Healthy beverages are a profitable category. According to Business Communications Company, Inc. (BCC; Norwalk, CT), functional beverages were the largest segment of the functional food industry in 2002. Overall growth is expected to slow to 5.7% annually, but BCC expects phenomenal growth in some subcategories, leading to an $11.5 billion segment in 2007.
Why are healthy beverages consistently successful? There are several theories. One holds that rising obesity rates moved consumers away from traditional soft drinks and juices. Another is that a number of conventional beverage companies, including Coca-Cola (Atlanta) and Snapple (White Plains, NY), raised awareness by investing heavily to promote their healthy beverage lines.
The overarching reason may be their ability to be delivery vehicles for an ever-widening circle of nutrients. 'Fortified beverages have discovered ways to include more nutrients,' says Ram Chaudhari, senior executive vice president and chief scientific officer of Fortitech (Schenectady, NY). 'There are beverages with B1, B2, B6, B12, and E. There are drinks with botanical extracts, immune enhancers, taurine, omega-3, lycopene, lutein, inulin, galacto-oligosaccharides, and soluble fiber. The market changes so fast, it's a challenge to keep up with the applications.'
Flavor and solubility are the biggest challenges. 'Some nutrients are hard to mask,' says Chaudhari. 'Calcium carbonate, for example, leaves a chalky taste, so you have to use combinations. Other nutrients drop out of solution. Magnesium is a problem. At the 35–40% RDA level, you have to use magnesium phosphate or other salts to prevent precipitation.'
With an $11.5 billion market at stake, formulators aren't backing away from the challenge. Undoubtedly, new healthy beverages will roll out regularly, giving conventional drinks a run for consumer dollars.
Healthy beverage manufacturers are adroit at exploiting niches and launching products quickly. One of the more recent strategies is to put a healthy twist on established concepts. The crowded ready-to-drink tea (RTD) market, for instance, would seem to be a risky place for a fledgling beverage, but Revolution Tea (Tempe, AZ) found room for a unique brand of white tea.
Newly launched Revolution Ready to Drink White-T contains no calories, carbohydrates, sugar, sweeteners, or preservatives. What it does contain are antioxidants from premium tea, according to David Watson, owner and president.
'White tea, and tea in general, is a refreshing, healthy, and natural alternative to soft drinks and sweetened beverages,' says Watson. 'For people interested in living a healthy life-style, Ready to Drink White-T is a healthy choice.'
All white tea contains the same polyphenol antioxidants found in green tea, but because white tea undergoes less processing, the company believes its RTDs contain up to three times the antioxidants in green tea and are more beneficial than any other kind of tea.
Revolution Ready to Drink White-Ts are available at gourmet grocery and specialty retail stores, bookstores, coffee shops, on-line, and in convenience and grocery stores. White-T is available in White Tea with Raspberry, White Tea with Key Lime, White Tea with Blackberry, and White Tea with Tangerine. Ingredients include purified water, select white tea, natural caramel color, citric acid, and natural flavors.
Revolution Tea likes packaging. The RTD white teas are hot-filled in PETE bottles and decorated with white sleeve labels. Typically, marketers prefer clear or amber bottles for tea beverages. Another twist is Revolution's T-Box single-serving boxes. The tea is packed in clear nylon infuser bags that create the 'ultimate full-steeping process.'
'Our sophisticated packaging, and now the first all-natural ready-to-drink bottled iced tea, has Revolution Tea becoming a major player in the highly competitive beverage industry,' Watson says.
Positioning a launch against a trendy, conventional product is another effective strategy. V-Net Beverage Inc. (Blue Island, IL) took on the big boys when it reformulated low-calorie Rush Cola. V-Net expects to compete favorably with reduced-calorie sodas such as Coca-Cola C2.
'We've conducted an informal taste comparison pitting Rush Cola against Coca-Cola C2,' stated Robert Corr, president. 'All-natural Rush Cola delivers cola flavor without artificial sweeteners. With C2, one had to hunt for the cola flavor, and some were put off by C2's use of not one, but three artificial sweeteners.'
Coca-Cola C2 is sweetened with aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and sucralose.
Coor, a 25-year beverage industry veteran, formulated Rush Cola with ginseng, rhodiola, and other herbs. 'The cola giants have strayed from the real cola flavor they offered years ago,' Corr says. 'Most consumers don't even know how good a natural cola beverage can taste, much less a natural cola boosted by an array of legendary herbs.'
Low-cal and regular versions of Rush Cola were initially introduced in Canada. The United States introduction is scheduled for fall 2004.
Soft drinks aren't the only beneficiaries of the healthy eating trends. LifeForce Laboratories (Altamonte Springs, FL) expects soy protein to build market share for its Zoic Protein Nutrition Drink.
'Many Americans today face health problems associated with the overconsumption of fats and sugars,' says John Serieka, cofounder of LifeForce Labs. 'Zoic is the perfect anytime snack replacement and meal complement for busy Americans.'
Zoic is fortified with Supro Performance soy protein from Solae (St. Louis). Sweetness is provided by Splenda (sucralose) from McNeil Nutritionals (Fort Washington, PA). The beverage is 99% fat free, has 21 g of protein, and has only 2 net carbs per serving. In addition, each 11-oz can is 99% lactose free, and has zero cholesterol.
Zoic's label earned American Heart Association (AHA; Dallas) certification for meeting food criteria for saturated fat and cholesterol for healthy people over age 2. Each can features the AHA's widely recognized heart-check mark for heart-healthy foods.
In distribution, Zoic crosses the healthy/mass border. The drink is sold in convenience stores, health-food stores, fitness clubs, select GNC stores, and conventional grocery chains such as Winn-Dixie, Kroger, Walgreens, Publix, and Kash 'n Karry stores.
Many people prefer consuming nutrients in beverages rather than tablets or capsules. Until recently, taste and solubility issues limited the number of ingredients that could be added to beverages. Advances in ingredient science have since changed the possibilities.
At the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) 2004 Annual Meeting & Food Expo in July, Cargill Health & Food Technologies (Minneapolis) showcased a functional beverage prototype for mainstream health-conscious consumers concerned about joint health.
According to Cargill, joint pain is the number one chronic health condition in the United States, and chondroitin has been identified as a solution to help promote healthy joints. Cargill's JointWise beverage is made with OptaFlex natural chondroitin. OptaFlex is natural chondroitin self-affirmed GRAS (generally recognized as safe) through an independent panel of scientists and is manufactured using a unique, water-based process that overcomes taste issues.
'We conducted joint health consumer research that our customers can utilize to enhance their product positioning. Great-tasting beverages, such as JointWise with OptaFlex natural chondroitin, offer a great alternative for those consumers who prefer consuming beverages to taking pills,' says Lee Knudson, OptaFlex chondroitin product manager.
In addition to JointWise, Cargill launched CoroWise Instant plant sterol esters at IFT. The water-soluble sterols are meant for heart-healthy products such as instant beverage and soup mixes, RTD beverages, bars, and cereals.
CoroWise Instant plant sterol esters are produced from natural vegetable extracts. According to Cargill, data from various studies indicate daily intake of at least 1.3 g of plant sterol esters as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol helps lower blood cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of heart disease.
'Now more than ever, consumers crave great taste that is heart healthy and convenient,' says Ted Ziemann, president of Cargill Health & Food Technologies. 'Leading food companies are making it easier to find great-tasting foods and beverages--and high-quality supplements--that help protect the cardiovascular system.'
Like chondroitin sulfate, grape seed extract typically isn't found in the beverage aisle. Old Orchard (Sparta, MI), recently rolled out 100% Purple Grape juice with grape seed extract for people who believe resveratrol plays an important part in avoiding cardiovascular disease. By adding grape seed extract to its 100% Purple Grape juice, Old Orchard is bringing to consumers the benefits of red wine without the alcohol.
Found in the skins of red grapes, resveratrol protects against fungal infections and has been shown to have a number of potentially beneficial properties, including antioxidant, anticoagulant, and antiinflammatory effects, according to Old Orchard.
Plus, it's fun, explains Michael McDonald, vice president of sales and marketing. 'Purple grape juice has always been a favorite among kids and moms,' he says. 'But with the inherent benefits of grape seed extract, we believe that our beverage consumer base will expand to include more adults looking to reap the benefits of red wine without having to consume alcohol.'
McDonald adds that the grape seed extract does not change the taste of its 100% Purple Grape juice.
Old Orchard's 100% Purple Grape juice is available in 64-oz, recyclable bottles. Old Orchard is not adding grape seed extract to frozen concentrate, but may consider it in the future.
Earlier this year, Old Orchard introduced Apple, Apple Kiwi Strawberry, Apple Cranberry, Apple Raspberry, and Grape LoCarb juice cocktails.
The drinks have 75% less sugar, carbohydrates, and calories than other fruit juice cocktails.
The company developed the line in response to changing dietary habits. 'Everywhere you turn these days you see another low-carb menu or product,' says McDonald. 'Juice beverages, for the most part, have been overlooked, yet they are one of the first things people say they miss while trying to maintain a low-carb diet.'
LoCarb juice cocktails are 25% juice, contain no preservatives, and are sweetened using Splenda. The cocktails have 30–40 calories and 6–10 carbs per serving, depending on the flavor. The cocktails are naturally colored using Aronia berries.
While ingredients are the main attraction, packaging also plays a role in getting healthy beverages noticed. Labrada Nutrition (Houston) rolled out CarbWatchers Lean Body Ready-to-Drink Shakes in Dutch Chocolate Ice Cream and Soft Vanilla Ice Cream flavors in Tetra Pak (Vernon Hills, IL) aseptic cartons.
According to Labrada, aseptic packaging preserves the integrity of the proteins and delicate nutrients. Furthermore, the aseptic process minimizes exposure to heat, which helps to keep the protein intact and highly usable by the body.
Plus, aseptic packaging is convenient. Mixing and blending meal-replacement powders is not necessary for RTDs. Customers tear open the tab and drink.
The RTD beverages have 30 g of protein, only 3 g of sugar, and 11 vitamins and minerals. The protein is LeanPro, Labrada's blend of spray-dried ultrafiltered milk protein isolate. LeanPro yields fast-acting whey protein peptides, branched-chain amino acids, L-glutamine peptides, and slow-acting casein peptides.
'The taste and protein content makes the Lean Body RTD the ideal product for dieters, athletes, and busy people alike,' says Lee Labrada, president and CEO. 'It's healthy 'fast food' when you are too busy to cook.'