There was a time when the notion of a “healthy” beverage might’ve brought to mind something like milk, orange juice or—you know, maybe tap water?
And each still makes a strong case for being a prudent hydration option. But, noted Brian Zapp, creative director, Applied Food Sciences, “Our idea of what constitutes a ‘healthy beverage’ has certainly evolved over the last decade or so.”
“Not long ago,” he continued, “a simple ‘better-for-you’ drink like Coke Zero or lower-sodium V8 would’ve counted as a healthy beverage. But as brands continue to push the narrative of what’s possible in beverages, we’ve watched the idea of ‘healthy’ come to include more functional elements as well.”
And consumers are drinking it up. The Hartman Group, in its “Modern Beverage Culture 2018” report, noted 44% of consumers prefer beverages that “do something for me (like provide energy, nutrients, or other benefits),” while 62% claim beverages play “a very important role” in their health and wellness.
That signals opportunity for beverage brands primed to deliver targeted nutrition to a thirsty audience. As Zapp said, “From ‘free-from’ to ‘better-for-you,’ both the market and consumer preferences are really pivoting toward beverages with on-trend health benefits.”
As for which functional benefits fit perfectly for consumers, the answer depends on whom you ask.
“The rise of technology has enabled widespread access to information about health, ingredients and the link between diet and wellness,” said Micah Greenhill, beverage marketing manager, ADM. The upshot: “Consumers are shaping their own opinions about what’s healthy.”
“Sports beverages are another category where consumers are looking for a wider range of functional benefits,” John Quilter, vice president and general manager, Kerry noted. Indeed, Euromonitor pegged the 2018 value of the sports-beverage market at $24.3 billion, and foresees a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.8% through 2022.
Yet while protein continues to dominate, “That won’t necessarily always be the case,” Quilter predicted. Sports nutrition’s mainstreaming has broadened the needs, goals and health concerns the category’s beverages must satisfy, “and not everyone is interested in muscle-building,” he said.
For example, when athletes at all levels focus on a sporting goal, “areas such as immune health become even more important,” Quilter said. He suggests working with his company’s proprietary baker’s yeast beta 1,3/1,6 glucan—brand-named Wellmune—which he calls “perfect for sports-nutrition beverages, where it can help meet the growing demand for immune health benefits among both serious athletes and weekend warriors.”
But whether you’re formulating a traditional sports beverage or a new-wave mind tonic, Antje Collman, food scientist, Wixon, advises keeping it clean.
“It’s may seem crazy, but even with energy drinks, consumers still look for—and buy—organic, non-GMO, ‘natural’ options if they’re available,” she said. “Even electrolyte beverages are going back to ‘natural.’ They aren’t really reducing sugar content, but they are replacing high-fructose corn syrup with honey, agave and other ‘real’ sweeteners.”
It’s all a sign of how the clean label movement continues to influence beverage formulation, even in the historically “unclean” sports and energy segments.
To read more check out the Drink up: Winning strategies for healthy beverages – digital magazine.
Kimberly J. Decker is a Bay Area food writer that has worked in product development for the frozen sector and written about food, nutrition and the culinary arts. Kimberly can be reached at [email protected]