pub, soft drinks, minerals, pub landlord advice

A Bluffer’s Guide To Soft Drinks

Pubs aren’t just about booze… soft drinks make up a significant part of any pub’s wet sales, and given the high level of gross profit one can achieve, knowing what’s what in the minerals sector is a must.

The first known reference of the term “pop”, as referring to a beverage, was in 1812 in a letter written by English poet Robert Southey; in this letter, he also explains the term’s origin:

“Called on A. Harrison and found he was at Carlisle, but that we were expected to supper; excused ourselves on the necessity of eating at the inn; supped there upon trout and roast foul, drank some most admirable cyder, and a new manufactory of a nectar, between soda-water and ginger-beer, and called pop, because ‘pop goes the cork’ when it is drawn, and pop you would go off too, if you drank too much of it.”

Since then the so-called “soft drinks” or “minerals” sector of the UK drinks’ industry has grown into a multi-billion-pound enterprise and you should make sure your pub is getting its fair share of this market by stocking a quality soft drink range and finding innovative ways to sell them.

The main categories of soft drink products are carbonates, fruit juices, dilutables, still and juice drinks, bottled waters and sports and energy drinks.

Health issues and changing lifestyles have influenced shifts in UK pub customer demand for alternatives to alcohol, and most significantly a shift from regular to low, no and mid calorie variants. Here’s a handy guide to the different types of soft drink you will probably sell in your pub.

Carbonated Drinks

Carbonates are the largest category of soft drinks in the UK, with a market share of 38%, covering products from colas, lemonade and fruit drinks, to flavoured waters, mixers and shandy. Low and no calorie drinks make up 45% of the category.

All carbonated drinks contain carbon dioxide to make them fizzy and they have been in existence since the late eighteenth century, when Dr Joseph Priestley discovered a means of artificially carbonating water.

Regionally, some flavours are more popular than others, e.g. Irn-Bru in Scotland and Vimto in the North West. Some flavours can be considered “heritage” brands such as Dandelion & Burdock and, if you can find it, Tizer.

You will probably stock carbonates in bottles or cans of ready-to-drink product or dispense them from a soft-drink system which combines a concentrated flavour syrup, water and carbon dioxide from a canister.

Fruit Juices

Fruit juice is 100% pure juice made from the flesh of fresh fruit or from whole fruit, depending on the type used. It is not permitted to add sugars, sweeteners, preservatives, flavourings or colourings to fruit juice.

Fruit juices are usually described as: “From concentrate”, “Not from concentrate”, “Freshly squeezed”.

Fruit juice from concentrate – juice is extracted from the fruit, and the water content is reduced (by evaporating off the water naturally present) in the country of origin. The concentrated juice is usually frozen and shipped to the country of use for packing. Fruit juice packers then reconstitute the juice by adding back the water.

Not from concentrate juice – juice is extracted from the fruit in the country of origin and then lightly pasteurised and frozen, chilled or aseptically transported to the country where it will be packed.

Freshly squeezed juice – juice is extracted from the fruit and used immediately.

Another recent variant is the “Smoothie”, which usually contains crushed fruit, purées and fruit juice to produce a premium fruit juice product. A smoothie labelled as “fruit juice” may contain no other added ingredients and is subject to the same regulations as fruit juice. Non-pure fruit smoothies may contain additional ingredients such as yoghurt or milk – all ingredients must be labelled.

Shelf Life

Juices have different shelf lives depending on the packing process used. Longlife juices usually keep for 6-12 months while the packaging is kept sealed, and because of the pasteurisation process applied and packing method, do not require chilling. Shortlife juices have a shelf life of up to 30 days and must be kept chilled.

In the UK freshly squeezed fruit juices must have a shelf life of no more than 14 days and undergo little or no pasteurisation treatment; they are usually packed and delivered to retailers within 24 hours.

Fruit juice is usually supplied in bottles (or cartons) of ready-to-drink product or dispensed from a soft-drink system which combines a concentrated juice and water.


The term “dilutables” includes squashes, cordials, powders and other concentrates that require dilution to taste by consumers.

The category has the second largest share of overall UK soft drink consumption. The main reason for the popularity of dilutables is that they offer low cost, easy to use, reliable standby products.

There is a dominance of low and no calorie variants within the category (87%), providing lower calorie refreshment for adults and children alike. Many retailers and major brands no longer sell a regular variant in their core squash range.

Dilutable products are sold in concentrate form and are then mixed with water for consumption. Historically the dilution rate was four parts water to one part concentrate, but half of the market is now ‘double concentrates’ or products that can be diluted 9 parts water to 1 part concentrate.

The most recent innovations in this sector are the super concentrates which are diluted I part concentrate with around 80 parts water.

The most popular dilutable flavour is orange, with a 35% share of the UK market followed by apple & blackcurrant, blackcurrant, lemon/lime and other mixed flavours.

The category has broadened to include premium products, tapping into a consumer demand for natural ‘healthy’ ingredients. These products have more adult flavours such as raspberry, elderflower and pomegranate.

You are likely to stock dilutables in bottles (or cartons) of concentrated product or dispense them from a soft-drink system which combines the flavoured concentrate and water.

Still and Juice Drinks

Still and juice drinks have an 8% share of the UK soft drinks market. They include juice drinks containing 1% to 99% juice, still flavoured waters, iced teas and non-fruit drinks.

Consumer desire for healthy alternatives has meant the consumption of still and juice drinks has greatly increased in recent years. The latest growth in this category has been in flavoured waters.

Other new products have emerged including ‘superfruit’ juice drinks, enriched waters, dairy and soy juice blends, all of which meet the consumer demand for nutritious refreshment with the benefits of added functionality.

Nectars are a specific segment of juice drinks that are controlled by legislation. The fruit juice content is dependent on the type of fruit. Citrus nectars must contain 50% juice, blackcurrant and others around 25% because the juices are not palatable to consume in higher volumes.

You will probably stock these as ready-to-drink bottled products.

Bottled Water

Bottled water is an alternative to tap water that consumers may choose for several reasons, including taste, quality and convenience. There are three main types of bottled waters: natural mineral water, spring water and bottled drinking water. And given tap water in the UK is potable (i.e. safe to drink), it represents the “emperor’s new clothes” of the soft drink market, which, in terms of running a sustainable pub business may prove problematic.

Natural mineral water and Spring waters are required to come from a specified underground source which is protected from any form of pollution and be bottled at source, be microbiologically safe without any treatment and comply with the Natural Mineral Water, Spring Water and Bottled Water Regulations

Natural mineral water must also have a guaranteed consistent chemical and physical composition, have the mineral composition on the label and receive no treatment (except for filtration to remove sand particles).

Spring waters differ as some treatments are permitted to allow the removal of undesirable substances and may include the removal of certain minerals and must also comply with the Drinking Water Regulations.

Bottled drinking water (which may also be referred to as ‘table water’) comes from a variety of sources including municipal supplies and, again, must conform to Drinking Water Regulations.

Any discernible flavour of bottled water is mainly due to its mineral content, e.g. calcium, magnesium and sodium. Waters from different sources have various mineral contents so taste different. All bottled waters may be either still or sparkling. Sparkling water contains carbon dioxide which may be naturally occurring or added during the bottling process.

You will probably stock bottled water in (yes you guessed it) bottles; however, there are bottled water systems on the market which take tap water, filter and refrigerate it, and then dispense it for bottling on a “demand basis”.

Sports Drinks

Sports drinks are functional drinks specifically designed to help athletes and other active people hydrate before, during and after exercise.

Rehydration is the major requirement during exercise as performance deteriorates rapidly with even low levels of dehydration. Minerals such as sodium and potassium are also frequently added to replace those lost through sweat. Replacing the electrolytes lost during exercise promotes proper rehydration, which is important in delaying the onset of fatigue.

There are three types of sports drinks all of which contain various levels of fluid, electrolytes and carbohydrate: hypotonic, isotonic and hypertonic.

Hypotonic – designed to quickly replace fluids lost during exercise. Hypotonic drinks have very low carbohydrate content and a higher concentration of salt and sugar than the human body.

Isotonic – isotonic drinks contains similar concentrations of salt and sugar as in the human body. They are designed to quickly replace fluids lost during exercise but with an increase of carbohydrate.

Hypertonic – these are designed to supplement the body’s daily carbohydrate intake. They contain high levels of carbohydrate to provide maximum energy uptake. They are best drunk after exercise as it is important to replace glycogen levels quickly after exercise. They have a lower concentration of salt and sugar than the human body. (There are very few of these currently in the market, and you are unlikely to stock them anyway.)

Sports drinks generally come in bottled ready-to-drink form.

Energy Drinks

Energy drinks provide functional benefits by boosting energy and alertness. The functionality is obtained from ingredients such as glucose, caffeine or taurine. Energy is traditionally obtained from sugars; typically, sucrose and glucose, and stimulant energy from caffeine, taurine and other ingredients including glucuronolactone, inositol and B vitamins.

Energy drinks which have a high caffeine content are legally required to be labelled as having a high caffeine content, the exact amount will depend on the recipe used but if it is over 150mg/l the amount will be declared on the pack.

Caffeine contents* for typical foods are shown below:

Product mg caffeine
cup of filter coffee (200ml) 90
an espresso (60ml) 80
cup of black tea (220ml) 50
regular cola drink (330ml) up to 40
regular energy drink (250ml) 80
plain chocolate bar (50g) 25

*(Source EFSA 2015)

There is much debate about whether energy drinks are safe. High caffeine soft drinks and their ingredients have been carefully studied by the regulatory authorities worldwide and have been recognised as safe. Latest reviews of the scientific evidence suggest that children can be more susceptible to the stimulant effects of caffeine than adults because they are smaller and unlike many adults, they are not used to it on a regular basis.  On a precautionary basis, it is recommended that high caffeine content soft drinks should not be consumed by children, so no Red Bull for junior then!

You are likely to stock energy drinks in cans, as this seems to be the favoured packaging of the manufacturers.

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