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  • MAP Asia Pacific Ltd

Beyond Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and juices: how Indians are loving a plethora of low-sugar beverages

Summers are here. And who can resist the temptation of sipping in on a chilled drink amid this sweltering heat. Thankfully, today we have multiple options for packaged non-alcoholic beverages, which are neither carbonated nor just fruit juices.

Back in the 1990s and even up until mid-2000s, most Indian households would have one of the four options – aerated drink, coconut water/butter milk, fruit juice, or the likes of Rooh Afza. If you are lucky, your host might have all four.

However, that has been changing slowly.

Millennials and Gen-Zers are consuming more beverages than the older generations. But they are also a lot more health conscious. The idea of having a drink along with your meals, at home or in a restaurant, is a lot more common now due to a change in eating habits and the rising per-capita expenditure. The combined result of these two consumer behaviours has led to a rise of low-sugar soft drinks.

“My go-to summer soft drinks are generally coconut water, butter milk and cold coffee. I have these beverages at least couple of times a week. Occasionally, which is like once in weeks perhaps, I will choose a Nimbooz, Thumbs-Up or fresh juice,” says Tanushree Agarwal, a 30-year-old Mumbai-based product designer.

Ask this question to any millennial, and chances are you will hear similar options. The reason is simple: Why consume sugar-loaded drinks?

The soft-drinks market

The total value sales of soft drinks in India in 2022 stands at USD3,479 million, which is nearly INR26,421 crore. The category grew almost 7% over 2021 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 4% to reach USD4,042 million by 2026, as per Statista.

India, despite being a tropical country, is one of the lowest beverage-consuming markets of the world. However, this may change soon. Majority of leading beverage manufacturers believe India has the highest growth potential. The country is the fifth-largest market for US-based Coca-Cola.

While the change is being driven by legacy companies like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Dabur, ITC, and others as they continue to have the major share of the soft-drinks market, the rising preference of consumers towards low-sugar content drinks has opened up the market to New Age players, who are circumventing the entire distribution network through D2C (direct to consumer) channels and winning consumers’ heart.

Carbonates fizzle out

The soft-drinks market is divided into two categories — carbonate (which is further divided into cola, and non-cola carbonates), and non-carbonate drinks. The non-carbonate segment is further divided into fruit juices, bottled water, concentrates (Rooh Afza and the likes), ready-to-drink tea (iced tea) and sports drinks.

Industry sources say carbonates have the primary contribution in terms of value to the soft-drinks market. In terms of volume, juices and bottled water contribute higher sales than carbonates.

Carbonates are a permanent fixture in any grocery outlet. Be it general-trade stores or modern grocery retailers such as the likes of Big Bazaar, the soft-drinks section is primarily occupied by various brands from Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Dabur, ITC, Parle Agro, and others. Almost every option available currently in the market are loaded with sugar. A quick glance at a carbonated beverages and fruit juices calorie label will show the amount of sugar present in both. And today’s consumers are reading these labels.



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