The rise of sophisticated soda: food pairings, craft creations, and alcohol alternatives

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Sophisticated sodas are going above and beyond cocktail flavors. Pic: iStock/disto89
Sophisticated sodas are going above and beyond cocktail flavors. Pic: iStock/disto89

Related tags Soft drinks Alcoholic beverage

Sophisticated sodas offer an attractive alternative to alcoholic beverages: but the category also holds wider appeal, according to a report from Canadean.

Consumers are interested in products that offer something different to the mass market, and value attributes such as superior quality, unique flavors, natural premium ingredients, and craft production techniques.

And the trend for sophisticated non-alcoholic beverages comes at the same time that hard sodas – alcoholic takes on soft drinks – are gaining prominence: an illustration of the cross-category nature of today’s market. 

“These developments highlight the importance of aligning with evolving consumer needs and an important overarching trend of cross-category blurring that we’re witnessing across food and drink in general,” ​Tanvi Savara, consumer insight analyst, Canadean, told BeverageDaily.

Cocktail flavors, hops as ingredients

As people become more conscious of the amount of alcohol they consume, there is more interest in premium, non-alcoholic soft drinks that can be consumed instead.

According to Canadean figures, 41% of drinkers pay high attention to reducing the amount of alcohol they consume, while 49% are conscious of the long-term health impact of drinking too much alcohol.

Meanwhile, the influence from the alcoholic beverage category is seen in this sophisticated soda sector, said Savara.

“Moderation and avoidance of alcohol is creating demand for soft drinks that mimic flavors commonly associated with the alcoholic beverage category,” ​said Savara.

I think what’s particularly interesting is manufacturers are responding by going beyond soft drinks that mimic popular cocktail flavors, and taking inspiration from production techniques and sourcing ingredients synonymous with alcoholic drinks.

“For example, Proper Soda Co.’s Hop Soda claims to contain a blend of hops but without the bitterness associated with an IPA. The hoppy flavor associated with beer makes it appealing to usual beer drinkers as well as experimental soft drink consumers.”

However, the appeal of adult soft drinks goes beyond people looking to curb their alcoholic intake: older soft drinks consumers are interested in upscale offerings that appeal to mature tastes.

Consumers value products that are different from the mass market, and quality, unique flavors, natural premium ingredients and craft production techniques are all sought-after attributes.

In fact, 56% of consumers worldwide would like to see more craft-style non-alcoholic beverages.

And these consumers are willing to go outside their comfort zone: 62% of carbonated beverage consumers experiment with new and unusual food and drink flavors at least occasionally.

Botanicals, product extensions, and contemporary twists on classics are all ways to tap into the trend, said Savara.

Consumption occasions

The sophisticated soda trend is relevant for both everyday consumption and special occasions, said Savara.

“We’re seeing brands like J20 trying to capture on-trade occasions with its two limited edition products launched last year – J20 Midnight Forest & Midnight Amber. 

“Besides their flavor profiles, they also have sophisticated designs and cues on pack to highlight the fantasy-themed inspiration that is central to their brand story and are likely to meet demand for products that are deemed ‘feasible’ when socializing out-of-home.”

When it comes to off-trade, sophisticated sodas are finding a place alongside food and gourmet eating.  

“Adult soft drinks are also being positioned as ideal substitutes for off-trade occasions,” ​continued Savara.  

“For example, DRY Soda launched a new variant – Fuji Apple DRYSparkling earlier this year, which claims to be “exceptional” when paired with foods like pork chops, grilled cheese, muffulettas, fried chicken or vanilla ice cream.

“Such positioning will be attractive to nearly half of global consumers surveyed by Canadean who find the concept of food/carbonated drink pairing appealing.”

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