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Healthy Beverages Month

3 tips for marketing functional beverages to the supplement consumer

Functional beverages
The success of a new product launch depends on many well-understood factors, including price, distribution and promotion—but these factors are meaningful only if the target audience is well-defined.

This article is part of Food & Beverage Insider’s July Healthy Beverage theme that explores opportunities and innovation in the beverage sector. Throughout the month we will provide industry insight into growth categories, investigate novel clean ingredients and formulation strategies, address regulatory compliance and toast successes

Functional beverage brands launching a new product may better determine target audience by looking at the purchase behavior of consumers in other categories. This approach postulates that consumers who are receptive to a particular value proposition are likely to be drawn to similar value propositions in other categories. Brands may also look at frequency of purchase, preferred retail channels, trusted information sources, and other behavioral data of these potential targets. 

This behavioral approach to identifying a target audience suggests dietary supplement consumers may be an ideal target for functional beverage brands, as these consumers already purchase products to enhance their personal nutrition. “The Impact of COVID-19 on Supplement Consumers,” a survey conducted by MarketPlace in 2020, found 63% of supplement consumers prefer to get most of their nutrition through food—meaning these consumers are already turning to both food and supplements to meet their nutritional needs. 

It is, then, a natural progression to recognize a similar value proposition in functional beverages. Beverages are, in many cases, an ideal delivery format for the most popular ingredients found in dietary supplements. Ready-to-drink (RTD) and ready-to-mix (RTM) beverages are more convenient to prepare and consume than most foods and are more enjoyable to ingest than most supplement formats. 

MarketPlace’s research suggests the following best practices for positioning functional beverages to the supplement consumer. 

Tip 1: Appeal to immunity and prevention 

General health and well-being are the most frequently cited reasons for purchasing supplements, according to MarketPlace’s research. However, specific benefits have gained popularity in recent years. In particular, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a renewed interest in immunity and prevention, with a focus on vitamin D, vitamin C, probiotics and zinc at the height of the pandemic in the U.S. 

Furthermore, for most respondents who had recently purchased immune-related supplements, the pandemic was an impetus to change their diet (51%), eat more fruit (54%) or increase their supplement intake (61%). These data suggest the immunity-oriented consumer is actively looking to both diet and supplementation to achieve their health goals—a promising finding for functional beverage brands. For example, RTD juices and smoothies made with foods known for potential immune-boosting benefits, like mango or kale, can be fortified with immune-relevant ingredients like zinc or complementary ingredients like probiotics. 

Tip 2: Leverage trusted information sources 

Supplement users are likely to seek specific benefits and be familiar with relevant ingredients, meaning this consumer segment is primed for messaging about functional beverages with similar value propositions. Such products may then be readily marketed in channels familiar to the supplement consumer. 

MarketPlace’s study found that supplement users’ most trusted sources of information about supplements are their personal health advisers, friends and family. Given their preference for sources that are personally familiar, word-of-mouth tactics—including sharable digital content—may be effective for generating awareness and trust in a functional beverage product.  

Tip 3: Appeal to efficacy 

Supplement users have specific health benefits in mind and want to know that what they’re taking will work. In fact, according to MarketPlace’s research, about 70% of respondents said effectiveness is important to them when deciding to purchase a supplement. Purity and quality, which may be viewed as indicators of efficacy, also have a strong influence on purchase decisions. Therefore, to resonate with the supplement consumer, functional beverage brands should clearly communicate these attributes in messaging and on packaging. 

For example, RTM protein drinks may benefit by formulating for a complete amino acid profile, which can then be stated on pack and promoted in advertising. Building a narrative around the protein source may also help consumers recognize quality and purity in the product. Finding creative ways to talk about the key ingredients in a functional beverage will help consumers associate the brand with purity, quality and efficacy. 

When it comes to functional beverages, the case is strong for strategies that appeal to the values and preferences of the supplement consumer. Although 2020 was highly disruptive to the economy and lives of Americans, functional beverage brands can tap into the trends that emerged to capitalize on opportunities with supplement consumers who are already primed to recognize value in this category. 

Jon Copeland is a research strategist at MarketPlace, a strategic partner to food and beverage, pet and animal, and health and wellness brands and businesses. 

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