CHICAGO — Beverages that promote health and wellness, escapism and value will be in the spotlight next year, according to Imbibe.

The Chicago-based beverage development company’s trend predictions are fueled by consumers seeking relief from many of the challenges they’re facing during the pandemic, including weight gain.

“Brands can address it in several different ways, from reducing sugar content and reducing calories to using more healthful ingredients,” said Holly McHugh, marketing associate at Imbibe. “I think we’re going to start seeing targeted weight loss beverages come out in new ways, incorporating ingredients that are suggested to promote weight loss naturally.”

As an example, Bolthouse Farms, Bakersfield, Calif., offers Bolts Metabolism, a 2-oz shot featuring cayenne, tomato and green tea extract. WW International, Inc., New York, in September launched a ready-to-drink coffee with low sugar and added protein through its weight management program.

Consumers focused on getting in shape to lose extra pounds may seek sports nutrition products like protein drinks, electrolyte replenishers, performance enhancers and energy boosters.

Bolthouse Farms Bolts metabolism shot“Not everyone is back at the gym or going out and walking around,” Ms. McHugh said. “That is going to introduce a new audience to sports nutrition products that would have taken longer to get there.”

With stress at an all-time high, consumers will continue seeking beverages that promote relaxation and improve sleep. Zero-proof beverages that provide a similar experience to drinking alcohol by incorporating relaxing ingredients like adaptogens and CBD are expected to grow.

“Brands are incorporating ingredients like L-Theanine, the amino acid 5-HTP and other interesting functionals that aren’t psychoactive but do have a relaxing effect,” Ms. McHugh said. “They may serve as safer, healthier alternatives to alcohol for people who enjoy a nightcap.”

Interest in gamma-aminobutyricacid (GABA) may rise as more brands leverage its stress-reducing benefits. San Francisco-based startup Sun Chaser launched earlier this year with a carbonated, alcohol-free beverage that uses GABA, 5-HTP, cordyceps and other nootropics to simulate the feeling of being buzzed. Som Sleep, Santa Monica, Calif., offers a calming functional beverage featuring GABA along with magnesium, vitamin B6, and L-Theanine.

Safety and hygiene concerns also are shaping beverage trends. Imbibe predicted consumers will pay more attention to product packaging and will be more open to single-use and tamper-proof packaging.

“Products that have a tamper-proof seal, even if it’s just a sticker that shows it hasn’t been opened, will be more in demand,” Ms. McHugh said. “They make consumers feel safer.”

“I think the places we’ll see the most innovation are immunity and sports nutrition.” — Holly McHugh, Imbibe

Behavioral shifts spurred by the pandemic led to a 24% surge in sales of aluminum can drinks, according to the Can Manufacturers Institute. The result was a can shortage, with aluminum cans becoming less available for manufacturers across the country.

“A lot of brands have had to push their packaging because of the shortage if they want to keep producing products,” Ms. McHugh said. “I think it is an opportunity for brands to look at that aspect of, ‘What can someone not touch? Where are they less likely to catch germs?’ That is an interesting evolution.”

Beyond health and hygiene, the pandemic also has impacted consumers’ wallets. And while rising infection rates have led consumers to stock up on groceries for several weeks at a time, economic uncertainty means those purchases need to be at a lower price point, Ms. McHugh said. Name brands may offer value through multi-serve products, variety packs with multiple flavors and shelf-stable options.

Imbibe predicted an explosion of innovation from private label brands launching products in growing categories like dairy alternative milks.

“There is a lot of opportunity for private label brands to create some of those more premium products that consumers might be less likely to purchase because of economic uncertainty,” Ms. McHugh said. “Functional beverages are definitely an area for growth. I think the places we’ll see the most innovation are immunity and sports nutrition.”