Healthy Beverages Ride the Wave

October 20, 2005
Elizabeth Brewster

Consumers’ thirst for functional beverages shows no signs of drying up any time soon. Industry forecasters are projecting a $6.4 billion combined market for sports beverages, energy drinks, and enhanced waters by 2009, according to Datamonitor (New York City).

 

Consumers’ thirst for functional beverages shows no signs of drying up any time soon. Industry forecasters are projecting a $6.4 billion combined market for sports beverages, energy drinks, and enhanced waters by 2009, according to Datamonitor (New York City).

What’s hot right now? “Anything that increases metabolism, or enhances performance and stamina throughout the day, especially for the aging population,” says Paulette Kerner, director of marketing communications for Virginia Dare (Brooklyn, NY). “Spa-type drinks are also becoming more popular. We’re seeing a big growth in the flavored water market this year.”

WATER, WATER, EVERYWHERE . . .

Water that has been flavored and fortified is, in fact, the latest big wave to hit the healthy-beverage market, say industry observers. Last year, more than 120 bottled water products were launched in the United States, according to a recent Mintel (Chicago) report, which predicts that waters enhanced with vitamins, minerals, and flavors would help boost dollar sales as the category matures.

Riding the crest of the enhancement wave is Coca-Cola’s (Atlanta) new Powerade Option, which launched in July in strawberry, black cherry, and lemon flavors. Like regular Powerade, Option delivers electrolytes and B-complex vitamins. But with only 2 carbohydrates and 10 calories per serving, Powerade Option is being positioned as a diet sports drink to compete head-on with PepsiCo’s (Purchase, NY) Propel Fitness Water, the reigning leader among low-calorie flavored waters since its U.S. debut in 2002. Coca-Cola’s new broad-based marketing campaign targets active consumers looking for a lower-calorie pick-me-up throughout the day, not just the postworkout set.

“We expect Powerade Option to attract new consumers and increase consumption occasions for current sports drink users,” says Mary Herrera, director of marketing for sports and energy drinks at Coca-Cola North America. “Consumer interest in healthier, active lifestyles represents a significant opportunity for a low-calorie sports drink specifically designed to replenish and hydrate the body.”

Coca-Cola may be onto something, if recent trends are any indication. A new study by Packaged Facts (New York City) suggests that physically active adults are only 10% more likely to use sports beverages than the general adult population is.

“There’s a certain cachet to foods and beverages that are positioned as ‘sports’ products,” says Don Montuori, acquisitions editor for Packaged Facts, who adds that energy drinks allow “even the most ardent gym-avoider to engage in a healthy activity, even if it means never leaving the couch.”

Also new on the enhanced-water scene is a bevy of beverages from Energy Multi-Vitamin Enhanced Water Corp. (New York City), which rolled out its first products in 2004. The company’s newest vitamin-enhanced waters-launched in April-are aimed at kids and families as an all-natural alternative to high-sugar juices and drinks, in 10 different flavors: low-carb kiwi-strawberry, lemon-lime, orange, peach-strawberry, tropical citrus, and tropical sports punch; and no-carb orange-carrot, peach-melon, black tea with lemon, and green tea with honey and ginseng. All are packaged in 8- and 20-oz bottles, along with 6.75-oz drink boxes designed for children. Each 20-oz bottle provides 125% of the U.S. recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin C and 40% of the RDA for vitamins A, E, B2, B3, B5, B6, and B12, plus significant amounts of calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium, iodine, and chromium.

“Our products are pure water, vitamins, and minerals, and a touch of natural fruit flavors,” says company executive Raymond Jaquez. “They contain no added caffeine, taurine, or adulterants, and are naturally low in sugar.”

“The fortified-water market is the hottest category in the beverage industry,” adds Jaquez. “We expect to ship 1.5 million cases coast to coast this year, making us the growth champion in this category.”

One of the enhanced-water category’s pioneers recently unveiled its newest offering too: Glaceau’s (Whitestone, NY) Perform Vitaminwater, a low-calorie, nutrient-dense water fortified with electrolytes and B vitamins and flavored with lemon-lime. Calcium, magnesium, and potassium are included to help speed up the hydration process, along with 50% of the recommended B vitamins, plus a dose of vitamin C and other key nutrients.

Such products aim to satisfy a need for healthy hydration and better-focused hydration products, says Mike Hoskins, managing director of A Flavors Consulting Company, Inc. (Lincoln Park, NJ). “We’ve been hit with quite a few new projects for water applications. People are looking for less caloric content and no carbohydrates. We’re getting away from the belly washes, with high sugar content and very empty calories.”

SWEETS TO THE SWEET

As functional-drink makers look for creative, low-calorie ways to sweeten healthy beverages, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has become a no-no, while sucralose-a noncaloric sweetener made from sugar that is 600 times sweeter than sucrose-has gained new ground, says Stanley Kostman, president of Beverage Marketing Corp. (New York City).

There has been some research suggesting that HFCS is a worse form of sugar than plain sucrose or refined white sugar, says Kostman. “Sucralose has become the standout among artificial sweeteners, and consumers seem to be picking up on the concept,” Kostman notes. “There are also literally dozens of other sweeteners being worked on in labs now.”

One of the newest sweeteners for wellness and functional drinks is Palatinose, a functional carbohydrate from Palatinit (Morris Plains, NJ) that was rolled out in July at the Institute of Food Technologists (Chicago) Annual Meeting and Expo in New Orleans. Palatinose is a disaccharide derived from sucrose, known as a natural constituent of honey and sugar cane, with a mild sweet taste.

Although Palatinose has the same caloric value as sugar, it does not promote tooth decay and is digested much more slowly, resulting in a low-glycemic and low-insulinemic response, as well as a prolonged energy supply in the form of glucose.

FRUITFUL MEASURES

With their healthful profile, fruit flavors and juices are a natural base for functional and wellness beverages. “Anything with a citrus-type flavor, like tangerine-mandarin, for example, seems to be a trend in flavors,” says Maureen Draganchuk, vice president of business development for Virginia Dare.

To help functional-beverage processors target certain consumer segments, Danisco (Ardsley, NY) has introduced Citrus Nutritionals, 100%-juice concepts created with citrus flavors and ingredients fortified for a specific group. Citrus Nutritionals are designed for maturing adults, teenagers, and children, and are individually formulated for their health needs and concerns. The citrus flavor systems also help mask any notes associated with vitamins and other ingredients to create beverages that are both healthful and tasty.

Tropical fruits, too, are seeing rising popularity among functional beverages as mainstream consumers become more familiar with them. Tropical-fruit ingredients-either as flavors or pulps or juices-that have certain specific kinds of properties, such as a very high vitamin C content or lots of phytochemicals, are being used more in functional drinks, says Kostman.

One of the newest tropical-fruit stars on the horizon is a small purple Brazilian berry called acai. About 80% of the acai imported into the United States this year was handled by Sambazon (San Clemente, CA). Sambazon has seen a 300% increase in sales each year since it began in 2000 and is on track for a similar growth spurt this year, according to Jeremy Black, vice president of sales and marketing.

Black says he and his brother began importing acai after discovering it in juice bars all over Brazil in the 1990s.

“Some of the best athletes were making functional drinks with it-surfers and jujitsu fighters,” he says. “They train very heavily, and they were looking for foods with really high nutrients. They found that this was the most powerful fruit they could eat-it’s rich in omega fats.”

Acai is also packed with antioxidants and amino acids: It has 10 to 30 times the anthocyanins of red wine, and an almost perfect essential amino acid complex. The primary anthocyanin in acai is cyanidin-3 glucoside, which has been found to be 3.5 times stronger than the predominant anthocyanin in red wine, malvadin-3 glucoside.

The acai fruit itself is almost entirely made up of seeds, says Black, so Sambazon initially sold just the frozen pulp to juice bars and health-food stores. Sambazon Original Acai is also infused with Brazilian guarana extract, much like the guarana syrup that Brazilian athletes mix with their acai, although it doesn’t deliver the caffeine jolt typically associated with guarana. “The guarana we use with our acai has less caffeine than you’d find in a cup of decaf coffee,” says Black.

Last year, the company began bottling fresh organic acai smoothies in four flavors: acai with strawberry-banana, acai with mango, acai with soy milk, and Amazon cherry. Each 16-oz serving contains about 5 g of fat, says Black, but it’s primarily omega-6 and omega-9, similar to the fatty acids found in olive oil. Acai is also high in fiber, providing 3.5 g per serving.

Sambazon recently launched an acai concentrate for food service, which will roll out as a consumer product as well, beginning in September. “It will be our first shelf-stable product,” says Black. “You mix it with ice, and you’ve got a smoothie. It’s something the coffeehouse world has been asking for for a long time.”

In addition, Sambazon was scheduled to introduce an organic smoothie combining acai and hemp protein in August, and it is marketing an acai powder to industrial clients.

THE VEGGIE BOOST

Vegetable juices may not see the easy consumer acceptance that fruit drinks already enjoy-but if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

“We’re starting to see more vegetable-based juices, and fruit-and-vegetable combinations, as a healthy-beverage category,” says Virginia Dare’s Draganchuk. “It goes beyond the V8 Splash kind of beverage. And you can take those drinks in almost any direction-more fruit based or more vegetable based, depending on your market.”

Kagome (Los Banos, CA) poured into the fruit/veggie combo market last fall with new single-serving drinks that offer almost three full servings of fruits and vegetables in a 16.6-oz bottle. Autumn Red mixes tomatoes, apples, sweet bell peppers, and red grapes, and touts its lycopene content for heart health; Purple Roots & Fruits blends wild blueberries, beets, black grapes, and purple carrots to highlight anthocyanin for healthy aging and memory function; and Orange-Carrot Blossom combines oranges, carrots, sweet bell peppers, and lemon to provide beta-carotene for good vision and a healthy immune system.

HEALTHY TRENDS

Looking ahead to the next few years, most industry observers see both winners and losers among the current crop of functional beverage ingredients. On the way out is caffeine: “It’s still getting mixed health reviews,” says Beverage Marketing Corp.’s Kostman. “Consumers may be confused, and overall it’s got a negative connotation.”

Also on the downslide are brown colors and colas, says Draganchuk. “Cola, which is carrying the burden of all carbonated beverages, has such a bad connotation today because of the sugar content.”

On the way up, on the other hand, may be a South African plant extract called Hoodia gordonii that is reported to have weight-loss-promoting properties, says Kostman. Research has suggested that a compound in the plant called P57 may help fool the stomach into feeling full, although it has not yet been studied extensively.

Flavor consultant Mike Hoskins also predicts an upsurge in healthy-beverage flavors that follow general market trends of “mainstreaming” traditional Hispanic tastes, such as tamarind, grenadine, and kola champagne.“There are going to be more of these types of tropical beverages becoming commonplace,” agrees Draganchuk. “It’s one of the areas we see as a possible growth area in flavors for healthy products.”