Of all the categories in the Top Products survey, it is energy and sports drinks that will provide the most Christmas cheer this year. The sector experienced the highest growth of all the categories we cover, up 15% in value to £683.2m and 16% in volume.
Increasingly hectic lifestyles and high stress levels resulting from the economically challenged times are just some of the causes, says Peter Hindmarsh, trading controller at Nisa-Today's.
"The sector is proving to be phenomenally vibrant, driven by changing lifestyles and huge supplier investment in advertising. Consumers now understand the products can help you cope with stress and keep you alert," he says.
Category leader Lucozade Energy grew sales by £18m and Red Bull posted double-digit growth again, up 10% to £178.1m, but the star of the sector was undoubtedly Coca-Cola's Relentless.
The brand didn't quite match last year's results when its low sales base led to an 884.8% rise, but still well outperformed any of its rivals, up 143.6% in value to £36.6m.
"We've launched more product innovation into the range, which appeals to a broader group of consumers," explains Coca-Cola Enterprises trade communications manager Kenny Chisholm. NPD included Relentless Juiced, a 50% juice energy drink launched in March for consumers wanting a morning energy boost. It joined Relentless Inferno 'for the afternoon' and Relentless Origin 'for the evening', which was rebranded from the original plain Relentless six months ago to differentiate it from the other two variants.
"The portfolio now offers consumers something for every time of the day and we are already impressed with the success of Relentless Juiced," says Chisholm. "Energy is a hugely exciting retail opportunity."
Other strong performers in the category included Powerade (Coca-Cola again), up 23.5% to £35.4m, and GlaxoSmithKline's Lucozade Sport, up 10.7% to £109.2m. Sister brand Lucozade HydroActive didn't fare quite as well and was the biggest loser in the top 10 sports and energy brands, down 29.2% to £7.6m over the period.
GSK has moved to rectify this, however, last month announcing a boost to the tune of £3.5m that will see the variant brought under the Lucozade Sport banner and given a new look to "help widen the relevance to sporting participants", according to group brand manager Adam Prentice.
In contrast smoothies - the former hero of the soft drinks category - had a woeful year. After last year's impressive 9.4% rise, the juices and smoothies category remained flat at £1.8bn, but the headline number hides a multitude of sins.
In August, just four months after launch, Nestlé pulled Boosted Juice, its joint venture smoothie, while Pepsi pulled the plug on its PJ's Smoothie brand in October.
However, it was the performance of industry darling Innocent that was perhaps the biggest surprise - down 20.2% over the year to £107.0m, after years of meteoric growth. The company blames the economic climate, but also cheap promotions in 2007 that had attracted "a load of light buyers", according to joint founder Richard Reed.
Innocent also launched into juice for the first time this year, a sub-sector some suggest is picking up some of the fall-off from smoothies in these economically challenged times.
The figures certainly bear this out. All three of the top-performing brands in the juices and smoothies category are juices or juice drinks. Pepsi's Tropicana had a fantastic year, up 16.6%, while rival Coca-Cola's Capri Sun was up an impressive 13.3% and sales of Britvic's Robinsons Fruit Shoot rose 9.3%.
Tightening purse strings have not helped the bottled water category, however, which has dropped 7.1% in value to £580.1m. "Bottled water sales are seasonal and the poor summer this year and the year before have had a negative impact on sales," admits Jenny Cooper, customer marketing controller at Danone Waters, which owns Volvic and Evian, down 10.2% and 2.8% respectively. "We are keen to restore some positive momentum to the category, which we have been doing with campaigns such as Evian Wimbledon and we will be bringing back the Evian Detox campaign in the new year as well," she adds.
It wasn't all doom and gloom for the clear stuff, however. Highland Spring was up 2.3%, Buxton 2.1% and Perfectly Clear from Silver Spring up 11.5%.
The star performer was Britvic's Drench, jumping two places from 12th to 10th, gaining 65.7% in value sales to £4.9m.
This accomplishment is a result of a push into grocery this May with the launch of a 1.5-litre and a two-litre bottle to join the original 500ml and 750ml packs that were aimed at the convenience and impulse channels. The brand's performance also resulted from a phenomenally successful campaign starring Brains from everyone's favourite 60s puppet show Thunderbirds, which prompted a 107% increase in sales.
By moving its Tropicana juice brand into the smoothie sector, PepsiCo plans to double the size of its juice business within three years. The launch of the five-flavour range was described by Waitrose as a five-star launch - and it put a real dent in Innocent's sales. With purse strings tightening, the question now is whether Tropicana smoothies can thrive without the aid of promotion.
Undoubtedly the growth of soft drinks for grown-ups in recent years informed both moves into 'natural' cola. A 5.2% sales-by-value increase to £111m for the adult sector suggests it is a trend set to continue.
The Appletiser brand was the biggest winner in the category this year, posting a sales increase of 32.5% to £11.1m for the Appletiser variant and a whopping 95% increase to £1.3m for Peartiser, which was launched in April 2007. Feel Good Drinks also had a good year, up 11.4%, and Merrydown's Shloer also managed double-digit growth, with a 9.7% rise to £22.9m following a six-figure marketing push targeting mums-to-be and a tie-up with online film rental company Lovefilm.
In keeping with this trend, premium cordial and pressé brand Bottle Green Drinks, which offers similar health and premium credentials to the successful adult soft drinks brands, managed the biggest rise in the squashes and cordials category, up 27.4% to £7.2m.
Other winners included mum's favourite Robinsons, up 4.2% to £192.8m, and the retro Vimto, up 1.7% to £17.8m. The category as a whole posted a 0.5% increase to £442.1m, a marked improvement on last year's 4.1% decline, but volumes were down.