CHICAGO — Carbonated soft drinks, juice and milk are losing share to smaller, trending beverages, including ready-to-drink coffee, sparkling bottled water and non-dairy milk, according to a new report from Mintel, Chicago. In an effort to spark interest in stagnant categories, manufacturers are introducing hybrid drinks that combine flavor and functionality and blur beverage segment lines. An example is Mtn Dew Kickstart, a mashup of soda, juice and energy drink from PepsiCo, Inc., Purchase, N.Y.

Elizabeth Sisel, beverage analyst at Mintel

“Sales trends suggest the better-for-you movement is reshaping the non-alcoholic beverage industry, but brands should consider a stronger focus on communicating flavor, in addition to health-centric or function attributes, of cross-category products,” said Elizabeth Sisel, beverage analyst at Mintel.

V8 + Energy from Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., for example, combines a splash of juice and a boost of energy from green tea. Varieties include pomegranate blueberry, black cherry, peach mango, orange pineapple, blackberry cranberry and white grape raspberry.

“While the non-alcoholic beverage market is innovating to address consumer interest in healthy options, taste and flavor remain the most influential reasons for consumption,” Ms. Sisel said. “No matter how healthy a drink is, if it doesn’t taste good consumers won’t buy it, and the amount of available products on the market makes it easy for consumers to simply move to another option.”

The majority of consumers buy juice (66%), soda (64%) and dairy milk (64%), but sales for those categories stagnated or declined between 2014 and 2015. Soft drinks and juice both grew 0.1% during the period, while milk fell 7%. Meanwhile, energy drinks grew 8.9%, and coffee sales climbed 8.7%, suggesting consumers are seeking beverage alternatives.

“The emergence of cross-category beverages has led to the development of new drink fusions, and the array of beverage options can be overwhelming for some consumers,” Ms. Sisel said.

Two-thirds of U.S. consumers sometimes or frequently buy new or different beverages, 18% drink a variety of beverages, and 48% enjoy the wide selection of beverages available on store shelves, Mintel said. However, many consumers may feel overwhelmed by the number of options; 21% of consumers said there are too many beverage choices.

“This presents big challenges for brands looking to retain their customer base without polarizing those who are inundated by the growing selection of beverage options,” Ms. Sisel. “Adding to overall category confusion, some consumers struggle to identify certain drink fusions. It is essential that brands use clear messaging to illustrate what sets products apart.”

Two in five consumers are more likely to buy a new beverage offering after sampling the product in the store. Additionally, single-serve packaging may encourage trial of new beverages, Mintel said.

“There are many opportunities for beverage brands to engage with consumers and encourage trial of cross-category products,” Ms. Sisel said. “Our research suggests that brands should offer consumers the opportunity to taste-test new products before committing to a purchase, such as free product trial or in store sampling. This could help cut down on consumers’ product confusion and the sense of being overwhelmed by too many options.”

Click for a slideshow of cross-category beverages.