How can soft drink brands respond to consumer trends driving changing tastes?

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In our recent trend report on soft drinks we commented upon a number of trends showing how the drinks industry is reacting to changing consumer tastes and government intervention for more premium and healthier soft drinks.

Here, we begin to wonder what this will mean for soft drink brand innovation, positioning and communications to meet the needs of tomorrow’s consumer.

Predicting the future is never easy, but fortunately it’s not just about crystal ball gazing either. Innovation hunting is a process – a study of relevant patterns from the past combined with projecting how emerging trends can create opportunities for brands to evolve and grow.


Relevant patterns

The soft drinks category has for a number of years been dynamically innovating. Existing and new brands are adapting to modern tastes, and patterns from other relevant sectors provide useful indicators on how this is evolving.

Take the staple burger and fries meal, which for decades was seen as fast, on the move, enjoyable but unwholesome junk food you got from either one of the two big chains. As nutrition and health trends have become more prevalent we have seen a parallel explosion in premium burger joints such as Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Byron Burger and Posh Burgers offering the best in quality and healthier ingredients at a premium price in a restaurant setting. Success has led these brands to extend distribution into supermarkets – Gourmet burger kitchen is now stocked in Waitrose – allowing the experience to be enjoyed at home.

The fruit juice category has come along way since the days of ambient concentrate. Premiumisation drove quality and price point to reinvent the category. Intermarche, the French supermarket has taken these to such a level that every bottle of orange juice is now time stamped with the exact time it was bottled.

We would expect the soft drinks category to continue to adapt and even be repositioned to offer new drinking occasions and new experiences to meet these premiumisation and healthy trends seen in other sectors before them.


Projecting edge cases

In planning future innovation, journalists or anthropologists will often seek out tomorrows trends by studying what they call edge cases – examples of behaviours that are adopted by niche audiences and markets – before they become mainstream.   For a while, Wired magazine used to have a column called “Japanese Schoolgirl Watch” predicated on the idea that what technology Japanese school girls were adopting would become globally mainstream in a few years time.

Dry bars, are one such case in the soft drinks category. Brink in Liverpool is a bar catering for initially recovering alcoholics, but are becoming increasingly popular with mainstream audiences who no longer want to accompany a night out with alcohol. At present this is an edge case and responding to this we are now seeing the emergence of soft spirits like Seedlip and Thomas & Evans.


Which of the edge cases will become mainstream?

Will we see freshly pressed and bottled carbonates? Will the fruit ingredients of soft drink brands start to have terroir as in wine – is it far fetched to think we will start demanding different San Pellegrino’s for example based on oranges that are organically farmed outside Naples? Will we see Coca Cola or Britvic launching soft drinks lists like wine lists in partnership with restaurant chains, or even opening up soft bars themselves to rival juice bars and coffee shops to cater for the increasing number of people who are turning away from alcohol in traditional pubs and bars? In these bars, for post work or post gym drinks people might try different variants of cola, with different fruit mixes and infusions and be willing to pay premium prices for the experience. What would that experience be like to offer the discerning soft drink consumer a real alternative to Starbucks or All Bar One?


Brand innovation, but staying to true to brand purpose

What soft drink brands do and how they do it should inevitably be rooted in the brand purpose or their reason why. The brands purpose should provide the springboard and evaluation for how appropriate and credible innovative ideas could work for the brand.

Coca Cola, the world’s largest soft drink brand as just one example, has a brand mission to “Inspire moments of optimism and happiness by refreshing the world in mind, body and spirit”. With a mission this wholesome and frankly nutricious, it may still struggle to support healthier living, (McDonald’s certainly do), but it provides a great springboard for opportunity, stretch and inspiration for how the brand can extend to creating new value and innovation for tomorrows consumer.

Brand purpose is where we always start at end. We believe brand purpose should be the inspiration but also the filter for the existing trends and future edge cases we use to develop fresh ideas.


About the author:

Richard Hill is Chief Strategy Officer at independent creative agency, Atomic. Richard’s diverse planning career was forged at DDB, Proximity and Rapp and as founding partner of integrated agency Touch DDB, leading strategic thinking for Volkswagen, Bentley, Star Alliance, Eurostar, Lloyds, Virgin Media and many more brands.

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