Beverage companies historically have found success by delivering on two product attributes: quenching thirst and great taste. But with today’s time-crunched, multitasking consumer demanding more from all consumer goods, beverage developers are adding value to their products, and most are doing so through the addition of nutrients.
Vitaminwater was introduced at around the turn of the century, taking the concept of nutrient-enhanced beverages mainstream. Since then, beverage developers have been experimenting with the addition of all types of better-for-you ingredients in order to appeal to today’s health conscious consumer.
“Consumers are demanding healthy beverages in the marketplace and retail sales of these drinks — whether nutritional, functional or enhanced — are climbing,” said Kim Jage, director of marketing and sales for the Healthy Beverage Expo, a new trade show intended to support and fuel the healthy drink segment of the beverage market, that took place June 7 to 9 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. She explained that the expo defines a healthy beverage as a “nutritious and functional beverage made from high-quality ingredients and pure water, marked by an undeniable accountability for the effects of processing, packaging and distribution.”
The keynote presenter at the show, Phil Lempert, also known as the Supermarket Guru, said, “We’ve seen a war against unhealthy, high-calorie, sugary beverages and over consumption, starting with New York’s size regulation and Coca Cola’s advertising about obesity factors.
“Now, consumers are going to want to understand what makes a beverage healthy, and they’re going to want a variety of healthy options at their supermarket. Without a doubt, beverage manufacturers of all kinds need to prepare for certain change, as we’re entering a realm that may not be comfortable for antiquated beverage businesses.”
Targeting specific demographics
One of the most important takeaways from the expo was that it is not only acceptable, but almost necessary that a functional beverage be designed with a specific demographic in mind. Speaker Jeff Hilton, partner and co-founder of Brandhive, Salt Lake City, said there are three critical audiences for functional beverages: millennials, baby boomers and the white female household gatekeeper between the ages of 40 and 55.
Energy, relaxation and satiety, for example, appeal to all three demographics. But the delivery form — shot-style vs. glass bottle vs. aseptic carton — and the marketing approach will be different based on the target audience.
For example, the Tetra Brik Edge aseptic carton appeals to beverage manufacturers targeting baby boomers, as it is easy to handle, open and pour, even with arthritis or other hand injuries. The specially designed screw cap requires a low-opening force, while the angled top makes it easier to grip the cap.
“It’s imperative to understand how healthy and functional beverages can best appeal to both millennials and boomers, distinct groups with totally unique attitudes toward health and wellness,” Mr. Hilton said.
Millennials are between the ages of 19 and 32 and are more aware of and involved in health and wellness than previous generations.
“Millennials are the next big market and anyone in the beverage business cannot afford to overlook their unique needs and lifestyles,” Mr. Hilton said. “For starters, they are independent thinkers, who want choices, and that includes in their beverages. They want transparency in their products, and this includes a compelling story and the details about how and why the brand was developed.
“For a brand to be successful, especially among millennials, the functional claims must be proven by science and supported by data. Millennials demand to become part of the brand through social media and peer interaction. They want to understand and validate the product. And if they discover that the product does not deliver, they will simply walk away or actively seek to destroy it.”
He explained there is a high-failure rate (80%) for new functional products.
“This is due to inadequate product promotion, insufficient consumer and trade education, poor product performance and simply being a ‘me-too,’” he said.
Beginning with water
The new generation of healthy beverages is all about using water as a base, rather than starting with an already nutrient-rich fluid such as milk or juice.
“Water is probably the most healthful beverage in the world, in the sense of being essential to life and health,” said Rob McCaleb, founder and president of the Herb Research Foundation, Boulder, Colo., and a speaker at the Healthy Beverage Expo. “However, when the right nutrients are added to water, it becomes more healthful, providing potential benefits far beyond just hydration.”
The popular and up-and-coming conditions that functional ingredients added to beverages may best address include cardiovascular health, diabetes, digestion, energy/performance, healthy aging (cognition, skin and vision), immunity, joint support and weight loss, said Mr. Hilton.
Ingredients consumers are looking for include vitamins and minerals, in particular calcium and vitamin D, and those that are sources of antioxidants. Botanicals also are becoming more popular in beverages, as many contain antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins and other nutrients. Studies suggest some botanicals even possess healing and relaxation properties.
Ayala’s Herbal Water, Philadelphia, markets a line of botanical-infused waters in varieties such as lavender mint, lemongrass mint vanilla and lemon verbena geranium. The Ayala’s Herbal Water line is made with organic ingredients.
“The waters set a new standard for healthy beverages, as the waters contain no calories; no artificial sweeteners, flavors and colors; and no chemical preservatives,” said Ayala Laufer-Cahana, a pediatrician and co-founder of the company. “And our water comes from an artesian well in Virginia.”
Solixir, Evanston, Ill., has developed a namesake functional drink line based on natural formulas that attend to the mind and body’s different needs throughout the day, according to the company. For example, Solixir Think includes ginkgo biloba leaf and rosemary leaf to help the mind focus throughout the day, while Solixir Restore includes ginger root, European elderflower and European elderberry, which are said to help revitalize the body.
“Whether requiring a lift in energy, a bit more focus, help winding down or support for your immune system, Solixir’s formulas are a refreshing, healthy way to promote optimal daily performance,” said Scott Lerner, founder of the company. “We have a master herbalist design every individual Solixir formula. We use only standardized active botanicals. This is crucial because the active component for the botanical is always present in the formula as well as the correct quantity. These botanical extracts are water soluble and completely stable in liquid.”
Neuro, a line of lifestyle carbonated waters that originated a few years ago in the United Kingdom, is taking off in the United States due to a distribution agreement between DrinkNeuro, Santa Monica, Calif., and the Pepsi Cola Bottling Co., Purchase, N.Y. The proprietary formulations behind the Neuro line are described as combining science, nature and Hollywood chic, in an attractive packaging format. Neuro ignites the brain and powers the body to sustain and enhance active lives. Made with natural ingredients and recyclable packaging, Neuro is formulated by nutritionists to promote health and well-being. Each formulation contains an array of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and botanicals at dosages backed by scientific research, so the benefit is real and not just marketing hype, according to the company.
Nawgan Products L.L.C., Chesterfield, Mo., markets what it calls a “brainy beverage.” Designed to create an elevated state of concentration and alertness, Nawgan is “what to drink when you want to think,” as its tagline suggests. Citicoline is the primary ingredient to boosting brainpower, according to the company.
Los Angeles-based The Rising Beverage Co. markets a range of enhanced waters under the Activate brand. The zero-calorie (stevia sweetened) line uses a proprietary cap design that stores the nutrients separately from the water. They are released by simply twisting the cap, providing a fresh dose upon consumption.
There are six formulations, with each delivering a blend of electrolytes, vitamins and other functional ingredients to support a consumer need. For example, Activate Exotic Berry Beauty is designed for overall health and skin cell support. In addition to vitamins A, B5, B12, C and E, it contains green tea extract and acai extract.
Beverage ingredient innovations
Green tea extract, typically quantified by its concentration of the antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate (E.G.C.G.), has been shown to exert anti-inflammatory action on the skin and inhibit collagen-destroying enzymes. New findings also show that E.G.C.G. contributes to the integrity of the skin by reducing ultraviolet light-induced damage.
Numerous studies also have addressed the correlation between green tea consumption and cardiovascular health, suggesting that green tea and green tea extracts high in E.G.C.G. are associated with a decrease in certain risk factors for heart disease.
“We offer a range of water-soluble green tea extracts suitable for beverages,” said Alison Raban, certified food scientist, BI Nutraceuticals, Long Beach, Calif. “Inclusion enables a content claim of this powerful polyphenol.”
DSM Nutritional Products, Parsippany, N.J., has developed an antioxidant pre-mix for addition to clear beverages designed for healthy aging. The proprietary blend of functional ingredients delivers 5 mg of resveratrol and 30 mg of E.G.C.G., along with 10% of the daily value for vitamin E in an 8-oz serving. Resveratrol is the beneficial compound concentrated from the skin of the common red grape.
“Adding protein and fiber — all types — is also huge,” Mr. Hilton said. “This includes adding isolated protein and fiber ingredients, as well as food ingredients that are concentrated sources of these nutrients, such as whole grains, in particular oats and quinoa, as well as flax and chia seeds.”
For example, polydextrose is a recognized dietary fiber ingredient shown to assist with contributing to satiety and thus reducing energy intake.
“We’ve been able to add up to 9 grams of polydextrose to an 8-oz serving of water and still maintain clarity in the beverage,” said David Sabbagh, senior group manager-beverage innovation, DuPont Nutrition & Health, St. Louis. This allows a formulator to easily achieve an excellent source of fiber claim.
Carrot fiber is emerging as a sustainable fiber option for beverage manufacturers.
“Normally, carrot juice makers throw out their leftover pomace, but with carrots made of 80% fiber, BI Nutraceuticals saw a resource going to waste,” Ms. Raban said. “We partnered with carrot farms in California and now offer organic and traditional carrot fiber ingredients. Carrot fiber offers a slightly sweet carrot flavor, mild aroma and light-orange color, which complements many better-for-you beverage formulas.
“While our carrot fiber is only standardized for fiber content, it also contains other phytonutrients. It’s also a very label-friendly fiber ingredient.”
Chia and flax seeds are both sources of multiple nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, protein and fiber.
“The seeds themselves can be added to beverages, or the milled product, which is much like cornmeal, can be used to contribute to viscosity,” Ms. Raban said.
Patrick Michael, business development manager-beverages, Glanbia Nutritionals, Fitchburg, Wis., agreed that there is growing interest in adding protein, specifically whey protein, to beverages.
“Using the wrong whey protein ingredient can lead to insoluble and aggregated protein, which results in turbidity or a white precipitate,” he said. “The ability to provide clarity in high-protein beverages is a key innovation in recent beverage formulations.
“We offer a milk protein and whey protein blend specifically designed for the rigorous processing requirements of intermediate pH protein-fortified beverages. And our pre-acidified whey proteins have an improved flavor profile, as the whey is less astringent, making them ideal for high-acid beverages. They also allow for a clear, thin beverage without cloudiness.”
There are so many well-known and emerging ingredients that have application in beverages that innovation and category growth is inevitable. Mr. Hilton believes the outlook for the functional beverage category is promising.
“Healthy beverages are leading the functional revolution with consumers — even more so than foods,” he said.