Better-for-you beverage space fizzes with innovation while health, sugar reduction and functionality remain in spotlight

06 Apr 2022 — Lifestyle and dietary shifts since the COVID-19 pandemic have driven up better-for-you beverage innovation with a sharpened focus on the functional attributes and ingredients that boost immunity and well-being while offering a tasty, nutritious experience .

Key industry players give FoodIngredientsFirst their take on the market dynamics, consumer trends and innovations shaping the better-for-you beverages arena. They also examine some of the key ingredients being used in formulations, why they are proving popular and how important it is to offer health-haloed drinks that are also good for the planet.

Sustainability, ethics, sensory and indulgence, as well as digital lifestyles, are pushing up demand for healthy beverages, according to Rosie Travers, health and wellness category manager at Treatt.

“The health of the planet is now a top consumer concern. There is mounting awareness and concern surrounding the scale, complexity and interdependence of global shared social and environmental challenges, ”she tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

Consumers are keen to try experiences with their beverages.Focus on functionality

Consumers are seeking enjoyment beyond just tangible products in terms of the sensory experience and indulgence.

“They are becoming more ‘experience-driven’ and are willing to pay more for an enhanced brand experience. It’s therefore becoming increasingly important for brands to perform at an experiential level and offer varied novel and complex sensations for optimal enjoyment, ”Travers continues.

“Meanwhile, shopping and consumption patterns continue to evolve rapidly in our digital world. In a hyper-connected, technology-enabled society, consumers seamlessly integrate the use of multiple technologies into their lives and buying behavior, ”she notes.

Casey McCormick, vice president of global innovation at Sweegen, sees how consumers seek excitement in new beverage creations with a better-for-you edge.

“This is evident in the high sales of energy-boosting beverages made with unique, indulgent flavors. These beverages offer gratification and a good sensory experience, but also help support the function of brainpower for sharpening focus and alertness, ”she tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

“Beverage makers are expanding on the health boosts in beverages by launching hybrid products. For example, hard seltzers with low calories packed with natural fruit flavors and a puree give almost a smoothie feel, ”McCormick continues.

Another trend that beverages that tap into supporting gut health, cognition, emotional health and immune health, otherwise known as the “gut-brain axis,” she adds.

“This is often in sports recovery or functional beverages, but there is room to grow in the wellness beverage space that focuses on specific health support. For example, a beverage formulated with vitamin K2 supports bone and joint health. ”

Swapping out sugar
McCormick stresses that removing or reducing sugar is foundational for anything to be considered better-for-you. “Sugar reduction is a long-term trend that is here to stay,” she adds.

For Sweegen, stevia is a key ingredient growing in demand in better-for-you beverage formulations. “Keeping sugar levels as low as possible is foundational for any beverage product that is better-for-you because of the negative health associations linked to excess sugar intake.”

Sweegen’s Signature Stevia portfolio of natural sweeteners is helping beverage makers replace and reduce sugar with the support of the taste modulators from the company’s Flavors for Taste Modulation.

“Sweegen had the most diverse portfolio of stevia sweeteners produced via our proprietary bioconversion process, including Bestevia Rebs M, D, E and I and many more. With our growing platform of nature-based sweeteners that will include sweeteners like brazzein, Sweegen will be able to deliver a wide range of Signature Sweetener Systems that will unlock innovations in the better-for-you beverage space, ”McCormick continues.

For Treatt, Travers says Yuzu, pear, melon and lychee continue to prove popular and demonstrate strong growth in new product launches in the last six months.

“A growing population of consumers continue to shun highly processed products and artificial ingredients in favor of those that hold qualities such as natural ingredients, pure formulations or heightened freshness,” she says.

Such attributes are often perceived to be “healthier, cleaner, more authentic and better quality.”Gut health is driving innovation in functional beverages.

Propelling protein
One nutrient many consumers want more of in better-for-you beverages is protein, notes Niki Kennedy, senior marketing manager at Glanbia Nutritionals.

“Protein has several positive health associations, such as supporting recovery and muscle development. Beverages that are high in protein, such as functional juices, concentrated shot drinks and vitamin instant drinks, are quickly growing in popularity among those of us that have active lifestyles due to the satiety benefits of protein and the ability to be consumed on-the- go, ”she tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

“The addition of vitamins and minerals into better-for-you-beverages is also proving popular with consumers, largely due to an interest in ingredients that support immunity.”

Kennedy also points to Glanbia Nutritionals investing € 1.4 million (US $ 1.53 million) to upgrade its Research and Development facility in Kilkenny, Ireland, due to open its doors in Q3 this year.

“As the nutritional sector becomes increasingly competitive, the upgraded site will encourage more face-to-face customer interactions in meetings, supporting a rapid development process and delivering efficient prototyping, ultimately offering a swift route to market for brands creating better-for-you. beverages, ”she explains.

“Glanbia Nutritionals has invested in new equipment, including beverage processing technology, to allow greater customer collaboration and support brands carving the path for the sector.”

This latest investment follows Glanbia Nutritionals acquisition of Foodarom in 2020. Foodarom comprises a flavor library of over 15,000 recipes and produces liquid and powder products for various applications, including beverages.

Gut health
Functional beverages for gut microbiome health are also in the spotlight. This was recently demonstrated at Natural Products Expo West in California, US, where gut health was a significant theme.

During the show, Givaudan highlighted that functional beverages have begun to incorporate a wider variety of nootropics, exemplified through its Level-Up Water concept paired with Maca and Cereboost, a patented American ginseng extract.

Meanwhile, the company’s Green Monk Mocktail mingles the complex flavors of juniper, ginger, lemon, spice and chartreuse with matcha tea and green tea with L-Theanine.

ADM agrees that consumers are seeking beverage offerings that can provide support for overall well-being, including physical, mental and emotional wellness, and that lifestyle shifts over the past two years have further pushed this desire forward.

“At the same time, our research finds that shoppers are split on the specific reasons they’re choosing functional beverages. Roughly half of consumers are seeking targeted attributes, while the other half is looking for more general support and better options overall, ”says Micah Greenhill, beverage marketing director, ADM. FoodIngredientsFirst.

“However, there are certain areas that are in common focus for the majority of consumers. We see that sustained energy and cognitive focus, balanced mood, hydration, immune function and digestive support are top desires for functional beverage consumers today, ”he says.

As consumers take a proactive approach to their holistic well-being, they increasingly believe the gut microbiome plays a role in overall wellness, Greenhill stresses.

“Globally, 58% of consumers perceive a connection between the function of the bacteria in the gut to wider aspects of well-being. With that, consumers are seeking ingredients they believe can support the gut, including prebiotic fiber, probiotics and postbiotics. ”

“Research shows that the top three attributes consumers in the US and UK associate with probiotics are gut health, overall well-being and immune function support,” he highlights.

“The beverage category is well poised for the continued growth opportunities for probiotics, particularly as people are most interested in consuming probiotics in accessible, drinkable formats. In fact, beverages and dairy are the top two preferred probiotic categories for consumers. ”

By Gaynor Selby

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