Younger consumers and health-focused consumers are demanding change from the carbonated soft drinks market, leading to new trends in consumption, claims, and offerings.
Consumers Desire Healthier Consumption
62% of adults in the US purchased carbonated soft drinks (CSD) in the past 12 months. Older generations were more likely to buy CSD than younger generations, with Gen Z being the most likely to buy sparkling juices. The frequency of consumption of CSD halved in 2023 compared to 2022. The top reason, consumers claimed, for decreasing their consumption was perceived unhealthiness, despite 63% of CSD consumers claiming they still drink it more than once a week. Taste, however, is the top reason to drink CSD according to US consumers, extending their CSD drinking occasions throughout the day, starting at lunch, afternoon snacks, to dinner time.
Reduced sugar remained the top influencer on CSD purchase decisions, and caffeine-free became more important. These health-conscious claims could be explained by the perceived unhealthiness of CSD and top consumption reason, allowing consumers to keep their preferred drink.
Soft Drink Market Trends
CSD might be locked in for consumers’ traditions and preferences, but they are facing competitive beverage innovation from the rapidly growing flavored and non-alcoholic beverage segments, especially since young consumers are drinking less alcohol and are motivated to implement healthy habits. As soft drink launches fell at -5% CAGR (2018-2022), CSD shares were boosted to +17%, the highest it has been in five years despite experiencing no launch growth.
GMO-free, vegan, and organic claims saw the most growth, while plant-based and functional claims like prebiotic and probiotic emerged. Fruits, herbal, and fruit extracts and sweeteners grew by double digits, and natural sugar alternatives such as stevia and agave rose. Cola remains at first place in flavors, experiencing some share loss as berries and other fruits, hibiscus, and vanilla grew.
Healthier Living Trends
Innova’s Top Ten Trends also reveal themselves in the CSD category, especially in Healthier Living and Simple Pleasures. Healthier Living – the trend that embodies consumers’ health and wellbeing remaining their top priority to feel well – predicts that the implications for CSD by US consumers will be decreasing their consumption of sodas with sugar, especially among younger generations. These consumers are reading labels and building their understanding of sugar alternatives so they can choose beverages with healthier sweetening options. Beverage manufacturers will also continue to work on creating healthier beverages within and outside the CSD category.
Soft Drink Enjoyment Trends
Simple Pleasures – the trend detailing time with friends and family as well as ‘me time’ as the highest source of pleasure and reward for consumers – aligns with CSD consumers’ top reason to consume CSD. After all, 57% consumers main reason to consume CSD, is taste, the epitome of a simple pleasure. The second reason is to quench their thirst, and the third is to make themselves happy. CSD will always be a go-to for many US consumers looking for a beverage, especially as manufacturers continue to deliver novel flavors.
Collaborative Soft Drink Trends
Generational Push – positive engagement and new experiences – show that novelty and nostalgia appeal to a new and generation of CSD consumers, specifically collaborations with nostalgic and aspirational partners to create new flavors to counter the flagging interest of younger consumers. One iconic example is the Pepsi x Peeps easter-time flavor collaboration which combined the crisp, refreshing taste of Pepsi cola with the pillowy-soft and sweet peeps.
Real-time and Online Soft Drink Trends
Devouring Digital – in which brands embrace the full potential of consumer connection through enhancing real life with digital experiences – shows us that Gen Z is mostly curious about digital food and beverage experiences. Coca-Cola, for example, uses the combination of artists and AI to “create real magic” on their platform, linking consumption occasions with consumer passion points to build deeper connections.
Soft Drinks Claims Trends
Unpuzzle Health – that states that simple communication backed by trusted certification to reinforce health messages – shows that consumers decrease CSD consumption for health reasons, and clean labels influence their perception of healthiness. The top three claims that influence purchase decisions for CSD in order from first to last are low, no, and reduced sugar claims, caffeine free, and real and natural ingredients. These results come with the information that twice the amount of CSD consumers have decreased their consumption between 2022 and 2023.
The four areas of change for CSD will lie in flavors, ingredients, positioning claims, and packaging. CSD producers will expand the use of flavors from natural functional sources, creative blends, flavors from adjacent categories, and imaginative inventions. The plant-forward trend will boost many ingredients beyond fruits and natural sweeteners to sources of functional benefits like mushrooms, spices, and herbs. Claims relating to better-for-you lifestyles and functional benefits will grow, and better-for-the-planet claims will emerge in response to consumer concerns. CSD will also begin offering packaging made from recycled materials and experimentation with more sustainable packaging, from bio-based to biodegradable, is also likely to emerge.
This article is based on our report, “Bubbling Brilliance: US Carbonated Soft Drinks Trends.”
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