As Drink Trends Come And Go, Soda Persists

Food & Drink

One could wax poetic about the drink of the summer or the newest whiskey release to grace the market. But while booze trends ebb and flow, it seems one bar staple remains: the soft drink.

According to CGA by NielsenIQ’s BeverageTrak service, 43% of US consumers drink soft drinks when in the on-premise. The average US outlet makes almost $22,000 annually (numbers pulled from the last 12 weeks to early July 2022) from soft drinks, be it fountain gun soda or more craft cans. These drinks include lemonades, juices, and sodas.

Over that last year period, checks that included non-alcoholic beverages sat at an average of $53 — people were spending, and ready to drink soft drinks. Understandably, fine dining, premium bars, and ‘polished casual venues’ show the highest check values

“There are dramatic differences within the soft drinks category, especially when it comes to how consumers make purchase decisions – with occasion and channel playing a significant role in that path to purchase,” says Matt Crompton, regional director of Nielsen IQ North America.

The study also noted that energy drinks continued to capture drinkers’ attention, though sports bars are largely to blame. When it comes to serves, most energy drink category drinkers choose to consume this style on its own (56.6%), however nearly a third (32.9%) would also consume them in a cocktail format as well – a growth opportunity for those interested in hyped-up drinks.

Digging into top brands, cola reigned, with two of the three top-selling soft drink brands falling into that category. Cola even topped their higher-end ‘polished casual’ restaurant channel and colas appeared on high-value checks in premium bars and fine dining.

But as we see sodas continue to thrive, traditional flavors of cola are lagging – per a GlobalData report, those flavors decreased 4.3% in volume in 2020. Instead, consumers are clamoring for more creative options, from craft sodas to things like sparkling waters infused with hemp and adaptogens in photo-friendly cans.

What can vendors and brands glean from this information?

Perhaps that soda is feeling more relevant than ever. The global carbonated soft drink market size was estimated at USD 221.55 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach USD 237.04 billion in 2021.

Data firm Grandview Research reports that the global carbonated soft drink market size is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 4.7% between 2021 to 2028. The report noted that “modern-day consumers can be seen focusing on convenience, and thus a large part of everyday purchase includes single grab-and-go products rather than the conventional bulk buying products,” the report reads. “This has led to shelf-stable innovations and eco-friendly packaging, made with clean, renewable materials, and fewer preservatives and chemicals.”

Before, there was a monoculture of flavors in the soda space – household brands with identifiable labels. Now, there’s a new gaggle of craft sodas that makes it more exciting than ever to pop a tab. In 2013, Fever-Tree burst onto the market with the mantra, ‘if 75% of your drink is the mixer, why not mix with the best?’ In 2021, Fever-Tree amassed 311.1 million (pounds) in revenue, up 23% from a year prior. The British mixer brand cited ‘significant momentum’ in the United States as the cause of the growth.

Also in the alcohol-adjacent space, Blake Lively has Betty Buzz – cute cans of sparkling sodas that also work well when topped with booze. Major breweries have started turning out hop waters — the beer world’s answer to no-alc soda.

Hella Bitters has a wildly good soda and bitters, and Greenbar in Los Angeles now makes an UnSpritz. Ghia makes beautiful sparkling aperitifs, as does Giglia – both scratch an itch for both alcohol replacements or soda alternatives. Soda(ish)s like these feel in step with the ever-growing non-alcoholic space — as the sober curious movement takes hold, (non)drinkers want something that feels less infantile than a nostalgic can of cola. These new brands offer all the convenience of a traditional soda, but with flavors and designs that feel more in line with an adult lifestyle.

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