Liquid Thinking

Next Generation Drinks

How are soft drinks targeting Generation Z

8th June 2022

It’s a tragic time for all Millennials. We’ve graduated. We’re too old to even be widely slagged off in the media anymore, for anything from a love of avocado, to buying too much coffee. Our purchasing decisions are less interesting, our power to shape the zeitgeist, diminished.

Shiny, new Gen Z are the new darlings of marketing and innovation departments everywhere. And as the first generation born entirely in the digital age – between 1997-2012 – they present a unique challenge, and a unique opportunity. And frankly, as half of the generation are still merrily receiving pocket money, they’re probably some of the least squeezed by the cost of living crisis.

Do brands yet understand them? Broadly, Gen Z – or digital natives if you like – are seen as more progressive than those that came before. They’re more politically and socially aware, engaged with everything from sexual and racial equality, to the latest trends. And they’re considered, taking time to look at the options before committing to a purchase.

In short, they can’t be patronised, or talked down to. And that’s something that’s dramatically changing the way the youngest of Gen Z are being spoken to by brands. Let’s not forget, the very youngest of this generation are currently a very tender 10 years old.

Time for a revolution?

Children’s drinks then, are having a makeover. What’s becoming clear is that brands have adopted a new, more sophisticated language to talk to such consumers. And frankly, they’ve had to. From visual cues to ingredients, children’s drinks are beginning to look very, very different. And yes, that goes beyond a notable absence of plastic bottles.

Take new British brand, Jamu Wild Water. It doesn’t look much different to some of the ‘please-please-Instagram-me’ pastel-hued hard seltzer and healthier soft drinks aimed at adults. And that’s rather the point. Also, just look at those flavours; Sparkling Raspberry with Elderberry & Mallow, Sparkling Lemon with Dandelion & Nettle, and Sparkling Blood Orange & Echinacea. Gone are the single flavour, overly sweet syrups. Here to stay, are more sophisticated and appealing flavour options.

Designed to be a healthy alternative to the usual sugar-laden drinks aimed at children, they’re made with 100% natural ingredients, and are preservative free, contain no sugar, and no artificial sweeteners. With added vitamins (vitamin C, zinc for immunity support, prebiotics, and fibre), they’re of course aimed at the purchasing concerns of health aware parents far more than thirsty kids. Though it has to be said, Gen Z are a health-conscious bunch.

According to its makers, the aim of the brand is to “help children go wild! To help ignite their interest in the outdoors and build a life-long appreciation of the nurturing benefits of nature for mind and body”. So, we see a form of nostalgia – always a theme at the moment – play out again. But its tailwinds this time are pushing us in a forward-facing direction.

Playful…. but make it fashion

A bit more playful but no less stylish, is Australian brand Aquabud. Another functional drink, its electrolyte-infused water provides vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and zinc to kids aged two and up, and again is low calorie, and free from anything, say it slowly…. unnatural. Because fizzy drinks are evil, the website suggests, all their drinks are non-carbonated.

But your kid loves fizzy drinks and juice? No problem. There’s a range for that too. Hint is a carton juice like you used to know, but doesn’t actually contain any juice. Instead, its calorie-free, preservative-free, vegan, gluten-free, and kosher waters contain fruit essences instead.

US brand Health.Ade has the Pop range, which is designed to satisfy cravings for sugary soft drinks, and again, has given the flavours a slight upgrade. There’s Pomegranate Berry, Ginger Fizz, Strawberry Vanilla, Lemon + Lime, Apple Snap, and Grape. Skewed at a slightly older demographic, they’re designed for a healthy gut with prebiotics, detoxifying acids, and natural antioxidants.

Bottled experience

But what about for the older end of this generation that are in their early 20s? Well, it seems to be all about experiences. Though of course, aesthetics – read as, carefully curated work by top branding design agencies – are vital to this consumer, so is action; doing things, experiencing things. Coca-Cola’s solution has come in the form of its first release under its new Creations innovation department.

To put it in their own words, “Coca-Cola Creations will take the iconic Coca-Cola trademark and lend it to new expressions, driven by collaboration, creativity and cultural connections. Through limited-edition, sequential releases, Coca-Cola Creations will introduce new products and experiences across physical and digital worlds”. Got that?  

Or put much more succinctly by Oana Vlad, Senior Director for Global Brand Strategy: “We wanted to connect with and celebrate the experiences that bring joy to young people today.”

The first product launched is Starlight, “created with the vision that – in a world of infinite possibilities – somewhere in our universe, another kind of Coca-Cola, another way of connecting with each other might exist”. With a reddish hue, the flavour notes of the product are said to be reminiscent of stargazing around a campfire. And there’s a cooling sensation “that evokes the feeling of a cold journey to space”.

Looking ahead

It's an interesting approach. Coca-Cola knows it has a different job on its hands to build brand loyalty across this infinitely more health-conscious generation, less likely to have routinely sipped sodas as a child, than any other. So it makes sense that it is stepping outside of itself, and entering a more conceptual, experiential space; don’t look at the man behind the curtain. It doesn’t hurt that the ombre, night sky packaging sets it apart too. The Creations team promises further unexpected releases.

It’s abundantly clear that brands are having to move with not just a shift of generations, but a shift in the currency most brands use to attract consumers; aspiration. Is an aspirational lifestyle still about riches and shiny things? Well, some things will endure. But increasingly, and especially to younger generations, wealth is about time, health, and experiences. Expect more brands, through both their refocused pack design, to offer functional ingredients, and more natural flavours, to target a generation unlike any other, both right now, and in the future.

Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?

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