Click for a slideshow of botanical beverages.

Consumer interest in foods and beverages that may provide benefits beyond basic nutrition, commonly referred to as functional foods, is thriving. In the beverage business, a growing number of marketers are including botanicals in product formulations, as many plant-derived generally recognized as safe (GRAS) ingredients are well-known for providing health and wellness benefits.

In 2013, the International Food Information Council (IFIC), Washington, commissioned its eighth survey studying Americans’ awareness of and attitudes toward functional foods. The survey has been conducted every two to three years since 1998. Of the 1,005 U.S. adults surveyed, 61% like the idea of getting health-promoting nutrients and food components from fortified foods. Interestingly, the figure jumps to 72% when the foods are for parents and senior-age persons. Hence, it makes sense that many functional foods target older adults. This is something beverage marketers are aware of and many are turning to botanicals to deliver the functional benefits.

The benefits of botanicals

When it comes to food and beverage ingredients, the term botanical typically applies to ingredients derived directly from a plant, usually in the form of a liquid extract or dried leaf or other part of the plant. Botanicals exert varied functional benefits, ranging from boosting energy to assisting with relaxation, as well as enhancing memory, burning fat and immune system support.

“Energy-inducing botanicals such as guarana and yerba mate are responsible for pioneering the functional beverage market,” said George Pontiakos, president and chief executive officer of BI Nutraceuticals, Long Beach, Calif. “They are well known for providing near-instant effects after consumption.

“As busier lifestyles become the norm for Americans, an alarming rate of individuals are affected by insomnia and stress. Certain botanicals such as chamomile and passionflower have a relaxing effect. Consumer familiarization with energy drinks and their instantly gratifying results has caused an increase in interest and willingness to try other functional beverages, especially the growing sector of relaxing and de-stressing beverages.”

Mr. Pontiakos explained that solubility of botanical ingredients is the No.1 property to consider when creating a beverage.

“For most beverages, including shots, extracts or very small amounts of powders are recommended; water-soluble extracts are best to utilize,” he said. “However, for thicker and cloudier beverages, powders can occasionally be properly incorporated since thickening agents can suspend the powder and cloudy beverages can conceal that the powder is not completely soluble.”

In some instances, the botanical is added in its whole original form. For example, Mmm…Tea Co., Arlington Heights, Ill., offers a ready-to-drink unsweetened green tea and hibiscus variety that contains a real hibiscus flower. The flower is not only a source of color and flavor, as hibiscus also is associated with
supporting heart health and upper respiratory health.

Recent product innovations

“The growing trend of botanical-infused beverages is part of the revolution to be healthy and stay healthy,” said Dan Ehrlich, co-founder and chairman of New York-based Powerhouse Beverage Co., which markets the iQ juice line of functional beverages. “Words such as antioxidants, cleanse and detox have become the new buzz words for consumers seeking a better-for-you lifestyle.”

The refrigerated iQ juice line comes in 16-oz plastic bottles, with back labels carrying the tagline: “Live life smart.”

“We believe health is wealth,” Mr. Ehrlich said. “Our iQ juice blends are a delicious way to nourish the body and mind. We carefully source the best ingredients for function and flavor.”

The iQ juice line features products with a functional benefit. The Memory variety is based on apple cider, passion fruit juice and tart cherry juice, with gotu kola being the active ingredient. Gotu kola is a perennial plant native to Asia and South Africa and has been used to treat many health conditions. It has been shown to have a positive effect on brain function and the nervous system.

The iQ juice packaging identifies the beverage’s contents on the front of the bottle, communicating the benefits of each juice blend and the active ingredient the juice blend contains. For example, iQ juice Fat Burner is based on apple cider, passion fruit juice, red raspberry juice and lime juice and is enhanced with garcinia cambogia, which is a small, pumpkin-shaped fruit, also known as tamarind.

Grown primarily in Indonesia and Southeast Asia, garcinia cambogia works in three ways, Mr. Ehrlich said. It suppresses appetite; burns stored fat and converts it to energy; and inhibits the conversion of sugars and starches to block new fat storage in the body. The company communicates to customers that for best results they should drink half of a bottle (8 oz) about 30 minutes before afternoon and evening meals to reduce overeating.

Ioana Banea, marketing director at SC Dacardi Impex SRL in Romania, a company that introduced a relaxation drink named Doctor Stress at the Anuga expo, held Oct. 10-14 in Cologne, Germany, agrees that botanicals in beverages are a booming trend.

“The trend of botanical-infused drinks is related to the growing attention given to health and wellness,” Ms. Banea said. “Today’s consumers want lower-calorie drinks that are all-natural and healthful. Plant extracts can assist. In fact, we go as far as using stevia plant extract as a no-calorie sweetener and brewed yellow tea as the beverage base.”

A key botanical in Doctor Stress is aloe vera, which contains more than 200 active components, including vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes. Aloe vera has been used as a medicinal for various topical ailments and increasingly is being consumed as an immune system booster. Aloe vera has adaptogenic properties, which means it increases resistance of an organism to adverse influences such as infection or stress. It is also a natural anti-inflammatory and has been shown to promote healthy cell growth. Studies have shown that when consumed over a period of time, users report a greater sense of well-being, with more energy and less anxiety.

“Aloe vera is also one of the few plant extracts that contains vitamin B12, which helps with brain and nervous system function,” Ms. Banea said.

Doctor Stress will start appearing in European markets next month. Other botanicals in the drink include chamomile, ginseng, gingko biloba, Melissa officinalis, nettle and verbena. Some of the ingredients, in particular chamomile, ginseng and gingko biloba, are well recognized in the health and wellness community for their soothing properties. The others are not as common.

“Melissa officinalis is an herb that belongs to the mint family and is used to treat anxiety, sleep disorders and wounds,” Ms. Banea said. “Many people know nettle as ‘stinging nettle,’ an annoying garden weed that delivers a painful bite.

“However, once you get over its negative attributes, one finds a plant that provides an extract with many powerful, positive benefits, including the fact that it is loaded with nutrients,” she explained. “Nettle leaf extract contains vitamins, minerals and protein.”

And the winners are…

A number of botanical-infused beverages recently have been recognized for their innovative formulations. For example, Jin+Ja from Canada Enterprises L.L.C., Wallingford, Pa., is a sofi Award Winner for Outstanding Cold Beverage of the Year by the Specialty Food Association Inc., New York. Reuben Canada, company founder and chief executive officer, said the accolade for the beverage validates his decision to leave a career as a patent attorney to pursue creating an invigorating beverage that provides health-supporting benefits.

He cashed out his 401(k) and began experimenting to create a beverage that was both flavorful and healthy. His eureka moment came with ginger, a taste, he said, that reminds many people from diverse backgrounds of family recipes. With non-carbonated water as a base, Jin+Ja contains six ingredients: cane sugar, cayenne pepper, fresh ginger, green tea, lemon and mint.

Jin+Ja offers something Mr. Canada described as a three-dimensional drinking experience.

“Most drinks are two-dimensional; you need spice, carbonation or alcohol to make it come alive,” he said. “We use spicy botanicals.”

Mr. Canada explained that he is captivated by the correlation between strength of sensation and the propensity of ginger and peppers to alleviate chronic illness.

“It seems the spicier the sensation, the better for you,” he said.

“Spices and botanicals have a rich heritage throughout the world and are a part of the essence of many cultural experiences that a growing number of consumers are exploring,” Mr. Canada said. “And with a growing number of consumers taking a more active role in their health and doing their own research on-line, they are seeking out beverages containing beneficial ingredients. Today’s consumers are very familiar with the power of ginger and cayenne. Rather than go into specific details about the different illnesses each can address on product packaging or marketing information, we communicate to the consumer that these ‘real’ ingredients are inside the bottle.”

The real ingredients provide a balance of flavor and sensation to stimulate the body as well as the senses, Mr. Canada said.

“It’s a unique beverage, because it can be consumed cold or warmed up,” he said. “It also brings new life to smoothies and even cocktails.”

The BerryWhite line of organic drinks from the London-based namesake company received the Best Juice Drink award at the Beverage Innovations Awards at drinktec in Munich, Germany, this September. Founder and c.e.o. Andrew Jennings sold his first BerryWhite bottle 18 months ago and since has experienced rapid growth within the United Kingdom and in other markets. The shelf-stable product is being exported into 23 countries, with more on the horizon after exhibiting at Anuga.

Each of the four offerings in the BerryWhite line of non-carbonated fruit juice- and white tea extract-based beverages is enhanced with superfruits and/or botanical extracts, such as echinacea, ginger and guarana.

“Consumers will continue to seek out food and beverage products that provide some form of health benefits,” Mr. Ehrlich said. “It’s the Dr. Oz effect. He communicates to millions of loyal fans about the benefits of plant-based remedies and health boosters, raising consumer awareness. Consumers are starting to understand that plant-based ingredients help one live healthy and have a greater chance at long-term quality of life.”

Mr. Pontiakos concurred, “As individuals become more concerned about their well-being, they are paying closer attention to the foods and beverages they consume. A shift in interest to healthier, more natural beverages will continue to grow the botanical-infused beverage business.”