Consumers are increasingly looking for more than just straightforward hydration from their soft drinks, and those that promise improved health and wellbeing are faring well as a result. In the US the functional waters market has more than doubled in size in the past 12 months and Britvic sales director Andrew Richards believes that the trend will be mirrored over here, as consumers look for health-enhancing products that they can swig on the go. Britvic added V Water to its portfolio earlier this year. The drink is made from spring water and a combination of vitamins, herbs and minerals to suit different occasions and moods.

Richards says: “Sales of functional water grew by 94% in 2007 and the sub-category presents a real opportunity for retailers to increase profits.” In the past few months alone, the market has come alive with new products promising to help fight flab, clear skin, cure colds and even relieve hangovers. But launching a new product is far from an easy job, says Dave Wallwork, managing director and co-founder of The Feel Good Drinks Company. “There are endless new brands being launched into this space and the challenge for each is the same – who will drink us, and why? The easy choice is to be differentiated by virtue of doing something specific and unique, but this has three risks.

One is believability – the consumer asking ‘Can a drink really do that?’ The second is taste, as many functional ingredients taste odd. The last challenge is breadth of appeal. A functional drink which is perfect for one consumer with a particular need will be inappropriate for most consumers, most of the time.”

The Feel Good Drinks Company is constantly looking for innovative ways to promote the benefits of its drinks. This year it linked up with the Trees for Cities charity in a tree planting partnership.

Another brand working the functional category is Ocean Spray. The brand was relaunched with a hot new look and convenient format earlier this year and packaging now shouts about the health-enhancing benefits of cranberries. Ocean Spray UK business development manager Jonathan Duffin explains: “We believe it’s brands that have clinical data to back up their stance which will drive the category growth and innovation this year.”

Despite the booming popularity of cranberry and pomegranate juices, Hibiscus Drinks Company managing director Anita Doran believes that consumers are ready for change. “A drink made from the hibiscus flower is not only contemporary, but leading edge,” she says. “Stocking up-to-the-minute products that are healthy and functional reflects well on a store’s image.”

Drinks that assist with weight loss look set to be the next big thing in functional drinks. According to Richard Abbott, commercial director of Infuzions – the company behind the Zipp Vitalize and Slenderize drinks – UK consumers spend £16bn a year on diet products, creating huge potential.