Dominion brings American sodas to UK

The Fordham & Dominion range, brewed and bottled in the States, comprises Root Beer, Black Cherry Soda, Creamy Orange Soda and Ginger Ale (rsp: £1.29/335ml).

The craft beverage wave sweeping America is starting to engulf the UK too. We’ve written extensively about the trends for craft beer and craft spirits, but our Focus on Adult Soft Drinks, out later this week, shines the spotlight on yet another new trend within this rapidly growing market – premium craft sodas.

First, an important point on definition: let’s not confuse craft sodas with premium mixers like the wildly successful Fever-Tree, which operate in an altogether different sector. Mixers are tied to alcohol, of course, but there are other differences. Craft sodas seek to evoke the old school Americana of Cadillacs and wide open spaces, not the sophistication of suits and nightclubs. An unsullied comfort drink with a touch of class rather than a mixer with its eye on upmarket spirits, the craft soda is a little more eccentric and a lot more indulgent. And fits bang-on with current trends in the adult soft drinks sector.

The adult soft drinks market is increasingly interesting for a few reasons. One in five Brits claim they don’t drink alcohol, and Dry January, the most popular of various campaigns to stop Brits boozing for a month in aid of charity, is looming. Sales are up 6.9% on volumes up 3.5% as the British embrace these sober sabbaticals.

Then there’s price: with an average price of £3.98 per litre versus 77p in the wider soft drinks market [Kantar Worldpanel 52 w/e 11 October 2015], adult soft drinks command a healthy premium, providing an opportunity to add value to a sector that’s currently getting its fair share of bad press.

Because that’s the other fascinating aspect of the adult soft drinks market: consumers don’t seem to tie adult soft drinks into the current sugar furore, viewing the sweetened beverages in much the same way they do the booze - an indulgent beverage for special occasions, not a part of an everyday sensible diet. Some, like Shloer, are replacing sugar with stevia, but overall it seems the category is slipping under the radar of the war on sugar.

Given the potential of the adult soft drinks market, it’s no surprise we’re seeing industry heavyweights upping their activity in the sector – and many are taking a craft angle. As in other craft beverage sectors, the US is acting as a blueprint here: in much the same way as US beer market leaders  Budweiser and Miller have had to adapt their marketing, presentation and branding to reflect growing consumer interest in craft booze, soda big hitter Pepsi has started to acknowledge the danger craft sodas pose to its market. Having already launched Caleb’s Kola, made with Fairtrade cane sugar and African kola nuts, in 2015, Pepsi moved into Stubborn Soda, a line of craft sodas specifically for fountain dispensers.

Some US craft soda players are now eyeing the UK market with interest. Fordham & Dominion, a US craft brewer, brought a three-strong range of American bottled sodas to the UK market in April. “The popularity of American-style diners and retro products is driving growth of genuine American imports as both multiples and independents recognise an emerging new market within the carbonated soft drinks sector,” says Graham Richardson, general manager at Fordham & Dominion’s importer and distributor Heathwick. “They have huge potential to pique interest among curious consumers who are looking for a complete taste experience in terms of style, imagery, flavour, provenance and quality.”

The craft beer and craft spirits boom has shown that consumers will pay a big premium for craft beverages, if they are sold the right image. Craft sodas are just the latest example – expect retailers to give over more space to the latest American pretenders in 2016.