Tracking health and wellness: The latest consumer trends in soft drinks

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Both physical and mental health are important to today's consumers. Pic:getty/krisubach;quimroser
Both physical and mental health are important to today's consumers. Pic:getty/krisubach;quimroser

Related tags Functional drinks sugar reduction Health and wellness

On a macro level, health and wellness is as important than ever. Yet there are many facets to this: do consumers want sugar or sweeteners or are they more concerned about functional benefits or clean label ingredients? Soft drink company Britvic puts the spotlight on how consumers’ health and wellness priorities have evolved throughout the pandemic and what they’re looking for in 2022.

For many consumers, drinks with vitamin-boosting ingredients or other immunity claims were important during the pandemic; while others looked for indulgent full-sugar treats to get them through a difficult time.

The picture is still mixed in 2022 but some clear trends also emerge: such as the demand for functional drinks and increasing attention on mental health.

Sugar shake-up

Some 85% of consumers are now prioritising a form of healthy eating, either by reducing sugar (27% of people) or drinking more fluids (25%), which are the second and third most important health focuses after eating more fruit and veg, at 32%, according to data from IGD ShopperVista Health.

Honing in on sugar, the picture was mixed during the pandemic. The UK grocery channel saw low and no sugar variants increase share: but the opposite was seen in the impulse channel (although this could have been shaped by other factors such as availability).

“There are signs that the upheaval of 2020, where some shoppers switched to full-sugar drinks to treat themselves during a difficult time, may be in reverse,”​ says Britvic as it looks at the convenience channel in 2022.

Overall, sugar remains a prevalent concern when choosing soft drinks, according to Mintel’s 2021 data. Around 55% of consumers say they have reduced fruit juice or smoothie consumption due to sugar intake concerns, while the number one factor when choosing one soft drink over another is because it is low in sugar.

“Some consumers are reducing their sugary drink intake rather than ruling them out altogether. As a result, half of consumers claim to drink both full-sugar and low/no sugar carbonated soft drinks... it could be that consumers are in search of balance when consuming several soft drinks throughout the day,” ​notes Britvic.

Mental health

Attitudes to health are constantly evolving and the trials of the last two years have also raised awareness of mental health issues, with consumers quoting physical wellness (53%) and mental wellness (49%) as being more important to them in the next 12 months.

In fact, nearly two in three agree that ‘what you eat has a direct impact on emotional wellbeing’.

“This is something that, although at opposite ends of the energy spectrum, both stimulants and CBD drinks could benefit from,”​ notes Britvic.

In fact, stimulants outperformed the market in 2020, growing by 28% compared to 8.6% for total soft drinks. In 2021, they overtook cola to become the biggest soft drinks segment in the convenience channel, according to NielsenIQ. Meanwhile, CBD drinks grew 99% in 2021.

Functional benefits

Functional benefits are becoming increasingly important to consumers. Almost half (48%) of households say health properties/ health enhancing benefits are important when buying food and drink, according to NielsenIQ Homescan Survey (Nov 2021).

This has already been seen in the grocery channel for soft drinks: now there’s an opportunity for the impulse channel to follow suit,​ says Britvic.

“Functional wellness products have seen significant growth in the impulse channel, growing value at +29% over the last year as customers look for healthier alternatives in the channel.

“However, this category remains small, accounting for only 2% of the total sales through impulse-led stores.

“Getting impulse stores to the same value share size of the functional wellness sector as grocery multiples represents a £33m opportunity for the convenience channel.

“With customers willing to pay more for healthier products, this category also opens new avenues to get convenience shoppers to trade up to more premium brands, with price per litre of functional wellness drinks 35% higher than the soft drinks category average.”

Supplying the right drinks

In fact, signposting for functional drinks in the impulse channel illustrates what the wider industry can do to help shoppers, says Britvic.

“With shoppers attaching such high importance to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle, the challenge is on suppliers and retailers to make it easy for them to do so.

“Indeed, almost one in four (23%) attribute ‘being creatures of habit’ as a barrier to eating more healthily, and almost one in five (18%) say that ‘lack of convenience’ is a barrier.”

Providing the right drinks therefore can go a long way in helping shoppers meet their health and wellness goals.