Components of a Successful Beverage

September 22, 2006

A manufactured beverage’s taste is its raison d’etre-its purpose for being. In the words of Scott Backman, market development manager, functional food and food technology for global ingredient supplier Cognis Nutrition & Health (La Grange, IL), “Taste is the most important factor in a beverage. The consumer has an expectation when consuming a beverage. If that expectation is not met, the beverage will fail.”

 

A manufactured beverage’s taste is its raison d’etre-its purpose for being. In the words of Scott Backman, market development manager, functional food and food technology for global ingredient supplier Cognis Nutrition & Health (La Grange, IL), “Taste is the most important factor in a beverage. The consumer has an expectation when consuming a beverage. If that expectation is not met, the beverage will fail.”

Oddly enough, and despite this truth, there’s not much to say about taste. As noted, taste is the inspiration, the conception, the idea that makes a beverage what it is. There is no way to quantify taste, as there is no way to quantify creativity. Despite this, there is much to say about maintaining taste within a beverage system, whether that taste is fruit, cola, or tea.

For instance, ready-to-drink teas like those manufactured by Ito En (New York City) have little or no astringency or aftertaste because the tea is brewed straight from green tea leaves versus using a powder or concentrate. Protein and meal-replacement products using DSM’s (Delft, The Netherlands) casein hydrolysate enjoy a debitterized taste due to the numerous hydrolyzations (molecular bond-breaking) its proteins undergo. Products using gums provided by Gum Technology Corp. (Tucson, AZ) receive the benefits of improved mouthfeel or increased particle suspension without altered taste because gums, versus starches, are needed in smaller amounts to achieve the same effects.

As one can see, all of these examples have to do more with formulation than they have to do with flavor development. It’s one thing to devise a great-tasting product yet quite another thing to manufacture one on a large scale. Looking at such beverage formulation challenges as color, functionality, and processing can shed light not only on how to make a great-tasting beverage, but also on how to develop one that sells.

COLOR

A beverage’s color is more than an offshoot of its main ingredients. In the mind of the consumer, color is directly related to how a product will taste. In addition, according to Backman, individual colors can be associated with a human emotion. In this case, color can determine success or failure for a beverage, and a target market would influence the color used. For example, Rona Tison, vice president of corporate relations for Ito En, states that for Ito En’s products, it is important that they be clear, with no sediment or cloudiness, as these are values that its customers look for and have come to expect.

“Color is the most important component to the typical consumer, as humans receive 70–80% of their sensory information through sight as we judge product freshness, quality, consistency, and flavor,” says Dave Thomas, director of marketing and business development for LycoRed (Beer Sheva, Israel), a natural food-coloring supplier. “Colorants become even more important to the beverage processor as consumers’ demand for more ‘natural’ foods increases and their negativity toward any ingredient sounding ‘chemical, synthetic, and artificial’ does the same. Therefore, color is very important particularly if the colorant is natural and ‘label-friendly.’”

With this need for natural colorants enter new and novel coloring options that include the skins of whole foods or their extracts. While synthetic colors remain popular in beverages as they tend to be brighter, encompass a wider range of hues, and are less expensive than colors derived from nature, the natural colorants are the future of the coloring industry. But with these options come complications, albeit surmountable ones. Typically, pH, heat, light, UV light, oxygen, enzymatic/cultured bacteria interaction, or other ingredients may affect color stability.

An example of a successful natural food coloring is a red coloring manufactured by LycoRed that is a ready-to use natural lycopene. This lycopene, a phytochemical derived from tomatoes, is highly stable under a wide range of temperatures and does not shift with changes in pH. Available as a liquid dispersion or a cold-water-dispersible powder, it delivers to foods and beverages vibrant color as well as the added health benefits attributed to the antioxidant, including lowering the risk of prostate cancer and improving cardiovascular health in both men and women.

FUNCTIONALITY

Obviously, functionality can come from much more than just coloring, but a point is well made: a successfully formulated beverage can offer a range of functional benefits derived from many of its different aspects, whether they are color, mouthfeel, or taste itself. Of course none of this is to overshadow the most obvious source of functional benefits, and that is the inclusion of a primary ingredient that happens to have functional properties. This could be anything from ginger to blueberries, tea to garlic.

According to The Hartman Group (Bellevue, WA), staying healthy is the key reason adults drink a functional beverage, followed by needing extra energy, and “on-the-go” convenience.

“In the past few years, health-conscious consumers have driven the beverage market toward products that serve to satisfy a thirst as well as provide added value as a source of nutrition,” says Josh Brooks, vice president of sales at Gum Technology Corp. ”Because of this we develop gum systems for manufacturers that incorporate vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients in their beverage formulations. We also replace the functionality of fat with our gum systems in many beverages. In milk-based or soy-based drinks, we protect the proteins from denaturization with our pectin blends. Besides the functionality of our products, we are finding that many manufacturers have become interested in the health benefits of our gums.”

These health benefits include the addition of soluble and insoluble fiber through gums like konjac, guar gum, fenugreek, inulin, pectin, gum arabic, cellulose gel, and locust bean gum. According to Brooks, konjac, also known as glucomannan, has been used by Asians for thousands of years and is known to reduce glycemic index and cholesterol as well as create a feeling of satiety.

Pure Fruit Technologies (American Fork, UT) is a functional exotic fruit beverage manufacturer. Its four main beverages contain 100% fruit juice from fruits like the mangosteen and the red goji berry. Preventing cancer, promoting longevity, improving vision, and rejuvenating energy are its goals.

“Each of our products must have a history of use by indigenous peoples and it must have modern scientific research that indicates there are health benefits,” says Wayne G. Geilman, PhD, director of product technologies and food science for Pure Fruit. “Next, it must be palatable, and we strive to make it as delicious as possible. Lastly, we know that even if it meets the first two criteria, if it costs too much people will not be able to purchase it and benefit from it. These are our three guidelines in producing our product.”

UNIQUE MANUFACTURING CHALLENGES

As suggested, the synergy between all of the aspects of a beverage, especially a functional beverage, is significant in manufacturing a great-tasting, attractive, and healthy product. But with this goal comes unique processing challenges. For instance, Chris Reed, who brews and markets Reed’s Ginger Brew (Los Angeles), uses only fresh fruits and spices to maintain the antioxidant properties of his beverages. This necessity requires his customers, much like wine aficionados, to get used to and enjoy slight variations in taste from batch to batch. The same goes for Pure Fruit Technologies, whose use of only pure fruit ingredients, with no preservatives, artificial colors, added gums, or stabilizers, requires special processing attention.

The processing procedures of Izze Beverage Co. (Boulder, CO), whose products are all-natural as well, helps illustrate these challenges. As Izze does not use high-fructose corn syrup or any other added sweeteners, it handles much greater quantities of natural ingredients than any other shelf-stable beverage on the market, according to its executive vice president of operations, Gil Fronzaglia. Add to this its rejection of artificial colors and preservatives and the challenges mount. “Maintaining strict processing guidelines during product pasteurization is key, as well as the use of proper storage conditions of both raw materials and finished product,” says Fronzaglia.

Part of maintaining proper storage conditions for finished product is how and in what the finished product is stored. Ito En’s success with its brands has been due to its bottling process, one that removes all oxygen from its bottles. The catechins, or antioxidants in the green tea, oxidize quickly when it is hot. By removing the oxygen, Ito En was able to maintain the catechin content. Taking a few steps back, Ito En also improves its brands’ marketability by employing a high-grade brewing method that removes all sedimentation and guarantees that the tea in the final bottles is clear and clean, and maintains the same level of quality in each product.

Another challenge is being able to insert large quantities of ingredients into a beverage without negatively affecting its sensory characteristics. For instance, TRC Nutritional Laboratories (Tulsa, OK) offers an ingredient known as TRC Minerals that contains 75 plant-derived, water-soluble minerals obtained from humic shale. According to Dior Goodwin, key accounts specialist at TRC, the ingredients, which can be used to enhance the nutritional value and marketability of beverages, do not affect the taste of foods and beverages.

MARKETING

Yes, as with anything, appearance matters. And as the beverage market, especially the functional beverage market, continues to heat up, appearance will matter all the more. According to Backman, the natural and organic beverage market is seeing double-digit growth. More beverage companies are dedicating employees to nutrition and health research to support new product development.

“What we are seeing here in the United States is the appearance of specialty beverages, which were once really only found in health food or other specialty retailers, going mainstream,” says Tison. “Our teas are now available in Target as well as a variety of supermarket chains. We see this trend continuing until it is truly commonplace to see a majority of these brands available in a mass retail setting.”

“As the market demand increases for ready-to-drink products, beverage companies will strive for new ways to fortify formulas and compete for consumer attention,” adds Goodwin.

With increased exposure, however, come even greater challenges. Years ago, most natural, organic, or functional beverages were sold at niche retailers. These retailers were informed on a given brand’s point of difference. According to Tison, today’s climate is much different. “You find less-informed employees at the bigger stores who often have little idea what makes a given brand distinctive or healthy or functional,” Tison says. “Moreover, with the advent of big box, big box specialty, catalog, and the Internet, there is a clear danger that these brands will be commoditized unless something is done to protect their brand equity. It is incumbent upon marketers to find new ways to communicate their brand’s point of differentiation in an increasingly hostile marketplace.

“What we know about consumers of distinctive brands such as ours is that they don’t buy beverages that only satisfy functional needs. They want an experience that satisfies their emotional and rational needs and helps them feel great about making the purchase. They respond to things like credentials, authenticity, honesty, and value. They want a story to share with their friends that tells them why they selected your brand from among the others in the category. Marketing communications programs are the last line of defense to ensure the audience gets a story that they want to tell-and you want them to tell. While your brand story needs to be relevant, substantive, and rooted in product truth, it also needs to be passionate, emotional, and persuasive. They need to feel the love; they need to be exposed to the heritage and innovation that makes your brand distinctive through the many channels of communication available to you.”

But with this increased opportunity that the burgeoning functional market has provided, and especially because of its fierce competition, there has developed a need for responsibility. “I think the nutritional beverage market will continue to grow,” says Geilman. “Many excellent new products have been introduced in the last few years. Technology is allowing fruits that had limited availability to be accessible to the world. Convenience and taste will drive the market and science will substantiate the benefits. As people use more fruit-based juice supplements they will feel better and sales will continue to rise. As suppliers of nutritional beverages, we must be careful of what we promise. Snake oil only sells once; high-quality nutrition can sell for a lifetime.”

A QUICK NOTE ON THE ENVIRONMENT

Not only are functional beverages picking up market steam, but so too are other sectors of the beverage market. This includes sports drinks and bottled water. According to Information Resources Inc. (Chicago), these two ranked first and second on its list of the Top 10 Growth Categories. And with sales comes waste, both at the head of production and at the end. Single-handedly, the beverage industry can make a significant difference in managing our consumer waste and in the process add marketability to its products.

“We keep this focus in all we do,” says Reed. “We use ozone to sanitize where possible and reuse glass for a big percentage of our glass use. This is a throwback to the old days. We have morphed a bit of our sales into draft, which uses no packaging and is the ultimate right now for impact on the environment.”

Ito En, like many environmentally conscious beverage manufacturers, uses PET recyclable plastic. But additionally, the company reuses and/or recycles 100% of the waste and byproducts generated in the manufacturing process of ready-to-drink products through a variety of means, including using tea leaf waste as a natural fertilizer for Japanese farmers and recycling its bottles to create the uniforms worn by its delivery people. It is currently running a promotion called “Green is the New Green Sweepstakes” in conjunction with the Toyota Prius hybrid car and Patagonia-an excellent way to distinguish products in a highly competitive market by virtue of associating itself with an increasingly environmentally conscious consumer base.

“All of the major primary and secondary packaging components of Izze-glass bottles, fiberboard carriers, corrugated boxes, etc.-are fully recyclable,” says Fronzaglia. “Whenever possible, we ask suppliers to use the maximum amount of postconsumer materials in the manufacture of our packaging. Additionally, our manufacturing facilities recycle all shipping materials used in the transport of our packaging materials: plastic binding straps, cardboard boxes, and wooden pallets. Also, in the spirit of reducing materials used, we have just completed the transition to reusable plastic totes for juice-concentrate transportation. Prior to this, we had used both steel drums and cardboard totes, both of which were either recycled or simply discarded. We are also investigating a transition to bulk tankers for the transportation of concentrate so as to eliminate totes altogether.”