Ingredients to watch: The future of function

The shift toward ingredients that are naturally beneficial stems from the clean label movement. As brands innovate to develop exotic flavor combinations while also introducing healthful ingredients, there has been a spike in the use of adaptogens, superfoods and natural sources of energy. These ingredients give beverages flavor and function without marring ingredient statements.

Laura Dembitzer, Director of Marketing & Communications

November 16, 2017

5 Min Read
Ingredients to watch: The future of function

There’s been a lot of buzz in the beverage industry around the “F” word the last few years. By this, of course, I mean function. Inherently beneficial ingredients, as opposed to ones used for fortification, are the latest trend in functional beverages.

The shift toward ingredients that are naturally beneficial stems from the clean label movement. As brands innovate to develop exotic flavor combinations while also introducing healthful ingredients, there has been a spike in the use of adaptogens, superfoods and natural sources of energy. These ingredients give beverages flavor and function without marring ingredient statements. The following are some functional ingredients to watch in the coming year:

More Botanicals Flourishing

Lavender, elderflower, ashwagandha and curcumin are the next wave of trendy botanical ingredients in beverages. Ashwagandha, an adaptogen, helps our body adapt to stressful situations by lowering our cortisol levels. Lavender also supports stress relief, and the distinct floral flavor is already used in teas, lemonades and cocktails. Curcumin (the main active ingredient in turmeric) and elderflower are recognized for their anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin can be found in beverages with turmeric, or as an extracted ingredient in innovative beverages like ARYA, a curcumin-infused sparkling water. Elderflower has been a popular liqueur flavor for years, but expect to see this ingredient in other beverage types like teas, juices and sparkling waters.

Innovations with Mushrooms

Mushrooms are being used in beverage formulas in a variety of applications. Chaga, reishi and cordyceps are the next “it” ingredients from the mushroom family, with an extra emphasis on chaga. They’re adaptogens, rich in antioxidants, and are associated with stimulating the immune system. Chaga is also suggested to support GI health and improve cholesterol levels. These superfoods are typically found in coffee or tea products like REBBL Elixirs and Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee Mix, but expect them to be used in other beverage categories down the line. Another novel application for mushrooms is MycoTechnology’s vegan mushroom protein PureTaste. MycoTechnology recently secured $35 million in funding to take PureTaste to the market, and a large investment from major investors like Kellogg suggests that innovation with the ingredient is on the horizon.

Buzz About MCT Oil

The butter coffee trend helped put MCT oil on the map, but the benefits associated with it are keeping it there. These medium chain triglycerides are naturally found in coconut oil, and proponents say it helps our bodies convert energy into carbs faster because it’s easier to digest. It’s also associated with supporting cognitive health, which is a function in high-demand by consumers. MCT oil is especially prevalent in the sports nutrition sector, but it’s being called out in other types of beverages like coffee and creamers.

Continued Growth for Cascara

Made from the dried skins of the coffee cherry, cascara was a hot ingredient this summer despite being novel and exotic. It earns its appeal for a variety of reasons, including flavor, function and sustainability. Cascara is a natural source of caffeine, but is also (perhaps ironically) thought to aid with insomnia as well as liver and digestive health. It garners support from consumers who value reducing food waste since it uses part of the coffee plant that may have previously been discarded. Cascara is currently offered in a latte at Starbucks, and in a handful of ready-to-drink beverages (RTD) like Slingshot Cascara Tea, Caskai Sparkling Cascara Tea and Arabica Soda.

Superfood Lattes on Instagram Feeds

Superfood lattes and latte mixes are very much an emerging category, and are something we are primarily seeing in foodservice. They are stunning super lattes inspired by Australian menus, and include ingredients like turmeric, beetroot, rose, taro, blue algae and charcoal combined with milk. These lattes are fortified with ingredients that offer health benefits, but their colorful appearance is what has made them a staple on Instagram. Although superfood lattes are typically found oversees, Bluestone Lane, a café with locations in New York City and Philadelphia, offers these Instagram sensations, and I expect more cafés and even RTD brands to follow suit.

Collagen Everywhere

Beauty enhancing ingredients are becoming more mainstream, and collagen is the rising star. Collagen supports the enhancement of hair, skin and nails, and several products featuring the ingredient are hitting the market. At this year’s Expo East, NeoCell Corp. and Nuttzo showcased collagen protein bars. Collagen also can be found in beverages like All Beauty Drink and Beauty and Go. Expect this beauty enhancing ingredient to be featured in more beverages soon.

Detoxing with Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal is another ingredient gaining popularity, and is found in products ranging from the superfood lattes mentioned earlier to juices to ice cream and pizza. It’s ultra-absorbent and can absorb everything that hits your digestive tract, which can be very detoxifying. There is some debate around activated charcoal in food and beverage because of how it may interact with some medications, but right now it’s an ingredient garnering a lot of attention.

Thanks to the proliferation of functional beverages, consumers are no longer limited to supplements for consuming inherently beneficial ingredients. There are so many options in the functional beverage category that consumers can pick and choose beverages with benefits that fulfill their individual needs. Although some of these inherently beneficial ingredients may be novel and unfamiliar, they are considered clean label and are likely won’t turn off label-reading consumers.

Is there an ingredient or product that caught your attention, or another ingredient that you think will gain notice in the functional beverage category? I’d love to continue the conversation about the functional beverages more in depth. As always, you can email me at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Laura Dembitzer

Director of Marketing & Communications, Flavorchem

Laura Dembitzer is the marketing director at Imbibe, a Chicago-based flavor and beverage development company. Dembitzer works with beverage brands and retail chains to help them innovate and create products from the initial stages of development all the way through to commercialization and launch. She is focused on monitoring trends in the food and beverage industry in order to provide market insights to brand owners and senior decision makers. Her insights inform critical product-development decisions in order to formulate and develop products for long-term success. Dembitzer earned her bachelor’s degree from McGill University and her MBA from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Prior to joining Imbibe, Dembitzer launched a boutique bakery business and her products were sold at retailers throughout Chicagoland, as well as through a custom-built website focused on targeting kosher-conscious consumers. She ran all her own marketing and sales, so she knows a thing or two about brand building and trendspotting.


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