Low-calorie, waters keep fizzy segment afloat

Despite declining sales, three category trends — sparkling water, natural sodas and low-calorie sodas — are keeping some fizz in carbonated soft drinks. Mintel’s research shows that American consumption of carbonated soft drinks fell to the lowest level since 1996; increased prices kept the category level.

(For the full category review, including sales data, click here.)

“While CSDs as a category continues to be challenged as a whole by a variety of factors, they are doing well in the drug channel as more purchase occasions shift into the channel,” said Eddie Hicks, VP sales for the drug and dollar channels at Dr Pepper Snapple Group.

The best news from the category comes from sparkling water, both flavored and unflavored, which has moved to the forefront of the category as an option for consumers who want healthier choices but with a little flavor and some fizz. Another segment showing promise is natural sodas, many flavored with cane sugar, which are providing a dose of nostalgia and artisanal cachet to the category.

A recent Mintel report called seltzer, tonic and club soda “the one bright spot in the category,” saying the segment has increased as more consumers embrace soft drink alternatives. IRI data showed that for the 52-week period ended Dec. 1, 2013, dollar sales of sparkling mineral water were ahead by nearly 90% in the drug channel. While sparkling water accounted for 9% of market share in 2012, Mintel believes this fast-growing segment is poised to continue its upturn.

The segment has seen a number of introductions. Coca-Cola recently launched Dasani Sparkling Water, an unsweetened line available unflavored or naturally flavored with lime, lemon, berry and apple.

Found Beverage Co. has a new collection of all-natural Found Infused Sparkling Waters sweetened with pure beet sugar. Sparkling ICE also has added new flavors. “We have a robust variety of product offerings to meet consumer needs,” said Russell Schleiden, VP marketing for the Talking Rain Beverage Co. “We are forecasting that the category will continue to grow at a very strong pace.”

Naturally sweetened sodas positioned as a treat rather than an everyday option have found a niche position. As more consumers become apprehensive about artificial sweeteners — in the Mintel survey, 46% of consumers agreed artificially sweetened soda is “unhealthy,” and 28% of respondents in a Datamonitor survey said they avoid low-calorie sweeteners entirely — products sweetened with natural sugar are looking more attractive.

RBC Capital’s research “suggests that consumers may not care as much about calories as they do about the use of artificial sweeteners.” Nik Modi, an RBC analyst, said. “Ingredients are where people should be looking for innovation.”

Manufacturers continue to search for the calorie/taste sweet spot. Coca-Cola plans to market a cola sweetened with sugar and the naturally occurring no-calorie sweetener stevia in Argentina. The new product, Coca-Cola Life, will have half the calories of regular Coca-Cola.

While the category is certainly shifting, consumers are still drinking carbonated beverages. “According to Nielsen, in the drug channel, CSD volume is up by nearly 6%, and diet/low-calorie CSDs are up nearly 4%,” said DPSG’s Hicks. “Importantly, non-cola diet CSDs are up 7.6%, and diet cola CSDs are up 2.3%. So, within the category, we’re continuing to see a shift from colas to flavors.”
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