How personalisation is reshaping the soft drinks market

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In Kamila Sitwell’s new book ‘Bespoke. How to radically grow your bar and restaurant business through personalisation’ she discusses how bespoke soft drinks are catering to a dire need of choice in the soft drinks market. 

Bespoke soft drinks 

Some of the most exciting innovations are to be found in the world of non-alcoholic drinks. Teetotal customers or the designated drivers on a night out no longer have to endure overly sweet, childish and synthetic flavours thanks to brands such as Seedlip, which has created ‘the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic drinks’. These drinks have been designed for discerning adult drinkers and contain aromatic blends of herbs, barks and peels. They can be enjoyed served with tonic and an appropriate garnish. 

Leo Robitschek, bar director at the NoMad bar in New York, has a passion for creating mocktails for those who don’t drink alcohol. In an interview published in Firstwefeast.com, he states: 

‘People see mocktails on our menu and wonder, “Are these for the kids?” No, they are pretty much for adults. The flavours are too complex – 99% of the time we sell them to adults.’ 

Other bartenders emphasise how non-drinkers don’t want to miss out. 

‘This bar is about having fun. For us, it’s about making sure that everyone has the ability to participate in that experience and feel that there’s something on our menu for them.’ 

—Erik Trickett, bar manager at Holiday Cocktail Lounge in the East Village, as reported by Forbes. 

Larger drinks companies, such as Fentimans, are also catering to the savvy consumer with their ever expanding Botanical Brewery range, which offers a variety of mixers and lower calorie premium drinks to appeal to many tastes. Fever Tree also recognised how a sourcing story can appeal. Launched in 2005, it has disrupted the traditional mixer market and has built its reputation for sourcing the highest quality ingredients, beginning with the specific quinine it uses from the Rwanda/ Congo border. It has since expanded its range to include lemonade and ginger beer, always with the emphasis on quality botanicals and authentic flavours. 

It’s been evident that current solutions to the soft drinks industry’s biggest problem – sugar – have been ineffective. According to industry reports, current soft drinks are perceived as ‘boring’, ‘childish’ and ‘overly sweet’. Soft drinks lack experience, theatre and ritual that other beverage categories such as coffee, wine, cocktails or spirits offer in abundance. As an entrepreneur myself, I had to put my money where my mouth was and test the market myself. In fact, I decided to do it my way. 

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After years of studying the drink industry, hospitality trends and the power of customisation, I firmly believe that the soft drink industry got it wrong and completely misdiagnosed the problem of sugar in the first place. Hence all the artificially-sweetened solutions, tasteless water-diluted creations and the natural but weird-tasting drinks that are not performing well in the market. Consumers are unimpressed with the nanny-state approach of applying punitive taxes, constant criticising and patronising finger -wagging. Sugar in moderation is not the problem; I believe the problem is the lack of control over how much sugar each person wants in their drink to fit his/her individual lifestyle, occasion, taste preference or dietary requirements. 

I set out to work on the world’s first bottled drinks which can be sweetened to taste, driven by the belief that the future of soft drinks is bespoke, and we need to take customisation to another level. My vision was that the Kolibri brand would allow the customer to adapt and customise the sweetness and flavour of their drink according to preference, while bringing a new ritual and an element of theatre to the tired category. 

Determined to listen to what the marketplace was telling me, I was meticulous with my research. My challenge was how to deliver a pre-bottled drink while offering a bespoke element. The innovation, when it emerged, was a lightbulb moment. The packaging includes a separate cap filled with agave which can be used to adjust sweetness and depth of flavour. Consumers are able to have their drink exactly how they like it, every time. 

I didn’t create Kolibri blindly; I was informed by consumer trends and the market in general. My belief is that bespoke is the future for restaurants and bars, but without having put my toe in the water myself, I’d lack credibility. 

I won’t pretend it is easy, but if you commit to integrating customisation into your own business, I believe you’ll find new and wonderful ways of aligning your brand with your customers. 

The above is an extract from Kamila Sitwell’s recently published book “Bespoke. How to radically grow your bar and restaurant business through personalisation”.  For more analysis and insights on how to respond in the competitive, changing world of hospitality by creating experiences, Bespoke will help raise the restaurateur’s game providing fresh insights needed to steer a course to customer delight, loyalty and ultimately business success.