CHICAGO — The coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has created uncertainty for both consumers and CPG companies, but formulators should expect beverage trends to stay on course in the weeks and months ahead, said Holly McHugh, marketing associate at Imbibe, a Chicago-based beverage development company.
“Our lives have been turned upside down, but I think this will accelerate trends that were already happening,” she said.
Interest in products that support immunity, sleep and stress reduction will likely remain strong.
“There have been a lot of reports of people having trouble sleeping and having weird dreams,” Ms. McHugh said. “There are opportunities for sleep beverages as well as energy drinks, because people also are having a harder time getting motivated.”
Consumers may be less willing to pay more for convenience and premiumization, she added. Expect to see a greater focus on familiar functional ingredients with established supply chains, like probiotics, turmeric and ginger for immunity and lavender, chamomile and green tea for mood enhancement.
“There's still room to give consumers the benefits they're looking for, but some of the more novel ingredients, like adaptogens for stress relief and immunity, will have a harder time going into the mainstream,” Ms. McHugh said. “There is a smaller supply chain so they’re just not as affordable.”
Consumers also are turning to DIY and make-at-home products. Meal kit companies saw a surge in demand when stay-at-home orders became commonplace in the United States. Some restaurants started offering kits that allow menu items to be prepared at home.
The trend carried over into the beverage space. Sales of DIY beverage kits have been on the rise at online retailer Uncommon Goods, for example. The company offers a variety of make-at-home products, including beer, wine and cocktail sets as well as a Bubble Tea kit from specialty tea company KTeas.
Interest in DIY beverages could continue even after consumers and businesses are given the “all clear.” Lingering concerns about the spread of COVID-19 may prompt some people to avoid crowded public spaces throughout summer.
“Those kits have to do with relieving boredom,” Ms. McHugh said. “It’s about creating an experience that you previously might have gone to foodservice for.”
Nostalgic flavors that conjure up images of childhood, like s’mores, birthday cake and creamsicle, topped Imbibe’s 2020 trends predictions last year. While flavors that fulfill emotional needs will continue showing up in beverages, nostalgia in a post-COVID-19 world may relate to more recent experiences.
“Think of the things that we're missing out on right now,” Ms. McHugh said. “Spa flavors like cucumber lime are an example.”
Trending flavors that seem familiar could carry new meaning for consumers.
“Flavors like pina colada may become really nostalgic for people as we come into summer, whereas before it was just something they occasionally enjoyed,” Ms. McHugh said.
Beverages that provide a sensory experience may tap into consumers’ desire to escape their everyday routine, especially when working from home or avoiding large gatherings. Expect to see more products with bright colors, exotic flavors and novel textures.
“There’s opportunity with things like nitro, which we’ve started seeing with coffee,” Ms. McHugh said. “Brands are creating an experience in a can. I could see something like a milkshake coming in a nitro can, because people aren’t going to the ice cream shop. Consumers really will be turning more to CPG to provide those escapes. There’s a lot of opportunity for brands there.”