Promoting the beverage category's healthy halo

by David Philips
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• A study conducted in Japan and published this past January in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows further evidence that green tea contains antioxidant compounds that may help ward off cell damage that may lead to disease.

• vitaminwater, a business unit of The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, has introduced a flavor that contains 10% coconut water.

While green tea and coconut water are vastly different ingredients, both play a role in health and wellness beverages. These types of beverages are difficult to categorize, but emerging in a variety of bev-erage segments, including bottled teas, waters, juices and protein drinks. Taken together they represent a fast-growing part of the beverage industry benefitting from product innovation, trend-driven ingred-ients and research that helps provide a healthy halo.

“In general, the health and wellness market is under-developed at this point,” said Gary Hemphill, director of the Beverage Marketing Corp., New York. “By that I mean that the market is moving in that direction; consumers want healthier refreshment. It will be around for a long time, and I think we are going to see more innovation around the corner.”

That innovation will continue, so long as ingredient companies like Fortitech, Inc., Schenectady, N.Y., and its beverage marketing customers like vitaminwater continue to see an opportunity.

“Many consumers are focused on weight management, and other, more specific, health concerns, and with that, health and wellness beverages will stay strong,” said Cathy Arnold, a senior formulator with Fortitech. “Beverage makers will continue to fortify all sorts of beverages with things like protein, for satiety, for instance.”

The term alternative beverage is used to define a variety of beverage types outside of the traditional categories like carbonated soft drinks, water and 100% fruit juices. Whether the term is used or not, this is where the growth is, said Shanna Smidt, business development manager, Glanbia Nutritionals, Fitchburg, Wis.

“People are consuming more refreshment beverages, and they are more focused on the healthier alternatives rather than carbonated soft drinks,” she said.

Coconut water remains popular

Coconut water is currently one of the more popular beverage trends, with the largest brand holder, Zico, recently joining the Coca-Cola portfolio of alternative beverages. vitaminwater’s new flavor, Coco-Refresh, is a pineapple-coconut blend made with 10% coconut water. It was introduced this month in select markets.

New evidence about green tea, such as the Japan study, builds on the already well-established reputation of the ingredient, said Nithya Hariharan a marketing analyst at DSM Nutritional Products, Parsippany, N.J.

“While green tea launches are not hitting the same peaks they did in the later 2000s, product launches have stayed at relatively high numbers over the past few years,” Ms. Hariharan said, citing data from Mintel International. She anticipates tea will continue to rise, noting that Euromonitor saw 8.5% annual growth for 2011.

“Furthermore, gourmet quality tea leaves could create a niche market for consumers willing to pay more if they believe strongly in the healing properties of tea,” she said.

Fortitech offers custom nutrient blends for food and beverage manufacturers. The blends include vitamins and minerals, first and foremost, but also ingredients such as botanicals with antioxidant properties.
With consumers paying more attention to the ingredient content of the foods and beverages they consume, manufacturers are looking to offer more beneficial ingredients, and less of those that have a negative connotation. Lately, they also are looking to create beverages that address a specific health condition, Ms. Arnold said.

“It’s kind of the tip of the iceberg so far, but we are seeing specific ingredients addressing health concerns that are a little more particular and specific,” she said. “This includes things like weight control, heart health, diabetes, blood sugar, immunity and even cognitive function.”

Protein beyond sports

Glanbia specializes in proteins, primarily dairy proteins. As demand has increased for proteins the company has continued to develop whey proteins as well as vegetable-derived alternatives, and identified new applications for beverages. The spectrum of beverages that are including protein continues to broaden, Ms. Smidt said.

“It is definitely becoming much more of a mainstream interest, rather than something limited to sports nutrition,” she said. “We are seeing the trend continue, with companies looking to get protein into a variety of beverages. A lot of it has been in juice-based beverages, either clear or smoothies, and in the dairy-based beverages, but not so much in tea or water.”

Health and wellness insight

Exploring the opportunities and challenges specific categories face trying to capture a slice of the healthy beverage category.

• Tea: Tea enjoys a reputation of being healthy, particularly when it comes to green tea. Green tea is expected to continue to be an important ingredient in a variety of beverages.

• Water: Gary Hemphill, director of The Beverage Marketing Corp., called bottled water “the ultimate health and wellness beverage,” and noted that it enjoys a significant market share. Adding vitamins, botanicals and flavor without calories has maintained interest in the category.

• Juice: Fruit juices have a history of being perceived as health and wellness beverages, but the high calorie count of some fruit juices and the amount of sugar in some products has had a negative impact on the category. The products that offer added nutrients and fewer calories show growth potential, as do vegetable juices.

• Dairy: Dairy-based beverages may always be a small niche, Mr. Hemphill said, because they simply don’t score high in refreshment. Still, high-nutrient values mean some opportunity for products like chocolate milk and kefir, especially if they include added fiber, protein, or probiotics.
• Sports and energy beverages: The products speak to specific demographics and usually feature ingredients and nutrients that promote hydration or energy.

• Vitamins and minerals: Consumers expect to find added vitamins and minerals in certain foods and beverages, and that continues to be a point of differentiation in the market. Good examples include vitamin C and calcium, especially for products geared toward children. Cathy Arnold, a senior formulator with Fortitech, Inc., said other nutrients such as antioxidants and botanicals now have an important role in health and wellness beverages, and vitamin E has been included to promote improved heart health.

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