Soft drinks

‘Healthy bubbles’


Carbonated soft drinks are taking flak from all sides these days, emboldening competitors like bottled water that are perceived to be healthier. Tom Vierhile examines whether a new burst of innovation in healthy carbonated drinks could have an effect on the situation

There is a popular saying that goes "when it rains, it pours". Carbonated soft drink marketers know the feeling as consumption declines seem to be never-ending. In the US alone, per capita consumption of carbonated soft drinks is down by roughly one third since 1999, according to GlobalData.

Global per capita consumption of packaged water passed that of carbonated soft drinks in 2015, and has not looked back since. According to consumption numbers from GlobalData, global per capita consumption of packaged water is expected to rise by over 5% in 2017, while per capita consumption of carbonates is expected to contract by more than 1.5%, as the two sectors continue to move in opposite directions.

Carbonated (sparkling) water has emerged as the most direct threat to carbonated soft drinks in recent years, so much so that municipal governments even seem to be getting in on the act. The city of Paris, France introduced sparkling water fountains around the city in 2010 to provide a more appealing alternative to tap water (and also to cut down on plastic waste from plastic water bottles); eight such fountains are currently in operation. The city recently announced that it plans to double down on the initiative by installing nine new sparkling water fountains by 2018.

Healthy drink manufacturers are also bullish on carbonation. A number of healthy drinks categories have added sparkling options over the past year or so, including coconut water, spritzel, ready-to-drink tea, vinegar drinks, and even cold-brew coffee. Carbonated options are also growing in the fruit juice category.

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Carbonation may help several niche drink categories make inroads

Soft drink giants like PepsiCo recognise the threat that carbonated juices could pose


Carbonation is said to help "elevate the coconut water experience" according to US-based Kalena, maker of Kalena sparkling coconut water, which is sold in 320ml energy-drink-style cans in flavours including lemon, pineapple and mango. Also going the slim can route is a pair of new UK launches. Grace Foods UK offers Grace sparkling coconut water in original, apple and lemon flavours. Coco Fuzion 100, which is "powered by coconut water", is a ‘natural’ sparkling coconut water available in flavours such as mango, lime and raspberry. This drink has begun targeting the ‘e-sports’ community – a novel niche – by rationalising that coconut water can help one "maintain a razor-sharp focus for longer periods" than sugary energy drinks can.

Carbonation may help several niche drink categories make inroads against traditional carbonated soft drinks. Vinegar drinks are just beginning to trend in Western markets, something that could continue with carbonated vinegar drinks like Tartly sparkling fruit shrub, a new launch in the US. The blueberry and lemon, ginger and pear, and lemon and mint flavours combine sweet and tart flavours in a drink checking in with fewer than 100 calories per bottle. 

Also launching in the US is Cide Road spritzel, a revival of an old-time thirst-quencher based on apple cider vinegar called switchel, with carbonation added for a more contemporary image. Flavours include blueberry and honeysuckle, strawberry and basil, and watermelon and mint, all with just 35 calories per can.


Even ready-to-drink tea and coffee offerings hope to leverage carbonation to chase the refreshment opportunity and take things to the next level. In Canada, Sun-Rype ‘real brewed’ sparkling iced tea is lightly carbonated and is flagged as being ‘just sweet enough’. One can of Rooibos Tea raspberry tea contains 90 calories. In the UK, Mahtay Yerba mate-infused tea combines yerba mate tea, coconut water, açaí berries, and "simple sparkling water" to make the "most refreshing sparking drink possible". The drink is advertised as a new type of clean energy drink, offering "No spikes. No slumps. Just natural vitality."

Over in the coffee aisle, a pair of American cold-brew coffee pioneers plan to use carbonation to open up on-the-go consumption opportunities. Chameleon Cold-Brew (which was recently purchased by Nestlé) is preparing to launch Chameleon sparkling old-brew coffee in 2018, in flavours including black, spiced vanilla, citrus and ginger. The line's claim to fame is that it is shelf-stable, opening up new distribution channels outside of the chilled dairy case for the brand. Stumptown Coffee Roasters launched Stumptown sparkling cold-brew coffee earlier this year in cans, offered in flavours like original, ginger and citrus, and honey and lemon. Each has half the caffeine of Stumptown's classic cold-brew coffee, but with the "added lift" of bubbles.

Carbonation may help several niche drink categories make inroads

Soft drinks giants race to tap into thE 'HEALTHY BUBBLES’ MOVEMENT

Juice-makers have been offering sparkling variants for years, but even soft drink giants like PepsiCo recognise the threat that carbonated juices could pose to traditional carbonated soft drinks. Hoping to beat juice competitors to the punch, PepsiCo launched Lemon Lemon – a sparkling lemonade in flavours like original, blackberry and peach – earlier this year in the US, Canada and Western Europe. Combining lemon juice, bubbles and a "touch of sweetness", each 12-ounce can of Lemon Lemon has just 70 calories. 

For its part, Coca-Cola launched Minute Maid Sparkling Juice (intended to take on the high-flying Sparkling Ice brand) in 2016. The sparkling flavoured beverage is more of a juice blend than a true fruit juice beverage as it has just 6% juice and 30-40 calories per 16.9 fluid-ounce bottle.

Turning juice into a carbonated soft drink alternative is not as simple as it sounds. It took the UK's Innocent Drinks several years of research before discovering the ideal process to make a carbonated juice beverage without using fruit concentrate. The result was the company's slim can-packaged Innocent Bubbles fruit and spring water, which is 60% fruit and 40% spring water. The carbonated drink debuted in the UK in 2015, and was extended to France earlier this year.

What all of these drinks have in common is the use of carbonation to deliver a message of freshness, vitality, fun and refreshment. If these early efforts pay off, 2018 could see the so-called healthy bubbles concept take off, to the possible detriment of traditional full sugar carbonated soft drinks.

Soft drink giants like PepsiCo recognise the threat that carbonated juices could pose