Character licensing activity is honing in on juices and juice drinks as the overall fortunes of carbonated lines languish.

Up until a few years ago fizzy drinks were the most likely to carry a cartoon or film character, but today healthier drinks are the ones making the character connection.

Katie Towers, in charge of marketing and branding at Buxton Foods, says it added a mini carton of apple and grape juice to its Peter Rabbit range, "to tap into the opportunities within the healthier character licensing drinks sector".

Recognising the opportunities in lunchboxes, Calypso Soft Drinks created two fruit juice drinks to tie-in with the film Pirates of the Caribbean film Dead Man's Chest - Tropical Caribbean Curse and Bootstrap Blackcurrant - with packaging featuring the film's skull and crossbones logo and an image of its star Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow.

"We see Pirates of the Caribbean remaining as the most exciting action-adventure kids franchise for the next three to four soft drinks seasons," says sales and marketing director Richard Cooke.

Also keen to capture a bigger slice of the market, Disney Consumer Products says it has a range of flavoured waters and smoothies in the pipeline.

The company is also looking at developing juicy waters - a blend of fruit juice and water.

Bio-synergy has created a range of fruit smoothies aimed at children. The addition to the company's Marvel Heroes branded products, which include vitamins and fruit bars, is positioned as a healthier alternative to fizzy drinks.

The superhero branding in particular - cartons carry images of Spider-Man, The Thing or The Hulk - give the drinks playground clout, the company believes, and appeal to an older age group than many other character-licensed products.

Innocent went down a different route by creating a group of fun and fruity on-pack ambassadors, including fruits dressed up as birds and Indians, for its children's smoothies range, proving that some brands can successfully create their own characters to address a younger audience.

"It is working for Innocent because it has already created its own world around its brand. Innocent is edging ever-nearer to being the brand synonymous with the smoothies category," say Andrew Levy, MD at Licensingpages. "The sheer exuberance and fun that surrounds its products transfer very naturally to this extension. With their irreverent personalities and tone of voice, these characters suit the brand perfectly." n