Healthy Drinks: Beverages Get Refreshed

November 13, 2012

Companies are revamping their beverages for a natural, healthier image.

These days, growing numbers of consumers and regulators are finding certain drinks tough to swallow. Beverages currently under fire include those that contain large amounts of sugar and any amounts of some artificial colors, flavors, and additives.

Consider the decision of many school boards in the United States to ban carbonated soft drinks from school premises. Or the effort launched by New York City’s mayor Michael Bloomberg to prevent sugar-laden drinks from being sold in restaurants and movie theatres in anything larger than a 16-oz cup. Even more recently, New York’s attorney general announced an investigation into whether the multibillion-dollar energy drink industry is deceiving consumers with misstatements about the ingredients and health value of its products.

Alberto Davidovich, director of regulatory affairs for DSM Nutritional Products (Parsippany, NJ), also points out that FDA tends to get upset when manufacturers and marketers of beverages-which are considered conventional foods-begin advertising dietary supplement–like functional benefits. He points to FDA’s 2009 draft guidance-which seeks to draw a line between conventional beverages and liquid dietary supplements-titled “Factors that Distinguish Liquid Dietary Supplements from Beverages, Considerations Regarding Novel Ingredients, and Labeling for Beverages and Other Conventional Foods.” Although the first draft guidance foundered on the rocky shores of industry complaints and consumer protest, rulemakers have promised to have another go later this year.

“Beverage products have increasingly attracted the attention of regulators,” Davidovich says.

Luckily, what is bad news for the makers of questionable drinks can be good news for suppliers of natural equivalents (when marketed responsibly, of course). In the quest for a healthier drink, beverage companies are seeking ways to boost a range of nutritious properties.

Courtney B. Kingery, marketing and customer development manager, for Decatur, IL–based global ingredients supplier Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), notes, “The ingredients that can be used in the market segment commonly referred to as better-for-you beverages are as diverse as the beverages themselves, which span everything from highly concentrated shots of energy and vitamin/mineral blends to balanced meal replacements and refreshing drinks for sports recovery. The common theme with all these products is the delivery of additional benefits to consumers beyond simple hydration.”

 

Progress for Plant Protein

In recent years, ingredient suppliers have increased efforts to broaden their range of soluble nutrients that formulate well in a range of beverage types. Plant-based proteins are making big strides in this regard. More recently, ingredient suppliers have made several notable introductions.

Take, for instance, ADM’s Clarisoy isolated soy protein line. One of the company’s leading products is Clarisoy 100 isolated soy protein, designed to meet the needs of beverage manufacturers looking to add protein fortification to low-pH beverages while maintaining drink transparency.

ADM’s most recent line extension, Clarisoy 150, is described as “a clean-tasting isolated soy protein for neutral-pH applications, providing beverage manufacturers with the ability to formulate comfortably up to 10 grams of protein.” Where Clarisoy 100 is suited for acidic beverages, Clarisoy 150 is suited for use in soymilk, meal-replacement drinks, or smoothies, the company says.

And ADM’s contributions don’t end with soluble soy, says ADM’s Kingery. Another significant ADM ingredient for beverages “is the CardioAid brand of plant sterols, which was recently expanded to include a water-dispersible version that is highly stable in beverages.”

Kingery identifies growth in fruit- and vegetable-based beverages as a trend “worth noting.” He explains, “Consumers want to feel good about what they drink, and consumers feel good about healthier beverages made primarily from fruits or vegetables. They are also starting to understand the importance that protein plays in our diets. This demand, combined with new technology in vegetable-based protein ingredients, gives beverage manufacturers formulation opportunities that they have not realized before now.”

Burcon NutraScience Corp. (Vancouver, BC, Canada) has developed a pea protein isolate product called Peazazz and a canola protein isolate product called Supertein. Both are well suited for use in acidic beverages, including soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, fortified waters, and juices.

The company’s food scientist, Kevin Segall, PhD, says that both ingredients are completely soluble at low pH and provide transparency. They also are heat-stable at a low pH, allowing thermal processing of ready-to-drink acidic beverages, such as hot-fill drinks, with no loss of clarity or notable viscosity change.

As Segall explains, Peazazz is isolated from yellow field peas, a plant protein source that is not classified as a major allergen. Supertein, meanwhile, is isolated from canola meal, the material remaining after removal of the oil from canola seed. Segall describes Supertein as a highly purified product with a slightly sweet flavor that is rich in albumin proteins. It is also very high in sulfur-containing amino acids, whose consumption-particularly cysteine-is believed to provide a variety of health benefits.

These are important ingredients, Segall adds, because today’s consumers are very aware of environmental issues. “Plant protein production is more environmentally friendly and more sustainable than animal protein production,” he explains.

 

A Healthier Profile

In the quest for a healthier drink, ingredient suppliers are seeking ways to boost a range of nutritious properties.

DSM Nutritional Products carries a varied portfolio of nutrients for beverages, including: water- and fat-soluble vitamins; carotenoids, available in liquid, powder, and beadlet form; customized nutrient blends, otherwise known as premixes; and specialty nutraceuticals such as Teavigo brand EGCG from green tea, Fabuless lipid emulsion, PeptoPro casein hydrolysate, and more.

Senior marketing manager Caroline Brons points to beverage trends that bear watching: 1) Customers seeking products able to make allowed claims about their functional benefits, 2) Increased use of fortification with vitamins, minerals, caffeine, and antioxidants, and 3) New products that cross the lines of carbonate, juice, dairy, and alcoholic beverages.

Gus Castro, senior technical marketing manager, identifies brain function, especially cognitive performance and mind/mood relaxation, as target areas for beverage ingredients these days. Such ingredients include chamomile, lemon balm, Ginkgo biloba, and Panax ginseng on the herbal side, and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, L-tryptophan, and L-theanine on the nutrient side.

At Long Beach, CA–based BI Nutraceuticals, food technologist Alison Raban says, “The future of nutraceutical beverages is leading toward healthier, more natural ready-to-drink beverages. One way for manufacturers to embrace this shift is by fortifying with whole ingredients.”

BI, which has operations worldwide, offers ingredients like guarana, ginseng, green tea polyphenols, caffeine, yerba mate, gotu kola, and many others. Raban says, “Traditional beverages will always provide a sizeable market share, but with more people becoming interested in healthy alternatives, beverage manufacturers now have embraced exotic ingredients, including Aloe vera, chia seeds and coconut water.”

Going “natural” is one of the biggest trends in the market, says Douglas Lynch, vice president of business development, North America, for Orange, NJ–based LycoRed Corp. He says, “Ideally, the ingredients should be vegetarian, suitable for all consumers, and provide health benefits backed by scientific studies.”

LycoRed’s products include not only soluble vitamins such as D3, E, and B12 but also a line of natural colorants. Tomat-O-Red 2% (manufactured from tomatoes) and Lyc-O-Beta 1% and 2% are colorant ingredients derived from natural carotenoids. Lynch says they present a vegetarian option that is also compatible with halal and kosher dietary laws.

Vince Cavallini, beverage applications manager for Wayzata, MN–based Cargill, says his company offers numerous functional ingredients for beverage use. “We recently worked on a shelf-stable nutritional beverage with an excellent source of ALA omega-3. This great tasting beverage has 330 mg of Clear Valley brand ALA omega-3 oil per serving, enabling the use of a heart-healthy claim, which makes it popular with consumers. With a projected annual growth rate of 15% to 20% for products containing omega-3s, a beverage like this provides manufacturers an opportunity to differentiate and grow their brands.”

In addition to Clear Valley, Cargill offers these other branded ingredients for beverage applications: Regenassure vegetarian glucosamine; Oliggo-Fiber inulin, which it calls the “invisible fiber” and which is recognized as a prebiotic ingredient supporting healthful bacteria in the lower gastrointestinal tract; CoroWise brand plant sterols; Xtend sucromalt, a slowly digested carbohydrate syrup sweetener; and Truvia stevia leaf extract.

 

How Does It Taste?

Meanwhile, Cavallini insists, flavor must never be overlooked. No matter how nutritious a product is, no matter how attractive its color, it won’t last long if it doesn’t taste good. “Consumers are increasingly interested in products that have more (functional ingredients or vitamins) or less (calories or fat), but they also want the same great taste they are accustomed to,” he states.

At Virginia Dare, a Brooklyn, NY–based flavor supplier that was founded in 1835, Anton Angelich, group vice president, marketing, reports an increase in requests for natural flavors, and for flavors that can contribute to simple and “consumer-understandable” label statements.

Today, says Angelich, the majority of requests are for natural or organic-compliant flavors. Many also are looking for beverages that are fair trade, positively sustainable, low carbon footprint, “locovore,” or promote social responsibility. As a result, the company’s flavorists are focusing their efforts on creating more natural flavor options and truer-to-fruit flavors.

According to Angelich, each segment of the beverage industry has its own flavor trends. Pointing to some trending flavors, he says, there seems to be diminishing interest in exotic and tropical superfruit flavors, and growing interest in domestic, well known, and comfort food–associated superfruits, such as blueberry, tart cherry, blackberry, and raspberry.

He says, “Virginia Dare also sees great interest in flavors that accompany the very wide range of ready-to-drink tea beverages.” These include many kinds of fruits, he says, and there is a growing interest in iced coffee and the indulgent, nut and brown flavors that work so well with iced coffee beverages.

“There is a consumer interest in the choices of fruits found in the outer ring (the produce department) of the supermarket, which have not yet made their way into processed beverages,” he says. Also, tracking supermarket produce sales, Virginia Dare recently developed a comprehensive line of apple flavors reflecting the newer and more popular varieties.

 

Focus on the Future

No matter what route is taken, it’s safe to say that most drink manufacturers are looking to improve the health profile of their beverages. DSM’s Brons states, “The focus in the future will be on the promotion of the positive-emphasizing the presence of healthful properties, not the absence of negative ingredients.”

Netherlands-based market research firm Innova Market Insights, meanwhile, says that the “free from” selling argument will continue to be powerful for yet some time. Chief editor Robin Wyers says, “The most popular health-related claims recorded were undoubtedly concerned with naturalness and freedom from artificial additives and preservatives, and encompassed a wide range of products, led by water and juices, which tend to be seen as inherently fairly natural. Over 23% of launches were marketed as free from additives and preservatives, while about 12% used natural claims. Combining the two categories resulted in over 30% of total soft drink launches using either one or both claims.”

Overall, the overarching trend for beverages is a healthy image-no matter how companies get there. For instance, nearly 60% of soft drink launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in the 12 months to the end of March 2012 had a health positioning of some kind. That’s good news that everyone can drink up.

 

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Market Trends

Drawing on analysis from Innova Market Insights’ comprehensive new products database, which tracks new food and drink launches from around the world, chief editor Robin Wyers comments on several beverage sector trends perceived by the Netherlands-based market research firm.

One recent development is that of mid-calorie carbonated drinks, Wyers says. He explains that this trend toward mid-calorie beverages can be seen with PepsiCo’s Pepsi Next cola, launched in the United States in April, with 60% fewer calories than regular Pepsi and sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, aspartame, acesulfame K, and sucralose. “It is targeted at those not wanting to choose between zero-calorie and full-calorie soft drinks,” Wyers says. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola also is expected to test its own mid-calorie entry using Sprite and Fanta in select variants that feature natural sweeteners such as stevia and erythritol to produce a drink with half the calories of standard lines.

Dr Pepper, the number three player in the U.S. market, is lowering the calorie bar even further. Its Snapple Group is developing Dr Pepper Ten, a 10-calorie carbonated beverage, with macho marketing that ditches the diet image. Launched in October 2011, the concept is targeted at 25- to 34-year-old male consumers. By mid-2012, the company was reportedly testing 10-calorie versions of some of its other brands, including 7Up, A&W, Sunkist, Canada Dry, and RC Cola.

Turning to bottled water, Wyers says that “Electrolytenment” will be the promotional theme for Nestlé’s Resource brand, a premium spring water with naturally occurring electrolytes. The target market is women aged 35 to 45. Bottled-water brand Dasani, meanwhile, has placed considerable focus on the development of its Plantbottle environmentally friendly packaging.

Wyers says that growth in the sports drinks market, which has trailed energy drinks in recent years, is gaining new impetus with rising interest in protein content and increased focus on more specific consumer groups, “need” states, and exercise opportunities. According to Innova Market Insights, “Key developments in 2011 included the success of the revamped Gatorade range, targeting new varieties at different kinds of athletes and more specific usage occasions. Gatorade Perform, the core brand in the revamped portfolio, saw sales rise nearly 25% to over $2 billion.”

And in the juice drinks market, Wyers says, key trends include the use of more exotic fruits and juice blends, as well as a focus on “lighter products-i.e., those with less than 100% juice, to deliver less sugar and fewer calories.”

 

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Stevia Unleashed in Europe

Del Monte’s August 11 announcement that it plans to use stevia to sweeten a line of Naturally Light juice drinks in the UK continued a trend that has been apparent in Europe since 2011, when EU authorities approved use of the natural, non-caloric sweetener. (In the United States, stevia has been GRAS affirmed since 2008.)

In reality, says Robin Wyers, chief editor of Netherlands-based Innova Market Insights, that trend was already underway for at least a couple of years before the official “okay,” but picked up steam when the EU signaled thumbs up. Since then, says Wyers, “stevia-based sweeteners, with their natural positioning, have taken the food and drinks industry by storm.”

According to Hélène Möller, product management ingredients specialist with WILD (Rudolf Wild GmbH & Co. KG), located in Heidelberg-Eppelheim, Germany, “In Europe, stevia is on everybody’s lips.” She points out that opportunities for stevia are ripe in all sorts of beverages.

Market growth on this side of the Atlantic also has been substantial. A 2011 Datamonitor survey showed the United States with 44% of stevia-containing food and beverage launches woldwide. At the same time, Brazil accounted for 6% of product introductions and Chile 5%. In other words, well over half the new products featuring stevia that came out between January and July 2011 debuted in the Western Hemisphere. In the same survey, Japan claimed 14% of the new product introductions, and France 8%, with 22% coming from all other nations combined.

On its Web site, www.stevia.co, Indianapolis, IN–based Stevia Corp. acknowledges that stevia’s market share is still tiny compared to sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, the two dominant nutritive sweeteners. Nevertheless, the company emphasizes, after the FDA shackles came off in 2008, changing non-nutritive stevia’s status from dietary supplement to food additive, in one year alone its sales surpassed both saccharine and aspartame. The following year, 2010, saw a 200% increase in product launches.

In January 2012, market researcher Packaged Facts said, “Researchers found stevia to be benefitting from a perfect storm of momentum caused by media attention, the potential of new markets, and its FDA Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status. Also helpful has been support by major corporations such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, which the researchers credited with having helped change the entire stevia market dynamic since the end of 2008.”

Citing a World Health Organization estimate, Stevia Corp. suggests that over time, the herbal sweetener is poised to replace 20% of the sugar market, making it a multibillion-dollar commodity.