Liquid Death x Martha Stewart Candle Commercial hed 2022

Is there a more fertile category right now than soft drinks? From CBD drinks to kombucha, from no-alcohol drinks to coffee-lemonade hybrids, the market is awash with NPD.

I’ve seen three launch this week alone. The standout is Liquid Death. Standout not in terms of the liquid (plain old water) but for the sheer chutzpah of its marketing… not to mention its astonishing valuation. An import from the US, the name and design is straight out of the heavy metal playbook. A two fingers to the usual ‘health credentials’ cues that proves there’s no ‘right’ way to sell anything – a point underlined by its recent valuation at $700m. It’s also hard to dismiss a brand launched by a celebrity these days, and especially one which Gillian Anderson has christened G Spot. And last but not least there’s Island Soda from Grace Foods.

At the UK Food & Drink Shows in Birmingham this week, another newish brand that stood out was Flax & Kale. The colourful kombuchas tick so many healthy boxes, but it was also interesting to see, on the huge, colourful, attractive stand, how it was being used as a mixer. The vibe felt very gen Z.

And these new entries, on top of other recent success stories like Prime Hydration, Trip, Lucky Saint, Nix & Kix, Moju and Dash, prove how disruptive a market it can be, with a lower barrier to entry than ever, as social media influencers propel these challengers, at minimal cost, into the sales stratosphere.

These new brands are enormously appealing to younger consumers not just because of their social media cache, but with their natural, modern takes on the latest consumer tastes. And while costs soar, they prove that as the market moves towards budget own label, there is still room for premiumisation in soft drinks.

By contrast, many of the soft drinks giants have approached NPD from the wrong side of the trend tracks, backed into a regulatory and financial corner from which more have been reformulating, with very mixed results in terms of taste or functionality. Their main response has been limited editions, which get people talking but rarely seem to stick.