New takes on traditional favorites like citrus and berry are helping breathe life in the category; as are more exotic additions such as ginger, cinnamon, coffee and cucumber.
“Flavor innovations could help to inspire new consumption occasions for consumers who might be uninspired by the status quo of the category,” said Jenny Zegler, global food and drink analyst, Mintel.
Same old flavors?
The soda category faces two key challenges. Firstly, consumers are increasingly indifferent to the same flavors that have been around for decades. Meanwhile, an increasing number of consumers are wary about the volume of sugar in soft drinks, looking for options that appear to be less sweet and therefore healthier.
Flavor innovation has a role to play in addressing both challenges, said Zegler.
“Flavor innovation can address consumer concerns about sweetness, with 41% of UK adults agreeing that CSDs with less sweet flavors would appeal to them.
"New flavors also could stem attrition in the US, where 11% of US adults who are drinking fewer CSDs in December 2016 than they were in December 2015 cut back because they were tired of the same flavors.”
Take for example the cola category, which is seeing a number of new flavors complement the core cola flavor.
“Cola is the [CSD] category's signature and one of its leading flavors, accounting for 18% of global CSD launches between December 2016 and November 2017,” said Zegler. “However, brands are getting more creative with flavors that add accents to the category staple of cola, such as Pepsi Max Ginger.”
Diet Coke (US): four new flavors launched this year: ginger lime, feisty cherry, zesty blood orange and twisted mango.
Pepsi Fire (US limited edition): cola with cinnamon flavor
Coca-Cola Plus Coffee (Japan, Australia): a cola with ‘the delicious taste of Coca-Cola Classic but with the unmistakable aroma of real coffee’
Coca-Cola Ginger and Pepsi Max Ginger (various markets)
Gusto Real Cola (UK): made with fairtrade blue agave, organic certified erythritol, organic spices, essential oils, African kola nut and Devon spring water
Juicy Fuel Cola Cherry (UK): natural sparkling fruit juice with kola nut, grape juice, lemon juice and barley malt.
Coca-Cola Clear (Japan): a zero calorie clear drink with a lemon flavor (the recipe omits the caramel coloring used in Coca-Cola classic)
Spicy or savory
Traditional, safe and predictable flavors like berry and citrus remain in vogue, with citrus flavors in particular seeing a surge in popularity across carbonated soft drinks.
Light and adult flavors – such as lime, lemon and cucumber – are seeing particular popularity in the CSD category.
“Consumers are interested in a range of fruit-flavored CSDs,” said Zegler.
“Citrus flavored carbonated soft drinks are preferred over other flavors by French, German, Italian and Polish adults. In Brazil, limited-edition Coca-Cola Sicilian Lemon and Coca-Cola Orange were launched in 2017. Fruit flavor variations also will come to the US with the 2018 launch of location-inspired Georgia Peach and California Raspberry flavors.”
In Europe, citrus flavors gain the most interest, followed by fruit flavors and berry flavors, according to Mintel.
But there’s also an opportunity for soft drinks to go beyond conventional flavors, although Zegler warns that this is a niche category.
“The category also has opportunity - although a niche one - for new and different flavors," she said.
“Exotic or unusual CSD flavors are of interest to less than two in 10 adults from Germany, Spain, Poland, France and Italy.
“Similarly, 9% of US CSD consumers would like to see CSDs with savory flavors and 5% are interested in spicy CSD flavors.
“Spicy launches in 2017 included PepsiCo's limited-edition Mountain Dew Mango Heat Soft Drink in Canada and cinnamon-flavored Pepsi Fire in the US.”
Drawing on cues from other categories could provide inspiration for new CSDs flavors.
With the rise of people looking to curb their alcohol intake, soft drinks which draw on alcoholic drink flavors could appeal to those looking for alcohol substitutes (41% of UK consumers would choose a soft drink when limiting alcohol consumption in the pub).
In India, meanwhile, Canada Dry Sparkling Green Tea Ginger Ale draws on cues from the RTD tea category, with the product containing ginger and 65mg antioxidants per 355ml can.
And Coca-Cola gestures towards the coffee category with its Coca-Cola Plus Coffee No Sugar drink – now expanding following its initial launch in Japan.