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Changing Trends: How adult soft drinks went mainstream

The soft drinks category has historically been focused on delivering drinks that are child focused. At Gusto Organic we have always seen our customer base as adult. Going back to our origin in the 1990’s we were making organic energy drinks that tasted delicious, stimulated with Amazon guarana or cola nut and had botanicals from traditional medicine such as Siberian and panax ginseng that were used for wellbeing. 

Now in 2020, Gusto Organic now have a range of eight drinks that have been created with the adult consumer in mind, with fine organic ingredients, a focus on ethical sourcing and flavour profiles that are complex and layered. We don’t use refined sugar and we don’t obsess about low calorie drinks – our range are all less than half the calories of beer or wine and at 100 calories or less a bottle; we let our adult consumers make informed choices.


Focusing on the adult consumer has been incredibly liberating in our approach to formulation and design and has enabled our brand to nearly double in turnover every year for the last three years.

2019 felt like a tipping point in the growth of the non-alcoholic drinks category. ‘No and Low’ feels like it has found its place, it has a voice, a purpose, it even has spawned an annual conference and a new trade show in 2020 in London backed by industry giants The Grocer and The Morning Advertiser. The needs of the consumer have changed as more and more adults embrace a more mindful approach to their relationship with alcohol – the statistics are out there and identify a generational shift away from heavy drinking young adults and a maturation of drinking patterns with older consumers who are recognising the benefits of alcohol awareness and consuming less or giving up completely. The latest data from the office of national statistics from 2017 indicates 20% of adults are tee total with the 16 to 24 year old category less likely to drink than any other.

Recognising an adult soft drinks category and creating debate and engagement around this space has been exciting for both consumers and drinks brands, choice is back on the menu as brands develop soft drink propositions for the adult pallet. At Gusto Organic we look through an adult lense at our range and in 2019 created Sicilian Lemonade with Yuzu.  

Sourcing cold pressed yuzu peel and fresh yuzu juice delivered complex and fragrant lemonade far removed from the big brand competition. Our 2019 Great Taste award winning Fiery Ginger with Chipotle is perhaps the quintessential adult soft drink, the heat and smoke from Mexican chipotle and the layers of ginger from Nigerian and Indonesian ginger extract, play around the pallet and tweak the taste receptors, it’s a drink that takes its formulation queues from wine and spirit production – not too sweet, complex flavours with a subtle after burn of chilli.

With adult soft drinks the rule book has changed, we’re seeing sour, bitter flavours, more unusual citrus, fermentation and acidulation with vinegar creating engaging flavours that create very compelling alternatives to wine, beer and long drinks.  

Health and ethics have their role too, our Organic Real Cola is an unashamedly premium take on the world’s best selling sparkling soft drink. We strip our phosphoric acid, linked to reduced bone mass and swap it with organic lemon juice, we remove synthetic caffeine, found in mainstream cola and energy products and replace with African cola nut that is used ceremonially in East Africa and a potent source of stimulant ‘theobromine’ that literally translates as ‘Food of the Gods’. We sweeten with Fairtrade agave, an incredible 15,000 agave project benefits in Jalisco Mexico and we add depth and warmth with Fairtrade organic Madagascan vanilla. 


How does this fit with emerging trends you might ask? Well, our Real Cola is our best seller, it’s also the most expensive cola on the market at nearly £2 a 275ml bottle. Anecdotal research tells us that our customers are drinking less and drinking better, they want plant based, they don’t want weird chemicals and they are running a mile from artificial sweeteners.   

Better crafted higher price point soft drinks have the potential to invigorate a stagnant soft drinks fixture in grocery stores and give bars, pubs and restaurants unique products with high cash margins that help deliver alternate revenue streams as alcohol sales decline.

Back in 2012 when we bought back and relaunched the Gusto Organic brand, our adult soft drinks proposition was something of a lone voice. Spinning forward to October 2019 and London has just had its first No and Low Alcohol Summit. Two days of speakers and delegates from Diageo, Fever Tree, Seedlip, Pernod Ricard and a clutch of brands to watch such as Ceder’s, Caleno, Gusto Organic, Big Drop, Botanic Lab and Real Kombucha. What was particularly exciting to witness at the summit was how a room of alcohol and alcohol-free brands could be brought together to talk about better drinks choices for the adult consumer. The debate has matured into a more inclusive space where non-drinkers and alcohol consumers can explore ways to re-shape the drinks offer. Cutting back on alcohol should not exclude customers from great nights out and delicious drinks.  

The Club Soda movement with over 50,000 members take a non-judgemental and supportive tack on the issue of alcohol, helping members across the spectrum from those seeking to reduce alcohol consumption to those who have completely cut it out. Founder Laura Willoughby and team are highly vocal fans of adult soft drinks and campaign for better choices in bars and restaurants, they have helped re-position the perception of alcohol-free and working with large chains and multiples are steering buyers in to this fast expanding sector.

There is no doubting the heat in the no and low sector – 2020 will see a raft of new CBD drinks launching in the UK, despite the current legal grey area around this ingredient. We’ll see functional beverages continuing to grow and push the envelope on ingredients, looking over at the USA where drinks containing THC in place of alcohol are being developed and we can see a direction of travel with adult drinks that challenge conventional perceptions and push at the borders of legality. Spin forward 15 or 20 years and will we be drinking beverages that contain micro doses of psychoactive plants and mushrooms? I think we probably will.  

Alcohol will always have its place, I don’t subscribe to the view that the last orders bell has sounded on alcohol consumption, however it may have some serious competition from the forests, orchards and hedgerows as ancient plant medicines are re-discovered and re-imagined…

William Fugard is co-founder and chief flavour-smith at Gusto Organic

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