Maine Man drinks firm launches first zero-sugar products
The lemonade producer fondly known as the Maine Man in thousands of Northern Ireland homes for decades has launched its first zero-sugar drinks ahead of a proposed sugar tax.
Family-owned Maine Soft Drinks has delivered favourites such as American cream soda and sarsaparilla in a door-to-door service for more than 65 years.
The delivery of the large bottles of lemonade became a weekly highlight and treat for children, and the firm still delivers more than 30 different flavours to around 40,000 homes across Northern Ireland.
The Ballymoney-based company aims to capitalise in the growth of the health-conscious consumers by introducing to the retail market two of its favourite flavours in zero-sugar versions.
One-litre plastic bottles of zero-sugar pineapple and cloudy lime have been produced for Tesco and local wholesaler Musgraves. They are the company's first official diet retail brands. The new drinks will use the low-calorie sweetener saccharin as a substitute for sugar.
According to Maine sales manager William McLaughlin, the new zero-sugar drinks are almost the same as the diet versions of minerals delivered to homes since 2006.
"The new minerals are in line with the market trend and government moves towards sugar-free products, and we've been talking to Tesco about sugar-free products for some time," Mr McLaughlin added.
"It is basically the same product as our diet drinks but rebranded as zero-sugar to appeal to both a male and female customer.
"Our research into other competitors which supplied both diet and zero-sugar drinks showed us that it was basically the same product, so it's really about Maine introducing this to a retail market. Our pineapple and cloudy lime are among the most popular in our range. We are also looking at other products in our portfolio."
Mr McLaughlin added that the firm's owners - brothers Bruce and Samuel Harkness - do not believe that the proposed sugar tax on UK food and drink products, to be introduced within the next two years, will have any great impact on its business.
"We don't expect any real measure of impact from the sugar tax, partially as we are relatively a small business," he said. "Also, the way that the Government is laying it out is that it will be measured on grams of sugar in each product, and our drinks are relatively low sugar, apart from the orange crush mineral which has 5% of orange juice, which has a high natural sugar content."
Maine is a fourth-generation family-owned business which employs more than 100 people at its Co Antrim base, which first started producing minerals in 1959.