New product activity in soft drinks appears to be accelerating strongly again, with rising levels of global launch activity recorded by Netherlands-based Innova Market Insights over the past two years. Fruit juices and drinks dominated launch activity with more than 43% of the total, reflecting the extremely diverse range of products included in the category. Carbonates took second place with 14%, just ahead of concentrates and mixes, then iced tea and coffee drinks, sports and energy drinks, plain and flavored water.
Health continues to be a key area of interest in the soft drinks market, where some products, such as juices and water, have an inherently healthy image, while some are formulated for specific benefits beyond hydration, notably sports and energy drinks. Elsewhere in the mainstream market, however, companies are continuing to position all types of products on health platforms of various kinds from the “passive”—such as sugar-free, low-calorie, natural, etc.—to the “active”—such as vitamin- and mineral-fortified, added calcium and functional—as well as offering specific health benefits such as immune health, heart health, oral health, etc.
More than 58% of soft drinks launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in the 12 months to the end of June 2012 had a health positioning of some kind, with over half using passive health claims and 18% active health claims, indicating that several probably use both types of claim together. The most popular health-related claims recorded were undoubtedly concerned with naturalness and freedom from artificial additives and preservatives, and encompassed a wide range of products, led by water and juices that tend to be seen as inherently fairly natural, or can be relatively easily formulated to use this type of claim.
Over 23% of launches were marketed as free from additives and preservatives, while nearly 13% used natural claims. Combining the two categories resulted in over 30% of total soft drinks launches using either one or both claims. If organic claims, used for over 5% of launches, are added, the total rises to 35% using one or more of the three claims.
The more traditional area of low-calorie and diet drinks also remains very popular, with reduced-sugar lines taking second place overall in terms of health claims, ahead of low-calorie products. This type of product has received a considerable boost over the past few years with the approval of stevia-based sweeteners for use in the U.S., Australasia and Europe. With their natural positioning, they can help fill a gap in the market as demand for “clean label” products has risen. The number of soft drinks launches containing stevia has already exceeded the 2011 total in the first 6 months of 2012, with Innova Market Insights recording particularly high levels of activity in the U.S.