Perhaps, deep down, you still believe the motivation for going to the pub will always be for something alcoholic - but there is good reason why soft drinks shouldn't be ignored.

There's little of the dynamism that is happening in the soft drinks category reflected behind most bars and the general impression is of an industry that cares little for non-drinkers. Most pubs still offer the same soft drinks as they have for decades.

This is dangerous.

Why? Consider this – Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show one in five UK adults are now teetotal, and it fully expects that trend to continue.

In addition, 800,000 women in the UK are pregnant at any one time and younger drinkers, so-called Millennials, are drinking less alcohol than any generation since records on these things began.

On top of this, there are those that do partake of a tipple but who aren't on certain occasions – it's a Monday night, they are in training, having a week off the sauce, an early start in the morning, driving, Dry January etc.).

Face it, our drinking culture has changed.

All of this would be no bad thing if most licensees had caught on but all the research shows that, in general, customers are not happy with what's on offer in terms of soft drinks in pubs.

We believe that the soft drink offering in pubs and bars is increasingly becoming outdated

"We believe that the soft drink offering in pubs and bars is increasingly becoming outdated," says Lee Cannon, out-of-home category manager at Lucozade Ribena Suntory, which last year brought Orangina in its trademark glass bulby bottle to UK pubs for the first time.

"Some 58 per cent of soft drink drinkers believe that the soft drink range on offer is often predictable and boring," he explains.

"As well as this 47 per cent believe that the choice of soft drinks when dining out is too narrow, leading 65 per cent of soft drink drinkers to say they would like to see a better range of soft drinks targeted exclusively for adults (all CGA Peach Brand Track 2016)."

It makes for sobering reading, not least because in recent times there's enough happening in the world of soft drinks to ensure your softs should be one of the most exciting parts of your offer. Don't believe me?

Over at Tom Kerridge's Hand & Flowers in Marlow they've joined forces with "the world's first non-alcoholic distilled spirit" Seedlip, to create an entire non-alcoholic drinks menu.

 

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Planting the Seedlips: non-alcoholic spirits in pubs

"It's been extremely successful," says Seedlip founder Ben Branson.

"It means that guests who aren't drinking can feel part of and have a drink that pairs well with food rather than something overly fruity and sweet. We believe that there is no reason in this day and age that people shouldn't be offered a proper adult drinks regardless of alcohol content, in the same way that vegetarianism has come such a long way."

Having set up the business just last year, "to solve the modern dilemma of what to drink when you're not drinking," Seedlip has already had some major success, notably coming to the attention of the mighty Diageo, which earlier this year (after 257 years in the world of spirits and beer) made its first investment in a non-alcoholic business via a stake in Seedlip.

"As consumers' knowledge of spirits and demand for better non-alcoholic options grows, pubs will need to be offering more relevant options," Ben adds.

By that token, even those of you intending to stick to the more traditional carbonates are going to have to re-assess your offer. The shift to making healthier choices in recent years means that tastes are changing even in this sector.

"Demand for soft drinks containing reduced calories and sugar is increasing," says Amy Burgess, Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP)'s trade communications manager.

"For all consumers choice is key and licensees should look to stock a variety of lighter options, whilst offering diet variants of their best -selling drinks where possible."

To this end the manufacturer is investing £30m between 2012 and 2017 in reformulations and developing new products to plug that gap, including the recent relaunch of Coca-Cola Zero as Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, backed by a £10m campaign.

 

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Lunch bunch

Of course, it's not just people's tastes and choices that have changed, pubs have too. These days the average business model of a pub relies somewhat on all day and lunchtime trade which, by its very nature, is when most people will turn to a soft drink.

"Because of the way it's made (using microfiltration) Bottlegreen does go well with food and we do lots of work to capitalise on that lunchtime opportunity," explains Amanda Grabham, marketing director, soft drinks, at Bottlegreen-owner, SHS Drinks.

"We work with chefs and home economists to come up with suggested matches, such as our ginger & lemongrass flavour with Thai curry, or Elderflower Pressé with a chicken dish.

"We encourage licensees and restaurant owners to feature a soft drink match on menus and to create healthy, balanced meal deals with good food and great soft drinks like Bottlegreen, so that people can still make a premium decision.

"I think that licensees need to remember that people aren't just choosing soft drinks these days because they have to. They are actively choosing them, it's a positive decision."

 

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Posher pubs

The other way in which pubs have changed is in the premium nature of what they offer.

From beer to sandwiches to hand soap punters are expecting "posher" options these days and soft drinks should be no different says Britvic's senior shopper marketing manager – out of home, Russell Kirkham.

"You have to put the same effort into all the aspects of your offer and think about all the customer touchpoints. Licensees have concentrated on beer, wine and cocktails but it needs to be across the board.

"Half the drinks you sell at lunchtime will be non-alcoholic, so think about offering the same in this category of drinks as you do in all the others – providing more choice and a better experience."

The category is so often treated as the "poor cousin" that providing a better experience can be as simple as making sure you have the basics right – the correct glass, lots of ice and a simple fruit garnish.

If you go just a little further than that, though, you can turn it into something really special.

"The styling of a serve is key to delivering that elevated experience that customers will pay more for," says Edward Hartridge, sales and marketing director at the family-owned Hartridges firm.

"We say get creative with garnishes to excite and delight, and present soft drinks in corresponding branded glasses for maximum sophistication."

Think about the flavours and brands you are offering too, he says: "Presenting a compelling line-up of juices, sparkling soft drinks and more premium alternatives on the higher shelves of bar fridges invites customers to explore and spark up conversations about the flavours on offer."

 

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From hard to soft

Such is the importance of soft drinks these days, it's not just soft drinks companies that are telling you so.

Alongside the aforementioned Diageo tie-up with Seedlip, Global Brands, purveyors of Corky's and Hooch among other tipples, moved into softs for the first time in 2015 with the launch of Franklin & Sons.

"For us as an alcohol business launching a soft drinks range was important because we were missing a large part of the market," explains Justin Horsman, marketing controller for the brand.

"The trends of craft, natural, premium and so on hadn't come to life in soft drinks as they had done elsewhere, even though more and more people have come into soft drinks in recent years."

The team at Global Brands now offers training on soft drinks to bars, just as they do for their spirits brands and those that have completed it have seen as much as a 40 per cent increase in soft drinks sales as a result.

"Choose brands with stories, feature them on menus and suggest food matches," advises Justin.

"Do that and you can charge more per bottle, the customer feels looked after and you are offering an experience they often aren't getting elsewhere."

Ultimately, whatever you do, you can't just keep doing what you've always done before when it comes to soft drinks.

There are now bars now entirely dedicated to serving non-alcoholic drinks, such as Redemption Bar, which has not one but two venues in London. It might seem extreme but it shows that the motivation for going to the pub has changed. It is as much about a cold-pressed juice now as a pint of lager and in order to survive pubs need to care as much, if not more, about non-drinkers as drinkers.

Deep down you know it.

This year we've joined forces with Britvic to launch the Soft Drinks Academy to help you make more of your soft drinks. Sign up for the chance to win expert advice and free stock.