For as long as water tastes like water, there will be a need for squash and cordials.
Consumers buying into the concept of rehydration are turning to products that make the process more interesting and attractive than just drinking what comes out of the tap. According to data from TNS, in the year to the end of January squash grew 6.4% to £420m and accounts for 12% of the soft drinks market.
"Squash is a great way of getting water into children," says Vimto brand manager Claire Nield. "The health message means adults are getting into it too, so it's definitely a growing sector."
Bhavika Mistry, brand manager at Belgravia & Tobago cordials, agrees. "It's a strong market and one that's always going to be there because people are always looking for ingredients that are going to improve their health.
"Consumers are looking for products that deliver on taste but also have healthier criteria. This trend has led to an emergence in superfruits that contain healthier properties. Our target market has also developed more sophisticated tastes and is happy to experiment with exotic and unique flavours."
Andrew Marsden, marketing director at Britvic, owner of Robinsons, says the health message has been understated. "We see a lot of news about smoothies and their health properties, but they are 3% of the market," Marsden says. "Squash's role in keeping people hydrated has had little coverage by comparison."
The message across all squash and cordial companies is upbeat. "Squash is in a renaissance as far as Princes is concerned," says David Patmore, marketing director at Princes.
"We have seen a dramatic increase in own-label sales and a continued growth in the Princes-owned Jucee brand.
"Squash is seen as a value-for-money thirst quencher, drunk on a regular basis. Primarily purchased by mothers for kids, the introduction of no-added or reduced-sugar variants, such as those we have launched for Jucee, has encouraged mothers to keep buying squash as a healthy, long drink to hydrate themselves and their children.
However, there is still growth that can be achieved in the squash market, he believes. "The continued growth in the range of high-juice, fruit and barley and premium squashes available - many with contemporary flavours such as pomegranate, blueberry, raspberries and other combinations - is stimulating this interest."
Colin Seymour, category planning director at Ribena owner GSK, says growth in squashes will be realised once the true picture of the market is seen.
"There is a myth that squash is a drink for children," he says. "But it's not consumed by children primarily. The main consumers are the 18 to 30-year-old group. Part of developing that is about adding interest with flavours and tastes."
He cites Ribena's blueberry variant as a good example.
At Vimto, a new orange variant has been added. Nield is focusing more on health, but she's not going overboard. "Our products are as healthy as they can be and we are going to put Guideline Daily Amounts panels on all our products. But health has never been the number-one platform for Vimto. Our main driver is taste. So many brands are going hell for leather down the health route but they need to have some differentiation or they will get cannibalised by own-label products."
The other new theme in this market is convenience. Specialist producers are recognising the importance of offering on-the-go options to complement their existing portfolios.
Vimto is planning to bring out 320ml ready-to-drink bottles of its Belgravia & Tobago premium cordials later this month, while cordial specialist Belvoir Fruit Farms is also bringing out a healthy impulse variant with the launch of a new sub-brand of drinks called Good Stuff. n