Sometimes consumers want healthy products and sometimes they want indulgent products. The soft drinks sector is happy to meet both demands - and is particularly keen to tap into the health trend because it is perceived to be long-term.

To make the most of their health credentials, producers have therefore extolled the benefits of fruit-based products and made much of their efforts to reduce sugar and perceived unnatural elements in carbonated drinks.

They have also begun to point out that even the fizziest, sweetest drinks help keep a body properly hydrated.

"Almost two out of three people agree that they've changed their drinks-buying behaviour to be more healthy, which is perhaps not surprising given that health has become the standard for food and drinks claims and that food and drink marketing is tapping into our growing anxiety about lifestyle diseases," says Britvic's Soft Drinks Report 2007, citing data supplied by Nielsen.

The report continues: "It has become evident that functional foods are moving from niche to mainstream, with probiotics growing rapidly in household pene-tration. Perhaps, therefore, soft drinks in the future may provide solutions to managing energy dips and spikes throughout the day."

Market research organisation Mintel notes that the health message is reinforced across a range of media. It says: "The high-profile publicity given to rising levels of obesity and the current vogue for television programmes that focus on self-improvement, such as You Are What You Eat, Honey We're Killing the Kids or Celebrity Fit Club, have raised awareness of a healthier diet among many consumers. This has influenced attitudes towards non-alcoholic drinks, driving demand for no/low-sugar variants and contributing to rising sales of smoothies, juices and water."

But the health message is definitely not a case of one size fits all. Producers know that it means different things to dieters, mums looking for better nutrition for their children and the generally health-conscious.

"As the desire to be healthy grows we do understand that motivation differs in people because of their gender or life stage - and a range of products that communicates these health benefits needs to be developed that speaks to everyone," says Jason Hood, head of marketing for Coca-Cola Enterprises.

"As consumers become more aware of keeping healthy, there is also a greater demand for clearer nutritional labelling. Because of this, we have voluntarily adopted the widely recognised Guideline Daily Amounts labelling scheme on our products."

The producers, as represented by the British Soft Drinks Association, have opted to support GDA labelling. BDSA director general Jill Ardagh says this decision helps consumers understand the nutritional issue without demonising any soft drinks.

David Patmore, marketing director for Princes, reinforces that. He says: "It is likely 2007 will also see a cleaning up of labelling on soft drinks, partly in response to new guidelines and partly driven by consumer desire to make a more informed choice."

All the major brands in the sector are working to showcase the health properties of their juice-based drinks and the healthier aspects of their lower-sugar, lower-caffeine colas and carbonates.

Jason Hood points to CCE's Minute Maid drink as a brand highlighting its juice-based products. "The product has been re-branded in order to reinforce the fact that it contains 50% juice and contributes to one of the recommended 5-a-day fruit or vegetable portions," he says.

"In Spain, The Coca-Cola Company has launched an antioxidant variant to the Minute Maid range of fruit juices and in Sweden a prebiotic variant. Added functionality is a growing and exciting opportunity."

Britvic, owner of Pepsi as well as juice brands, is equally active in emphasising why it is good to drink juice, still OK to drink cola and a positive decision to drink bottled water. n