Is Soda Dying, Or Will It Adapt?
In the beginning, there was soda. At least it feels like it’s been around that long. As one of America’s most beloved beverages, soda has been a significant part of many holidays, camping trips, BBQs, sporting celebrations, movie nights and more over the years. Beyond cause for celebration or the occasional sip with a meal, the sweet, fizzy liquid has become a staple in the daily lives of many, with more than 38 gallons of carbonated soft drinks being consumed annually, per capita. Yes, per person. Although the number has dipped in recent years, it’s still a hefty amount.
What’s more is about 50% of the U.S. population consumes sugary drinks on any given day, with 25% consuming more than one 12oz can per day. The sugar rush is real, and so are its effects on the American people. High sugar intake has been linked to poor diet quality, weight gain, obesity, heart disease, fatty liver, poor oral health, inflammation and type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, also referred to as adult on-set diabetes, is now a disease of children, with 1 in 4 American teenagers being diabetic or pre-diabetic. The recommended daily limit of added sugar is no more than 25-36g, and yet one 12oz can of soda contains around 40g of sugar.
This revelation is why ‘diet’ sodas have continued to gain popularity, now making up about 26% of total soda sales. Alternative sweeteners are leading the charge, but they aren’t created equal. Some can actually negatively impact the body by harming your gut microbiome, causing your blood sugar levels to spike, or stimulating cravings: a hard pill to swallow for those of us that just want to enjoy the simple pleasure of a refreshing bubbly beverage, without all the side effects.
Leading soda manufacturers are continuing to innovate, but their ingredients remain controversial. Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper’s zero sugar offerings all contain the artificial sweeteners aspartame and acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), rather than the usual high fructose corn syrup.
Many consumers have turned to flavored sparkling water as the solution. Overall carbonated soft drink sales volume has declined steadily, while the sparkling water category has seen significant growth, up 18.7% in 2020 from the year prior. But sparkling water, while delicious in its own right, is not soda. Is soda dying, or will it adapt?
Can’t we have both, a satisfying soft drink that hits all the marks (and isn’t a sparkling water), without negatively impacting our health? Consumers are becoming more conscious of what they put into their bodies and share with their families. They’re leaving behind caramel color, phosphoric acid, synthetic dyes, and artificial flavors for something a bit more natural.
Enter, adaptogens. Interest in functional beverages grew 41% from early 2020 to 2021. If Americans are going to drink soda every day, why not actually provide them with health benefits? A handful of beverage entrepreneurs are up to the challenge. To highlight their brave endeavors in changing carbonated soft drinks for good, we’re showcasing a handful of offerings on the market, each with a unique approach when it comes to positioning, flavor, sweetener, and functional ingredients.
When we think back to the origins of the soda category, Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper and the like were developed by pharmacists to help treat ailments in patients. Somehow we’ve strayed from that purpose, but Sunwink is delivering a truly functional ‘soda’ packed with beneficial herbs through its sparkling herbal tonics. Lightly sweetened with organic maple syrup, the brand’s herbal blends taste delicious and refreshing while serving specific needs such as unwind, detox, recover, immunity and uplift. Familiar ingredients like mint and hibiscus lead in flavor, while others provide functional support. Each 12oz bottle has 4-9g of sugar.
With a focus on de-stressing the mind and body, Droplet serves as a sparkling functional beverage created by women for women. Their flavors, named for their mood-enhancing benefits, serve as both an aspirational proposition as well as a digestible explanation of their effects. Feel happier, brighter, and more balanced with carefully selected adaptogens and superfoods packed into a refreshing, easy to consume drinks. With flavorful ingredients like cacao and yuzu citrus, their approach to taste is definitely not the status quo of the category, giving them an opportunity to go after a market that hasn’t yet been served. Sweetened with coconut nectar, each 12oz can has 5-7g of sugar.
Aiming to improve your physical and mental fitness, Koios is hitting on a variety of emerging trends. The natural sparkling beverage is infused with ginseng, brain-boosting nootropics, amino acids, MCTs from coconut, electrolytes, lion’s mane mushroom and a dash of caffeine. From an ingredient standpoint it’s definitely unique, and the MCTs add a cream soda-like look and taste. Sweetened with erythritol and stevia, each 12oz can has 9g of sugar alcohol.
Taking cues from the classics, Olipop is making childhood favorites -- like root beer, orange, and cola -- better for you, without sacrificing taste. Their well crafted sparkling tonics disguise the fact that each can is stacked with a proprietary blend of plant fiber and prebiotics. What they’re doing right is serving both the wellness consumer and the traditional consumer by nailing the flavor and the functional promise. They’re smart to focus on a core message, supporting digestive health, rather than confusing consumers with too many specifics about their unique and curious ingredients. Sweetened with stevia and cassava root syrup, each 12oz can has 2-5g of sugar.
Startup Mayawell is building its bubbly prebiotic sodas around the versatile agave plant, utilizing it as a sweetener and a prebiotic fiber. Its modern twist on an ancient beverage combines a rich story with a wellness focus that will certainly resonate with conscious shoppers. Beyond its proprietary hero blend, each flavor is paired with a functional ingredient for an added boost. The flavor profiles are bright and refreshing, think Raspberry Cucumber, rather than cola. Each 12oz can has 4g of sugar.
While probiotics have long found a home in the kombucha set, they have started venturing into other placements on shelf. Culture Pop is taking the mass appeal of a ‘pop’ and adding a bit of ‘culture’ to bridge the gap. Their unique combination of organic fruit juices, herbs and spices like juniper berry and rosemary give these probiotic sodas an elevated touch. Each 12oz can has 9g of organic cane sugar.
Sipp, a brand that has redefined itself over the years, has reimagined what it could be as a player in this burgeoning functional set. Its latest formulation focuses on camu camu, a superfruit rich with vitamin C, antioxidants and natural caffeine for an energizing lift. The brand’s certified organic seltzer positioning will bring in consumers that have been turned off by soda, but still want something refreshing and delicious to sip on. Sweetened with organic agave syrup, each 12oz can has 9g of sugar.
With a fresh name, look and positioning, Poppi has found a way to provide an enjoyable drinking experience that delivers your daily dose of apple cider vinegar. Rather than position itself as an apple cider vinegar drink, the brand has broad appeal by fitting itself snuggly into the soda set. Leaning into fun first, then function, its lineup of prebiotic sodas range from fruit-forward to familiar with flavors like Ginger Lime and Doc Pop. Sweetened with cane sugar and stevia, each 12oz can has 4-5g of sugar.
Rebbl may be better known for its coconut milk-based elixirs, but it’s no surprise that they’ve moved into the sparkling set. The nearly decade old company has solidified its place as a functional player and this move just expands its know-how to new applications. The brand’s sparkling prebiotic tonics are made with organic fruits, prebiotic fiber, and natural sweeteners for a blend that samples the best of several categories. While it’s not positioned as a soda, and comes in a slightly larger glass bottle akin to a kombucha, its ingredients and functionality make it a ‘soda’ of sorts for the wellness consumer. Each 15.2oz bottle has 6g of sugar, with each SKUs sweetener varying from fruit juice, coconut sugar, honey and stevia.
Moving from its traditional kombucha offerings into the soda set, powerhouse Health-Ade has recently iterated on its bubbly prebiotic soda, dropping ‘booch’ from the name to focus on this new developing category. Along with prebiotics, the brand uniquely uses its fermented tea as a primary ingredient, along with cold-pressed juices, to deliver a soda-like experience with the gut health benefits of its core line, but with a more approachable name, taste and positioning to reach a broader audience. Sweetened with monk fruit and cane sugar, each 12oz can has 5-6g of sugar.
Soon-to-be-launched soda brand Perfy is keepings most of its secrets under wraps for now, but it has revealed a few details. Dubbed The Perfect Soda™, the brand’s mission is to accelerate the world’s shift from cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup and harmful artificial sweeteners to something a little more...perfy. To follow the brand’s journey while they build in public, check them out on Instagram, TikTok, and text “Perfy” to 1 (833) 622 0838 for text message updates.
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