanderson. This year will see the brand continue to engage with bartenders, including a revamped version of its Seek & Feel Academy (pictured) led by brand ambassador Christian Ozzati.
Zeo training

First published in the February 2013 issue of Bar magazine.

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