Traditional fruit-flavoured drinks don't draw the crowds as they used to, but new flavours are revitalising this mature category

Fruit squashes have been for a long time and, as Vimto brand manager Claire Nield puts it: "There are a lot more sexy categories out there. Squash is seen as a bit of a poor relation, but it is a fundamental market. An awful lot of people don't like drinking plain water - and it would be foolish to turn away from squash."

However, consumers themselves appear to be increasingly forsaking the category. According to the Britvic Soft Drinks 2006 report, in 2005 the category declined by 2% to £443m.

Yet Britvic category director Andrew Marsden argues that it is still a relatively important sector. "People are consuming more and more water and not everyone is drinking mineral water," he says. "I accept that there are now many more alternatives to squash, but it remains a very large and important market."

Ribena marketing category director Anne MacCaig acknowledges that the squash sector is not experiencing its finest hour, but maintains that its prospects remain good.

"We are committed to driving innovation and to building a strong category story," she says. "Ribena Really Light has become a £32m brand in less than a year. We offer a range of flavours and the launch of blueberry will bring further excitement.

"Blueberry is a superfruit that tastes delicious, fits with the brand and is seen as contemporary."

Robinsons continues to lead the market and the brand's High Juice variant has been repackaged to enhance its premium positioning and increase its appeal to adults. Owner Britvic has also extended the range with the launch of a more grown-up apple, strawberry & lychee flavour.

Robinsons squashes for milk branched out into no-added-sugar variants last year, reflecting the overarching trend in the soft drinks market. In the past six months the new version has outsold its sugar counterpart, according to Britvic.

Princes Soft Drinks marketing director David Patmore contends that, as far as its Jucee brand is concerned, squash is in fact experiencing a renaissance.

"The increasing introduction of no added-sugar and reduced-sugar variants has resulted in mothers continuing to buy squash as a healthy long drink with which to hydrate themselves and their children," he says.

"Growth can still be achieved. Squash is increasingly seen as a value-for-money thirst quencher, and is drunk on a regular basis.

"However, continued sales growth, stimulated by the range of high juice and premium squashes available - many with contemporary flavours, such as pomegranate, blueberry, raspberry and other combinations - is sparking renewed interest and growth within the category."

Vimto is also bullish about the prospects of squash. The company's Who Put Oranges in my Vimto? flavour was launched on test last year, and rolled out across Britain in April following promising sales. It is soon to be joined by an apple variant.

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Focus on Soft Drinks (May 2006)