This week’s issue pays tribute to the incredible invention and innovation in the soft drinks category right now, with challenger brands galore making fantastical and fast-selling beverages.

Not so long ago soft drinks category growth was all about energy. But the CBD drink Trip has found a winning formula by delivering the total opposite: relaxation. And it’s not only the fastest-growing food and drink brand in our ‘Fast 50’, its growth rate is the highest in the 15 years Alantra’s ranking has been running. It’s also diversifying into other functional drinks, featuring trendy adaptogens and nootropics. 

New gut health brands are also really interesting and raising funds. Hip Pop, which markets itself as the Gut Loving Soda, is going great guns with its kombuchas and natural sodas, promising to contain a quarter of your daily dose of fibre.

Others in the gut health space include Happy Inside, Fibe, Living Things, Fhirst, XOXO and Living Things. Dalston’s is moving into this area too.

Even the energy drinks market is evolving. As a pick-me-up, Moju’s ginger shots are as different as night from day versus a Red Bull or Monster. But while these traditional energy drinks brands are still performing, they’re not growing at the rate of Moju: despite being around for eight years, the brand is still among the top 20 fastest-growing food and drink brands. And Moju shots outsold orange juice in Ocado in January.

One of the catalysts for this growth has been the soft drinks sugar levy. And while it was hailed as a success at the time, as scores of brands switched out sugar for artificial sweeteners, it’s only now really that the true benefit is being felt, with genuine innovation rather than a headlong rush to reduce calories, creating new Willy Wonkas everywhere. And that’s without even considering the impact of low & no innovation.

Today, it’s no longer enough to remove sugar and calories. With concerns over artificial sweeteners in particular and ultra-processed food more generally, consumers want natural, healthy soft drinks – and while challengers are on sparkling form, soft drinks giants increasingly look flat.