Soft-Drink Industry

The soft-drink industry comprises companies that manufacture nonalcoholic beverages and carbonated mineral waters or concentrates and syrups for the manufacture of carbonated beverages. Naturally occurring bubbling or sparkling mineral waters have been popular for thousands of years: the ancient Greeks believed that such waters had medicinal properties and bathed in them regularly; the Romans established resorts around mineral springs throughout Europe. In the 1500s the village of Spa in Belgium became famous for its waters, which by the early 1600s were sold, in bottles, as far away as London, Eng.

Development of the first man-made sparkling or carbonated water is credited to Joseph Priestley, the British scientist who discovered oxygen. In 1772 he invented a method of "pushing" carbon dioxide into water by dissolving it under pressure, thus creating fairly long-lasting bubbles. The technique led to development of the soft-drink industry. By the beginning of the 19th century, carbonated water was being made commercially in France and North America; shortly thereafter, flavours (normally fruit concentrates) were added to enliven the taste. In the 1820s, small carbonated bottling operations were established in Canada, producing carbonated drinks in refillable bottles which were merchandised as medicinal elixirs or tonics. Most soft drinks are still carbonated to give drinks a "tangy bite" and to stimulate the tongue. Furthermore, because scent is an important part of taste, the flavours carried as vapours in the bubbles enhance taste.

The principle of "pushing" carbon dioxide is still used, but now the water is first purified in a process known as "polishing." Cooled carbon dioxide is then injected at pressures of 275-550 kilopascals. Some of the early drinks bottled in Canada were called Birch Beer, Ginger Beer, Sarsaparilla, Sour Lemon, None-Such Soda Water and Cream Soda. The first carbonated beverage or "pop" bottles were sealed with corks held tightly in place with a wire binding. Because they had to be stored neck down so that the cork would not dry and allow the carbonation to leak away, they were manufactured with rounded bottoms. By the mid-1800s, soft drinks sold in Canada were packaged in 8-ounce (227.2 ml) round-bottom bottles for about 25 cents a dozen, except ginger beer, which was sold in draught form from wooden kegs. Wired cork closures were used until about 1884 with Codd's Patented Globe Stoppers (25 types in all). Such closures were replaced by the Hutcheson Spring Stopper. The crown cap was introduced around 1905 and improved versions are still widely used, although they are gradually being replaced, especially on larger containers, with reclosable screw caps.

Other packaging innovations since the mid-1960s include canned carbonated beverages, nonreturnable glass bottles and containers made from rigid plastics. However, an effort is being made, often through provincial legislation, to increase the use of returnable glass containers.

In the industry's early years the number of carbonated-beverage plants increased steadily, most serving small regional markets. In 1929 the industry was made up of 345 production plants and the value of shipments reached $12.3 million. By 1960 the number of plants had increased to 502 and the value of sales to $172.7 million. Subsequently, consolidation began, prompted by improved production, packaging and distribution facilities. By 1973, 337 plants were in production and the value of shipments was $484 million. In 1985, with sales of about $1.8 billion, the industry had 187 plants in production: Newfoundland had 3; PEI, 1; Nova Scotia, 7; New Brunswick, 8; Québec, 66; Ontario, 58; Manitoba, 7; Saskatchewan, 10; Alberta, 13; and BC, 14. Production volume has also increased dramatically: in 1939, soft-drink bottlers produced about 162 million litres of carbonated beverages; by 1967, production passed 758 million litres; in 1986, shipments were estimated at over 2.1 billion litres; and in 1998 that figure rose to 3.5 billion litres.

The industry is regulated by both federal and provincial agencies, 3 of the most important being CONSUMER AND CORPORATE AFFAIRS (responsible for the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act), HEALTH CANADA (which administers the Food and Drugs Act) and Environment Canada (which focuses on environmental matters). The industry is represented by the Canadian Soft Drink Association in Toronto and by several provincial associations.

The introduction of diet carbonated beverages has changed the industry's profile. Several years ago, in response to increasing consumer diet consciousness, the industry introduced the first successful sugar-free diet drinks using the artificial sweetener cyclamate. But questions were raised about the safety of this additive and, based on existing scientific data, Health Canada banned its use in Canadian commercial FOODS AND BEVERAGES. This decision, estimated to have cost the industry more than $15 million, was a setback to diet-drink development. The industry turned to saccharin, but this too was eventually banned. Now, a new sugar-free additive, aspartame, has been approved for use in diet soft drinks, and the cyclamate/saccharin situation is not expected to recur because aspartame consists of amino acids, which occur naturally. Aspartame-sweetened diet drinks have had a dramatic effect on the Canadian carbonated-beverage industry. Just before the saccharin ban in 1977, diet drinks accounted for about 10% of the soft-drink market; following the ban the diet share dropped to about 2%, consisting of beverages partially sweetened with small amounts of sugar. In 1982, the first full year that aspartame was used in Canada, diet drinks increased by 15.2% of total soft-drink sales, while the total soft-drink industry grew 8%. In 1987 total soft-drink sales increased 5.3% over 1986, while diet soft-drink sales increased by 10.7%. This single development has encouraged strong growth in the industry.