Here are five global beverage trends that could shake up everything from soda to smoothies in 2014, as tea goes glam and consumers grow more cynical and health conscious.
1. Soft drinks – Where have all the good times gone?
Well, the good times are clearly still here, and 30+ consumers still love soda category flagbearer cola – be it Pepsi Cola, Coca-Cola or private label – despite static or declining consumption in developed markets.
Walk into any major grocery store now and you'll see a welter-weight selection of sodas, sports drinks, waters, fruit and vegetable juices, dairy-mixed drinks, not to mention a focus on health and wellness.
So there's simply more competition for the consumer dollar, and the fact that cola is often almost given away on promotion in the US – a trend Pepsi is keen to arrest to build its bottom line – doesn't exactly enhance its value in the shopper's eyes.
One thing mainstream cola can do is move upmarket via new lines. Coca-Cola Life can give the category more mileage. Or how about a heart-healthy soda that tastes great and isn't too sugary? It will be interesting to see how drinks such as Change Cola perform in 2014.
Can aspartame bounce back given the bad press it copped – unfairly, I think – in 2013? We'll see. The soda love affair survives but people are two-timing Coke with other healthier beverages, and yes, they're not impervious to the drip feed of negative publicity regarding sugar-sweetened and diet sodas, as well as caffeinated drinks.
2. Tea wakes up and smells the coffee
The second-most consumed beverage in the world has seen little by way of consumer innovation since it was first packaged and sold – I say this as a UK citizen who has seen ten years of 'herbal tea' invention (read fruit-flavored or herbal infusions) but less by way of innovation regarding Camellia Sinensis.
That said, interesting infusions from the likes of the UK's leading Fairtrade tea supplier Clipper, and ABF brand Twinings, have shown the way within hot drinks. Noises from the likes of Unilever and TATA Global Beverages suggest that increase R&D dollar and marketing muscle will extend to RTD teas in 2014.
And what Starbucks did for coffee, it is now trying to do for tea with its Teavana takeout in 2012, having opened the first Teavana tea bar on New York's Upper East Side, on October 24.
3. Papa don't preach! Cynical millennial consumers
As Ben Weiss from Bai 5 told me in a recent interview, millennial consumers are cynical and when choosing soft drinks only take 10 seconds before a sea of labels.
Bai 5 is sweetened with organic stevia and contains coffee fruit, but consumers don't necessarily know this when they make the first purchase. However, this doesn't bother Weiss...
“They think, 'it's interesting...they don't necessarily know the '5' means five calories, but think 'Bai 5! High 5! The packaging is cool, I trust the word 'antioxidants' and like that picture of a Costa Rican Clementine. That sounds good – I'll buy it,” he told BeverageDaily.com.
Weiss slams, so much as hits, the nail on the head here. So many brands over-complicate things by banging on about stevia content (does the consumer care so much initially, might it not even turn them off given early, frankly unappealing beverage launches using it?) or pushing a health claim.
Millennial are cynical – keep your brand clean (in every respect - they will check that drinks don't contain 'nasties') and your marketing free of hype or hyperbole. Got great stuff in the bottle? Say so on the back label, take the consumer to your website with a QR code. Let them own their education on your brand and become unpaid advocates.
4. Caffeine will keep energy heart beating
By this I mean that many new-style 'energy' drinks on the market – Marley's Mellow Moods is probably the one notable exception – hang on to the category's coat tails but actually have the opposite effect to say, Monster. Strip out the caffeine and it's like comparing Dmitar Berbatov with Luis Suarez...
Sure, energy as a category has evolved, but frankly, not much. Look at how long it took Red Bull to even come up with flavor variants! It's an eminently marketable category for 16-32 year olds, who will always prefer the tutti-frutti taste to healthier energy options, say, vegetable juice. Taking caffeine out will cure the category's problems and kill it in one stroke – it's controversial (harmful when ingested in excess) because it works.
If anything, we'll see some tinkering with formulations among the key players, maybe to lower caffeine levels or (as recent Mintel research suggests) cater for growing consumer keenness on low/no calorie variants, natural colors/flavors.
5. Snackifying drinks: Textures to tantalize
Beyond PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi's frankly cringeworthy quote about snackifying drinks and drinkifying snacks (is that the right way round?) lurks a slab of solid matter, which you might well find floating in a drink near you sometime soon.
Joking aside, I think the beverage industry generally can do a lot to beguile consumers in terms of texture and mouth feel, where this shades into flavor and invariably also into on-the-go drinks that profess to provide food or fuel in a convenient form. Oatworks Smoothies (launched in NYC in the States this year) is one interesting example.