Over forty per cent of Canadian consumers would be interested in carbonated soft drinks such as Coca-Cola if they aided digestive health, according to Mintel.
Additionally, 35% of soft drink consumers would be interested in buying carbonated soft drinks (CSDs) with botanical extracts and 46% agree that less sweet flavors would better complement meals, the research firm adds, revealing recent survey results.
Mintel Canada senior research analyst Warren de Lima identified possibilities for brands in the ‘lighter’ segment of the CSDs market – which is only worth CAD $3bn versus US $41bn in the US.
He says CSDs may be able to leverage functional benefits that “hark back to when these products were first introduced and were marketed with claims that they could aid digestion”.
De Lima admits that brands face difficulties in using approved claims but insists functional benefits are worth further exploration.
Cola cure - Treating digestive tract blockages
We asked De Lima what kind of ingredients he believed offered potential under the digestive health banner – pre- or probiotics, and might a more fibrous ingredient (inulin say) threaten the palatability of popular soda drinks?
“I would say this is less a question of what actually needs to be added to CSDs to make a stronger claim that a soda can be a remedy for digestive health problems,” he told BeverageDaily.com
“Instead, it may be more about making claims on the current ingredients in CSDs that aid in curing blockages in the digestive track,” he added.
Some researchers believe that Coke, for instance, aids digestion by reducing blockages in the digestive tract, De Lima said – due to its low ph of 2.5 it resembles natural gastric aci, which is considered important for fiber digestion.
Sodium bicarbonate and CO2 bubbles in the drink might also enhance the dissolving effect within the digestive system, the analyst added.
Consumers tell Mintel they feel CSDs help them digest food
“These are not approved claims as far as I know but we did see anecdotally in our research occasions where people did feel that drinking CSDs with meals helped them to process and digest their food,” de Lima said.
“I think your point about adding ingredients such as probiotics is pertinent. For CSDs such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, people are so passionate about the standard flavour that deviating from this could be difficult,” he added.
Mainstream understanding of ingredients such as probiotics is likely to be limited, the analyst said, and their inclusion in general product “more of a deterrent than an attraction”.
Whether probiotics sit naturally in the soda space or not, April 2009 Health Canada guidelines state that brands can make ‘claims or statements about the nature of probiotic micro-organisms’ to support their ‘health effects or benefits’.
What other preoccupations sway Canadian soda consumers have, according to Mintel?
Well, 29% say they would choose low/no-calorie CSDs over others and 14% are attracted to CSDs with natural ingredients, while 18-24s have a significant preference for less fizzy soft drinks – 35%, ahead of the overall average (24%).
Jury still out on Pepsi NEXT in Canada
Pepsi NEXT launched in Canada this March using stevia to effect a 30% calorie cut (as per the Australian formulation) but De Lima says the jury is out on the brand – its non-stevia sweetened cousin suffered a 40% plus volume sales decline in 2013.
“The company is losing share overall in Canada, but it’s too soon to tell how well NEXT is performing,” he said.
Many brands have addressed soda’s perceived health deficiencies with ‘lighter’ drinks, De Lima said, but he warned that taste was all important.
“Consumers will only embrace these ‘lighter’ drinks in the long term if they taste as good as the regular/standard varieties,” he said.
“Vitaminwater’s recent backtracking from a stevia-based recipe in the US bottled water market underlines the difficulties brands face in balancing taste with health,” De Lima added.