As Americans strive to manage their health and wellness regime, many will turn to nutrient-packed, ready-to-drink beverages. The grab-and-go convenience products assist consumers with maintaining resolutions, whe-ther they are related to the beginning of a new year or ongoing.

Such beverages typically do not target one concern, such as energy, heart health or weight loss. Rather, they provide a holistic solution to replenish and revitalize, addressing many health and wellness concerns by enhancing overall well-being, sometimes targeting a specific demographic.

“Consumers share in a broadened, personal, proactive wellness perspective,” said Laurie Demeritt, chief executive officer of The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash. “During the past decade, we have observed a shift away from a perfunctory, ascetic, reactive and compliant notion of wellness to one that is more experiential, positive, holistic, proactive and self-assessed. There has been a cultural shift — now complete for all intents and purposes — from ‘health’ to ‘quality of life,’ from reactive health to proactive wellness.”

Within the beverage sector, there are many “proactive wellness” products in the marketplace, with many more likely to arrive on store shelves at the beginning of the year. And they are selling.

Dollar sales for the category of ready-to-drink “wellness and functional” beverages grew 3.9% from 2011 to 2012, making it a $65.3 billion category, according to the Beverage Marketing Corp., New York. The entire $143.5 billion ready-to-drink beverage sector increased only 2.4%.

“We aggregated products with health and wellness attributes and compared them to all others,” said Gary Hemphill, managing director of research for the B.M.C. “Products with strong health and wellness attributes are outperforming the market. They are growing at a faster pace than all other products.”

Defining health and wellness

Mr. Hemphill said the category of health and wellness beverages is a broad classification and somewhat subjective. However, for the most part, one attribute that most of the beverages have in common is the inclusion of antioxidants … either in the form of a whole food, usually a juice, or an added nutrient, such as a plant extract or vitamin.

This is because antioxidants help the body fight damage from free radicals, which may wreak havoc on the body by causing cells to grow and reproduce abnormally. Free radicals result from oxidation, a natural process that occurs when people digest food, exercise or even breathe. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals in the body and keep the body in a healthier, more balanced state.

Antioxidant awareness

Even though nutritionists, trainers and health professionals emphasize the importance of antioxidants in maintaining overall health, most Americans are still unclear about the life-saving molecules, according to a new survey for MonaVie, a nutritional products company based in Salt Lake City.

The survey revealed that 92% of respondents could not provide an accurate description when asked what an antioxidant is. Compounding the result, 91% could not recognize one or more sources of foods rich in antioxidants, even though 75% said they actively try to eat foods full of the nutritional molecules. Overall, the survey exposed Americans as misinformed and confused about such vital dietary need.

Additional findings on consumer consumption of antioxidants comes from the International Food Information Council (IFIC), Washington, which conducted its eighth survey earlier this year studying Americans’ awareness of and attitudes toward functional foods. When asked specifically about antioxidants, 34% of respondents indicated they believe they consume enough to reap a benefit. Thirty-eight per cent said they consume antioxidants but not enough to be beneficial. The others did not know.

There’s an opportunity to educate consumers about the health and wellness benefits of consuming more antioxidants, as well as developing convenient beverages that serve as a delivery vehicle for the nutrients.

Bai Brands L.L.C., Hamilton, N.J., markets Bai 5, a line of natural, 5-calorie, antioxidant-infused beverages. The beverages are infused with coffee fruit, also known as coffee berry.

Previously discarded as a byproduct of coffee production, the fruit surrounding the coffee bean has been recognized as an antioxidant with robust wellness qualities. This includes healthy energy, immune support, weight management, joint support and cognitive function.

The Bai 5 beverages are flavored with fruit juices and sweetened with a blend of erythritol and stevia. Varieties include Brasilla blueberry, Congo pear, Costa Rica clementine, Ipanema pomegranate, Limu lemon, Malawi mango, Molokai coconut, Panama peach and Sumatra dragonfruit.

KonaRed Corp., Kalaheo, Hawaii, makes a namesake beverage that also uses coffee fruit. The company specifically uses coffee fruit grown in Kona, Hawaii, that is processed using the company’s proprietary technology.

“We are witnessing a dramatic surge of growth in the health and wellness segment of consumer products,” said Shaun Roberts, president of KonaRed. In addition to the KonaRed Hawaiian Superfruit Antioxidant Juice beverages, the company also markets a powder that may be mixed into the consumer’s liquid or food of choice.

Both beverage varieties are sweetened with stevia, with a light version also including monk fruit. In addition, they contain pineapple or apple fruit juices.

Mathis Martines, senior category manager of innovation, The Kroger Co., Cincinnati, described KonaRed, as “one of the pioneers in health and wellness beverages.”

“Coffee fruit is an untapped and powerful source of antioxidants,” Mr. Martines said. “It’s one of the most potent sources that exist.”

Fruits with benefits

While coffee fruit is starting to be noticed by mainstream consumers, superfruits such as acai, mangosteen and pomegranate are likely the most familiar fruit sources of antioxidants for consumers, as many juice marketers have invested a great deal to get the antioxidant message to resonate with consumers. Such superfruits contain a variety of good-for-you compounds. Specifically, many contain flavonoids, such as anthocyanins, which give blueberries their deep color and also provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity.

The superfruit phenomenon followed the superfood concept, which became popular around 2004, when Steven Pratt published the book, SuperFoods Rx. The book lists blueberries as a superfood due to their high antioxidant levels and potential to reduce the effects of age-related loss in brain function.

One of the original health and wellness fruit juices comes from cranberries. The proanthocyanidins found in cranberries have been shown to assist with bladder health. Specifically, the antioxidant compounds reduce adhesion of bacteria to the bladder, thus preventing and assisting with the healing of urinary tract infections.

An up-and-comer is tart cherry juice. Loaded with red-pigmented anthocyanins, tart cherry juice has been shown to assist with reducing inflammation, and is used in the treatment of arthritis and gout. Athletes also are learning tart cherry juice may support muscle recovery.

Antioxidants outside the box

Tea long has been recognized as a health and wellness beverage. In the past five years, there have been more than 5,600 scientific studies on tea, forming a substantial body of research supporting this belief. Among the findings is research suggesting green tea and its inherent caffeine may trigger energy expenditure that may promote weight loss. Another study illustrates how tea may help counter the adverse effects of high-fat foods on blood vessels, which could possibly reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, the most common cause of death in the United States.

“There is now an overwhelming body of research from around the world indicating that drinking tea can enhance human health,” said Jeffrey Blumberg, professor, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and Director, Antioxidants Research Laboratory, Jean Mayer U.S.D.A. Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston. “The many bioactive compounds in tea appear to impact virtually every cell in the body to help improve health outcomes … drinking at least a cup of green, black, white or oolong tea a day can contribute significantly to the promotion of public health.”

Green tea has a powerful image among all tea types. It is a concentrated source of the antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which has been shown to have a positive effect on immunity and chronic inflammatory disease. Green tea is also a good source of the amino acid L-theanine, which aids in the production of germ-fighting compounds from T-cells.

A number of suppliers offer green tea extracts for use in all types of beverages. The extracts are typically quantified by their concentration of EGCG and inclusion enables a content claim of this powerful polyphenol.

Suppliers also offer antioxidant ingredients extracted from highly pigmented grapes that have application in all types of beverages with benefits. For example, resveratrol has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that are believed to potentially reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. It also has been recognized as an aid in youth maintenance, promoting skin longevity.

Grape seed extract is another. The proanthocyanidins found in grape seed extract have been shown to be 20 to 50 times greater than beta-carotene or vitamins C and E at scavenging free radicals. Further, studies have shown that grape seed extract helps promote the structural strength of blood vessels, which in turn helps promote healthy blood pressure levels, heart health and a proper inflammation response.

A new juice-based drink called Youthy Forever, which is distributed by Brands Within Reach, New York, features grape seed extract. Debuting just in time for New Year’s resolutions, Youthy Forever combines pear, pineapple, passion fruit and prickly pear juices. Each 8-oz serving contains 30 mg of resveratrol and 40 mg of grape seed extract.

In addition to juices and various plant extracts, there are a number of nutrients that function as antioxidants and may be added to beverages. The most common are vitamins A, C and E, and the mineral selenium, aptly referred to as ACES.

All four have a general role in preventing free radical damage, as well as provide their own set of benefits. Vitamin A is known for its role in eye, bone and teeth health. Vitamin C is required for tissue growth and repair. Vitamin E has been shown to improve circulation and contribute to eye health, while selenium is needed for pancreatic function and tissue elasticity. Together, selenium and vitamin E work synergistically to help maintain a healthy heart.

Geemon Korah, chief executive officer of Kancor North America, Morristown, N.J., sums it up.

“Health and wellness beverages are all about harmony,” he said. “The ingredients are in agreement with each other and with the body.”