CHICAGO — Reduced packaging and not paying to ship water are the two most significant benefits to using beverage concentrates. This is true for both consumers and processors, with the form and variety of concentrates evolving as nutritional and taste preferences change.

While retailers continue to stock frozen juice and cocktail concentrates, it’s nothing compared to the variety offered a few decades ago. Still, the retail beverage concentrate business is not disappearing. Products have simply evolved into more complex systems that may now be found in both refrigerated and ambient aisles.

Most notable is the array of water-enhancing drops, which allow consumers to customize the flavor and sweetness of water, or their liquid carrier of choice. Some drops contain functional ingredients, such as caffeine for energy and electrolytes for hydration.

As the drops are highly concentrated, formulators must be careful when combining ingredients to ensure that if the consumer chooses to not follow consumption directions, they still have a satisfying sensory experience and do not receive too much of the functional ingredients.

“These are aggressive systems,” said Wade Schmelzer, principal food scientist, Cargill, Minneapolis. “Since they are sold as shelf-stable products with multiple servings in a package, it opens the door for potential temperature abuse if consumers have the concentrate sitting in a briefcase, purse or car console for an extended period and exposed to temperature abuse.

“A formulator has to consider all the ways the consumer might use the drops. We recommend including home-use evaluations in the development of beverage drops. Some of these products are a 100-times concentration, with directions saying use only two drops per 8 oz of fluid.”

With home-use tests, it may be discovered that two drops are not enough flavor or sweetness, especially if the drops are being added to bitter iced tea. If it is a caffeinated drop system, the iced tea may then be too energizing. The extra caffeine also may add to the bitterness, and then the consumer may want to compensate with more drops. This exacerbates the flavor issue and ultimately results in an unsatisfied consumer.

“Many functional ingredients don’t taste great,” Mr. Schmelzer said. “Formulators tend to try and mask the flavor with either the high-intensity sweetener system or flavor extracts. Formulating these drops is really quite the balancing act, which is why it’s really important to understand how they are being used and how much is being used.”

Thaiwala Thai tea concentrateUse may vary by flavor and functional ingredients. In the end, the specified number of drops listed on the bottle should do the trick.

Mr. Schmelzer said drops historically have relied on a sweetener blend of acesulfame potassium and sucralose. With the clean label movement, formulators now are exploring newer stevia extracts with less bitterness.

A new botanical extract from Cargill provides beneficial flavor properties as well as aids in the dissolution of steviol glycosides and enhances long-term stability of stevia products. The ingredient is expected to be available for commercial sale in early 2020.

“With the extract, formulators will be able to use stevia in highly concentrated formulations, creating solutions of up to 30% stevia,” Mr. Schmelzer said.

In addition to drop concentrates, ambient juice, coffee and tea concentrates are finding their way into beverage aisles. There are also premium perishable concentrates in refrigerated departments. The products allow consumers to create cafe-quality beverages customized to their taste preferences.

A new ambient product in this space comes from Thaiwala, Portland, Ore. The complex concentrate delivers the taste and aroma of Thai tea. Thaiwala brews black tea in small batches and combines it with Thai herbs, cane sugar, organic caramel, natural vanilla, pure cocoa powder and beta-carotene from carrots (for color) to create the flavored concentrate. Consumers may savor the traditional drink, hot or cold, by adding milk or a dairy alternative. The product may be steamed like a latte or poured over ice.

Ready-to-drink innovation

Many consumers do not want to be bothered with mixing or shaking a concentrate into solution. They prefer to purchase ready-to-drink (R.-T.-D.) beverages and let the processor do the blending. Concentrates often are used for ease of manufacturing and to ensure finished product consistency.

Fruit and vegetable concentrates often are used in beverages for color, flavor or nutrition. In some instances, the concentrate is the characterizing flavor of the beverage. In others, it’s a supporting flavor that may serve as a source of plant-based color. They are available in juice and puree format. Both are 100% fruit or vegetable, simply with water removed.

Fruit juice typically is clarified with the solids removed and then concentrated to the targeted Brix, a measurement of the sugar concentration of a viscous solution. Vegetable juice concentrate is typically not clarified and therefore has an opaque appearance. Puree concentrate includes the fruit or vegetable pulp and thus contributes natural fiber to the beverage application, while also adding body, texture and mouthfeel, explained Jose Guerrero, technical services manager, Kerr Concentrates, a business unit of Ingredion Inc., and based in Salem, Ore.

To make concentrates, fruit and vegetable juices go thought multiple water removal steps. The first pass is a valuable stream, as it contains the fruit and vegetable aromas and volatiles.

“We refer to this as the essence and add it back to the final concentrate to provide top notes and standardize the ingredient to a consistent sensory profile,” Mr. Guerrero said.

All of these concentrates, alone or in blends, may be diluted to single-strength juices, as defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Such beverages are simply labeled as the characterizing fruit or vegetable and as “made from concentrate.”

Depending on use level, fruit and vegetable concentrates may contribute antioxidants and vitamins. They also may allow for a fruit and vegetable serving content claim. Some are added solely for their natural sweetness and still allow for a no-added-sugar claim.

Jicama juice concentrate, for example, is made from 100% vegetable. It delivers a more neutral color and flavor profile with intense sweetness.

“Jicama juice concentrate is an alternative to traditional sweeteners that can support natural source claims,” said Leonardo Christol, marketing manager at Kerr Concentrates. “It helps beverage formulators to incorporate vegetable-based sweetness in a unique way to differentiate their products.”

In sensory profiling, jicama juice concentrate has flavor and sweetness impact close to that of apple and pear juice concentrates. The difference is jicama brings vegetables to the application, as it’s a concentrated source of potassium, a nutrient lacking in many diets, as well as an electrolyte for hydration, and contains other vitamins and minerals, even some plant protein.

Mr. Guerrero said customized blends of fruit and vegetable juice and puree concentrates increasingly are being blended with creamy bases such as milk, yogurt and plant beverages to make smoothies, nutritional shakes and meal replacements.

“We are the connection from the farm to beverage manufacturer,” he said. “The concentrate is a safe, consistent and ready-to-use ingredient. It eliminates measuring error and allows for on-trend flavor innovation without having to invest in fruit and vegetable processing.”

Gevalia cold brew coffee concentrateBrewed coffee and tea extracts function in the same manner. Suppliers do the brewing and concentrating and the beverage manufacturer mixes with a base and often customizes with other ingredients to develop an R.-T.-D. beverage.

Cold-brew coffee has expanded into mainstream retail and food service outlets during the past few years. Interest in the beverage is based on its smoother, less acidic taste and naturally sweeter, fruitier flavor, according to Synergy Flavors Inc., Wauconda, Ill. With consumers increasingly focused on health and wellness, and trying to reduce sugar, fat and calories, the sweeter perception of cold-brewed coffee is appealing, according to the company. The challenge for R.-T.-D. beverage manufacturers, and even home baristas, is the cold-brew process requires space, capital investment in equipment, and the time and energy required to soak batches of beans. Ingredient suppliers assist by doing the work and providing the industry with a concentrate.

The same is true with tea, said John Harper Crandall, vice-president of sales with Amelia Bay, Johns Creek, Ga. Brewed tea extracts are fueling innovation in the R.-T.-D. tea category. Formulators are combining brewed tea, botanicals and fruit juices to create signature flavors, sometimes with the inclusion of functional ingredients. Some are even being carbonated. Much like cold-brew coffee, quality brewed tea extracts allow for no- or low-added sweetener.

“Our brewed tea extracts are optimized for ease of use and stability,” Mr. Crandall said. “They can be used with hot- or cold-fill processes and packaged into any type of container.”

Pam Everett, vice-president of insights and product innovation, S&D Coffee & Tea, Concord, N.C., said coffee and tea extracts are being used in energy drinks as a natural source of energy. The company specializes in customizing extracts for specialty beverages. Trending R.-T.-D. coffee creations include concepts with protein, butter, probiotics and specialty oils. In R.-T.-D. tea, herbs and spices are common additions.

“We create the extract to make sure the desired flavors come through in the end product,” Ms. Everett said. “Every beverage is different. When making an R.-T.-D. latte, for example, the choice of extract varies by base. One coffee may work better with traditional dairy milk than with emerging alternative dairy, such as oat milk. We formulate the extract based on the finished product description and target nutrition profile.

“Once the extract is defined, the beverage manufacturer can be assured of producing a consistent product with every run.”