Be transparent with a story
To provide information-craving consumers the details they want to know, the biggest trend driving beverage innovation is turning out to be the story behind the product. Manufacturers are placing greater emphasis on how products are crafted and the sourcing of ingredients, a marketing approach that started out in beer and wine and is now part of the mainstream beverage sector.
This became apparent with the cold-brew coffee phenomenon that surfaced in 2016. Cold-brew coffee is just that: coffee brewed without heat. Cold brewing requires steeping beans in ambient- to cold-temperature water for a long period of time. The type of beans, the ratio of beans to water, the temperature of the water and the steeping time all impact the final product.
“During the cold-brew process, time replaces heat,” said Tim Hume, director of sales and marketing, BOV Solutions Inc., Hernando, Fla. “A roasted coffee bean contains many compounds. Cold-water brewing extracts delicious flavor compounds and some of the caffeine from coffee beans, but leaves behind a myriad of undesirable elements such as ketones, esters and amides, which do get extracted during traditional hot brewing.
“These are the same bitter acids and harsh fatty oils that surface to the top of your hot cup of coffee and give hot-brewed coffee that familiar ‘bite.’ This is the reason that some 8 out of 10 people attempt to soften the acidic taste by adding milk or cream to their coffee.”
The cold-brew process extracts a different chemical balance from tea leaves, too. The result is a beverage with reduced bitterness and a smoother flavor.
“The process tends to extract more of Mother Nature’s natural sweetness, thus enhancing the flavor of the tea,” Mr. Hume said. “Cold-brewed teas do not encourage the growth of potentially dangerous bacteria as they do not sit in the hot sun with water like sun-brewed teas. They also contain more antioxidants than hot-brewed tea, making it a better-for-you tea option compared to traditional hot-brewed tea.”
Cold brewing is paving the way for an entirely new segment within the ready-to-drink coffee and tea beverage category. In addition to R.-T.-D. options, cold-brew concentrates are emerging at the retail level, allowing the consumer to create a signature drink with mixer and sweetener of choice.
BOV Solutions uses an advanced process to package its QuicFix brand cold-brew coffee and tea concentrates. The bag-on-valve system includes a multi-layer laminated pouch and aerosol valve that keeps the extract tasting fresh for years without the use of preservatives or refrigeration. When the valve is depressed, air pressure gently squeezes on the outside of the pouch to dispense the liquid in a pouring fashion without the use of any chemical propellant. The company communicates this technology to its customers. This is the answer to why it tastes so good.
Portland, Ore.-based Sunshine Dairy Foods produces cold-brew coffee with milk in original and chocolate varieties. In addition to using cold-brew technology, the company employs another craft process to make what it describes as a superior-tasting beverage.
“We are dedicated to providing our customers with milk that is as near to farm fresh as possible and tastes like it, too,” said Chris Haines, senior manager of sales at Sunshine. “To do this we use a cold bowl separator to separate the milk and cream after it arrives from the farm. The cream is added back into the milk, carefully measured to provide different levels of butterfat to make everything from 1% to whole milk. Unlike many traditional separators, the cold bowl separator does not heat the milk, which in turn can make milk taste flat or burnt.
“Most milk companies do not use this piece of equipment because it does not allow milk to be processed in the most efficient manner; thus, it takes more time and effort to produce our milk. The difference, however, is in the taste of our milk. The cold bowl separator is truly the piece of equipment that makes our milk taste cleaner and sweeter than other brands.”
Another dairy that is all about the process is Top Line Milk Co., Winton, Calif. In 2016, the on-farm creamery introduced Low and Slow Milk, which is non-homogenized whole milk that is slow-pasteurized (30 minutes) at a low temperature (145F).
Vertical integration is at the heart of how Paul and Sonya van Warmerdam, owners and operators, run their farm and creamery. The company’s milk processing facility sits next door to its milking parlor, so it’s only a matter of minutes from the time the company’s Holstein cows are milked to the time the milk is vat pasteurized, processed and bottled.
“Because we skip the modern-day homogenization process, the cream rises to the top,” Mr. van Warmerdam said. “This is why bottles instruct consumers to shake and enjoy. The process makes the product unique.”
Even water marketers are trying to differentiate with their process. For example, PepsiCo, Inc., Purchase, N.Y., will roll out the new LIFEWTR premium bottled water line in February. The beverage is described as purified water that is pH balanced with electrolytes for taste. That clean, pure taste is enrobed in a bottle that serves as a canvas for art and design and features rotating label motifs.
“We’ve worked hard to make a premium bottled water experience that combines the right mix of a clean, pure taste with eye-catching packaging and an authentic connection to the consumer,” said Brad Jakeman, president, global beverage group at PepsiCo.
Juice manufacturers also are differentiating by process. This is helping the category, which had been demonized for more than a decade because of the inherently high sugar content of fruit and vegetable juices, to once again be embraced by consumers. Advancements in new minimal processing technologies preserve nutrients while still delivering on safety.
The traditional method of extracting liquid from fruits and vegetables is centrifugal juicing. This is where fast-spinning blades expel the juices, which are then pasteurized before bottling. Premium brands now are using cold-pressed technology, which relies on a slow pulverizer with hydraulic press to extract the juices. In order to obtain about a 30-day refrigerated shelf life, cold-pressed juices typically undergo high-pressure processing (H.P.P.) to kill potentially harmful microorganisms.
Consumer interest in cold-pressed juice is fueled by research showing that this type of juicing preserves the integrity of vitamins, minerals and enzymes. This is because the blades encountered in centrifugal juicing generate heat and circulate air, both of which have a deleterious effect on nutrients. With cold-pressed processing, these elements are negligible.
Leading the cold-pressed packaged juice movement is San Diego-based Suja Juice Co. Since starting out as a small home-delivery juice company about five years ago, the company has experienced unprecedented growth in the natural foods and conventional grocery channels, selling more than 40 million bottles of cold-pressed H.P.P. organic juices.
In September 2016, the company expanded its juice range with a new line of functional drinking vinegars made with organic apple cider vinegar and cold-pressed fruit and vegetable juices. Each bottle contains more than four billion colony-forming-units of live vegan probiotics, which have been shown to support gut and immune health, according to the company. Suja’s story is not only the process, but also the functional ingredient selection.