For its latest iteration of Lifewater, PepsiCo’s SoBe added açai fruit punch and mango melon, while another introduction to the line promised to infuse the beverage with herbal ingredients.

Introductions in the carbonated soft drink segment managed to borrow from the past and look to the future this year, as fortified beverages peppered the landscape. Meanwhile, a pair of PepsiCo launches reverted back to the sugar-sweetened era of days gone by, with Pepsi Throwback and Mountain Dew Throwback, both of which ditched high-fructose corn syrup in favor of sugar. Not surprisingly, new soft drinks also capitalized on the diet and no-sugar-added trend that has been a boon to the segment.

That said, artificial sweeteners have emerged as a consumer concern in recent years, and Pepsi Raw and other such drinks sweetened with vegetable extracts attempted to address those issues. A “gentle sweetener,” for instance, could be found in Qtonic’s Tonic Water. Said to be made from real quinine and “gently sweetened” with organic agave, the beverage promised 60% fewer calories and an 85% lower glycemic index than other tonic waters.

Calories, on the other hand, were the target of elimination for Biba Beverages’ U.S. launch of what it termed an “All Natural Low Calorie Hybrid Beverage.” The lime-flavored drink had 55 calories per serving and added electrolytes.

Antioxidants, in the form of vitamin E, proved the selling point for a Dr Pepper/Seven Up introduction. The 7Up Antioxidant Naturally Flavored Cherry Soda was free of caffeine. It was also low in sodium and promised 10% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin E in each serving. The same company also turned to augmenting flavor for its newest take on one of its signature products. Dr Pepper Cherry blended the flavor of cherry into Dr Pepper.

Vitamins A, C, D and calcium were all present in Envy Foods’ 100% Sparkling Fruit Punch. Free from preservatives and added sugar, other varieties in the line included Sparkling Strawberry Kiwi, Sparkling Fuji Apple, Sparkling Tropical Mango and Sparkling Açai Berry. Canadian consumers saw a vitamin C-enhanced soft drink with the Hibix release of Ooba Sparkling Hibiscus Beverage, “a drink for maintaining good health,” the company assured. Free from added flavors and high in vitamin C, the on-pack instructions indicated consumers should drink one bottle per day of the orange, lime or regular flavored beverages.

A different functional approach separated Carpe Diem from the pack. Kombucha was described as a metabolism enhancer, 100% natural and free from colors, preservatives and artificial sweeteners. Natural proved key to a variety of launches, including Blue Sky Free from Hansen Beverage Company, its first foray into 100% all-natural sodas. The five flavors (root beer, cola, ginger ale, lemon lime and cherry vanilla creme) contained no caffeine, artificial ingredients or preservatives, while the sweetening agent was sourced from the increasingly popular stevia plant.

Keep It Simple
“Natural” as a concept can be argued to center mostly around the transparency and clarity of a product’s ingredients. Simple (and short) ingredient legends have been one example of that in recent years, but consumers also are looking to the manufacturer to provide product details up-front, a concept that prompted Coca-Cola to review its package labels.

In the early fall, the company announced global plans to include energy information (calories, kilocalories, kilojoules) per serving on the front of nearly all of its product packages. Its goal is to have front-of-pack energy information on all products by the end of 2011. As Muhtar Kent, Coca-Cola’s chairman and chief executive officer, explained, “Now, more than ever, people expect facts about the products they consume to be both readily available and visible. This global commitment is about making it easier for consumers to quickly see the calorie information for our beverages.” Furthermore, according to local regulations, this information may also include the daily guidance indicators, to show how the quantities of select nutrients fit into the national or regional dietary guidelines.

The move comes as the carbonated drinks segment showed continued signs of faltering. A Mintel report released in July found roughly 34% of all adults who purchased beverages began drinking more water and fewer carbonated beverages between 2003-2008, an estimated loss of 15.6 million consumers age 18 and over. The diet soda segment did add 7.8 million adult consumers over that time. Globally, the soft drinks market grew 3.2% in 2007 and reached $329.4 billion, according to Datamonitor, which projects the segment will hit $399.3 billion by 2012, a 21.4% growth over 2007. Carbonates are the largest segment of the market, and the Americas boast the largest market share, with 43% of global revenues.

Not So Ready to Drink
The year saw a range of premium, ready-to-drink alcoholic (RTD) beverages enter North America, though the category is much more active elsewhere in the world. (Bear in mind, however, that the segment has also seen its fortunes stall somewhat in many countries, due to the beverages’ association with binge and underage drinking.) Still, manufacturers in the U.S. capitalized on premium notions, better-quality ingredients, limited editions and even healthier attempts, in the form of offerings low in sugar and/or calories. Despite all of these factors, one trend remains fairly ignored in the segment: organic and natural options in RTD alcoholic beverages were few and far between, a surprise, considering organic/natural has been effectively positioned as “better for you,” authentic and/or premium in other segments.

Mystique Brands did aim for the authentic angle with its drink-and-serve martini, at least in its packaging. The signature replica martini “glass” for The Metropolitan Apple Martini was made of plastic and had a foil-sealed plastic lid, but the product also managed to make the beverage more convenient, as the consumer only needed to peel off the lid and drink the apple martini, made with all-natural flavors and premium vodka, straight from the acrylic martini glass.

“Premium” was a fairly common descriptor in RTD alcoholic beverage introductions, perhaps a reflection of the desire to add some appeal to a segment largely linked with underage drinking. The premium selling point tended to focus on the quality of the spirits used (vodka, rum) and/or the fruits and other ingredients incorporated into the formulation, and the trend is likely to continue in this segment and others in the alcoholic beverage category, considering the trend of American consumers to drink and entertain more in the home. (Indeed, according to The Nielsen Company research, more than half of consumers [56%] are eating dinner at home more often than before the economic downturn, with 37% saying they are going to bars or clubs less often. Some 24% of wine consumers are choosing less expensive drinks, while roughly a third of respondents report they are purchasing fewer beer, wine and spirits drinks.)

Smirnoff, for instance, launched Tuscan Lemonade as a premium, ready-to-serve cocktail. The beverage was made with Smirnoff vodka, limoncello liqueur, natural citrus flavors and certified caramel colors. Meanwhile, fruit flavors were the key selling point for Vex Hard Beverage’s On the Beach Hard Lemonade in Canada. The summer line featured orange, peach and cranberry with a “breeze of coconut.” Similarly, Absolut Vodka added what the company termed as “the king of fruits” with its launch of Absolut Mango, the line’s tenth flavor, introduced to the U.S. market after an initial rollout in South America and Global Travel Retail.

Inspired by a different fruit flavor, Belvedere added an all-natural Raspberry and Black Currant Vodka variety to its existing citrus and orange varieties. Promising a flavor unlike the “synthetic and candy-sweet” flavored vodkas on the market, Belvedere noted its launch incorporated “only the finest hand-harvested, plump and flavorful raspberries from the Podlasie area of northeast Poland” and used only pure fruit and flowers in creating the flavor. The company also noted the fruit is macerated for a minimum of one month to create the natural flavor.

Likewise, Finlandia added a fruit-inspired flavor with its U.S. introduction of All-natural Finlandia Tangerine Fusion. The company opted for tangerine because, “unlike other citruses, tangerines tend to be a bit sweeter and deliver a powerful zest.” At the same time, raspberry flavored the launch of Bacardi’s Classic Cocktail Raspberry Mojito, made with rum, natural lime and mint flavors, in addition to ripened raspberries.

Peek of Health
Beer drinkers may have been pleased to hear that a compound in the beverage could help ward off prostate cancer. Xanthohumol, explained a study from the German Cancer Research Center, is found in hops and blocks the male hormone testosterone, which plays a role in the development of prostate cancer. While admitting the research was just in the beginning phase, researchers hope to prove the flavonoid can prevent prostate cancer development.

Wine drinkers, meanwhile, saw more positive health news surrounding the grape. Men who regularly consumed up to a half a glass of wine each day boosted their life expectancy by five years, found Dutch researchers. Kaiser Permanente Division of Research, on the other hand, found drinking wine may lower the risk of Barrett’s esophagus, a precursor to esophageal cancer.

Similarly positive health benefits could be gained from coffee consumption, according to several studies this year. An Australian study associated coffee consumption with a 7% reduction of the risk of diabetes, while Spanish and American researchers found drinking coffee lowered the risk of stroke among women. Meanwhile, Florida research found five cups of coffee a day could reverse memory problems seen in Alzheimer’s patients, and researchers at the American Association for Cancer Research reported coffee consumption reduced the risk of dying from prostate cancer, with the latter benefit likewise found in decaffeinated coffee.

Removing caffeine, however, was not necessarily a goal of RTD coffee manufacturers, as many sought to compete with energy drinks through the addition of either caffeine or other stimulants, such as guarana.

An introduction from Ilko Coffee International, under the Illy Issimo brand, opted instead to focus more on gourmet indulgence. Illy Issimo Espresso Style Coffee Drink blended 100% Arabica coffee and ingredients “perfected for the quintessential Italian espresso experience.” Varieties included Caffe (a total black version with no milk), Macchiato (more milk and less coffee) and Cappuccino (coffee, milk and dark cocoa).

A similarly indulgent focus prompted North American Coffee Partnership to release Starbucks Coffee Frappuccino Dark Chocolate Raspberry Mocha Coffee Drink, a limited-edition blend of Starbucks coffee, milk, dark chocolate and raspberry flavor. The kosher-certified product line also featured a Dark Chocolate Mocha Coffee variety.

With the positive health news increasingly surrounding coffee and the continued focus on the gourmet aspects of the beverage, it will be interesting to see if manufacturers merge the two trends in marketing efforts. However, even more interesting will be whether consumers continue to embrace indulgence, as obesity concerns continue to gather steam.

Chilling Beverages
While energy drinks remained somewhat popular among consumers, manufacturers have begun to introduce beverages to foster relaxation. Bebida Beverage Company introduced three flavors in its Koma Unwind product line: Creamy Classic, Java Black and Moca Tonight, each formulated with a blend of supplements that promise to calm the mind, body and soul.

Maximum energy, on the other hand, was the goal of Nature’s Answer’s Natural Green Tea Energy Shot. The 60ml, single-serve bottles boasted 80mg of caffeine and a formulation consisting of 100% organic green tea, an antioxidant blend of Superfruits (including mangosteen, red coffee, muscadine grape seed, goji berry, açai, pomegranate and blueberry), ginseng, guarana and yerba mate, with organic agave nectar and stevia as sweeteners.

Merging energizing benefits with functionality, ZipFizz launched Orange Soda Energy Drink Mix, a no-sugar mix with 2g of carbohydrates and 10 calories per serving, in addition to 25 vitamins, minerals, electrolytes and antioxidants (including 42% of the daily value of vitamin B12). For the reformulation of its Boost Plus Vanilla nutritional energy drink, Nestle promised 26 vitamins and minerals, 40% more protein than the regular Boost and an excellent source of vitamins C, E and selenium.

Protein and vitamins also proved crucial to Mix 1’s Protein & Antioxidant Drink. The mango-flavored beverage contained 15g of whey protein isolate, 23 vitamins and minerals, plus three servings of fruits and vegetables, as well as “antioxidants equivalent to four cups of green tea.”

Attempting to capitalize on the healthy attributes of juice, Johnny Fountain released Energized Juice under its Powerball brand. Developed using 25% juice, the beverage featured caffeine, taurine, B-vitamins, inositol and glucuronolactone. The Johnny Fountain release had an açai berry flavor, not exactly unusual. However, it was the flavor (and admittedly the name) that set 420’s energy shot launch apart from the pack. Hemp Energy Shot was a low-calorie energy shot suitable for “anytime and anywhere,” according to the company. Energy shots proved popular among manufacturers over the course of the year, with PepsiCo launching Amp Energy Shot in Canada in a Jakfruit citrus flavor, while Fresh Harvest Products Inc. developed an organic and natural energy shot, certified USDA organic and scheduled for release under the Wings of Nature brand in early 2010.

While typical energy drinks cost as much as 20 times per ounce as a soda, sales continued to soar, even amid the recession. In fact, according to Information Resources Inc., sales of energy shots were expected to hit roughly $700 million in 2009, nearly double the $370 million in sales from

Website Resources: Mintel Global New Products Database FromPrepared Foods’ E-dition: “Coffee and Prostate Cancer” Datamonitor FromPrepared Foods’ E-dition: “Modified Blueberry Juice Holds Anti-obesity Promise” FromPrepared Foods’ E-dition: “Sports Drinks and Dental Health”

Going Global: Beverages
In Germany, Conelly launched a range of do-it-yourself cocktail kits enabling consumers to prepare cocktails with a simple packaging concept. Lady Killer, Sex on the Beach and Mai Tai varieties each came in duo metal cans joined together one on top of the other. Each can contained everything needed to create a cocktail, though the ingredients had to be blended. Separating the ingredients also provided an element of freshness to this product. For Lady Killer, one 100ml can stored the alcohol (gin, apricot brandy and orange liqueur), while the other 150ml can stored the juice (pineapple and passionfruit).

Margaret River Beverages released Berry Fusion Juice and Triple G Ginger Beer drinks in Australia. While functional benefits in carbonated soft drinks remain a fairly niche concept, it was interesting to see this range of premium and gourmet soft drinks enriched with herbs, including chamomile and St. John’s Wort (for calming), ginseng and guarana (to give the body zest and stimulation), and ginger (for its restorative properties).

In Brazil, Bebidas Max Wilhelm’s Ah! Max Refrigerante de Limão Levemente Gaseificado (carbonated soft drink) was sugar-free, low in calories and flavored with lime. With three calories per unit, the gluten-free product claimed to be a source of vitamins B3, B5 and B6.

Japan, meanwhile, saw an interesting take on an RTD tea. Asahi Soft Drinks utilized beer-brewing technology to create a unique flavor and formulation, a technology created by Asahi Breweries and which has created its flavorful beer for over 120 years.