Powerful Potions

October 15, 2007
Wendy Watkins

Functional beverages continue to ride the wave of consumer popularity, and the swell doesn't look to end any time soon. By 2010, the U.S. market for the drinks is expected to be valued at $9.9 billion, an increase of 39.3% since 2005, according to Datamonitor (New York City).

Functional beverages continue to ride the wave of consumer popularity, and the swell doesn't look to end any time soon. By 2010, the U.S. market for the drinks is expected to be valued at $9.9 billion, an increase of 39.3% since 2005, according to Datamonitor (New York City).

Functional beverages, defined by Datamonitor's December 2006 report, include energy, sports, and nutraceutical drinks, as well as smoothies.Gwen Bargetzi, director of marketing for Hilmar Ingredients (Hilmar, CA), agrees the market is exploding. "Holy cow, beverages are the industry's land-grab," she says. "So many exciting things are going on in flavor, function, fusion, nutrition, occasions, packaging, and position."

The reason for the escalating popularity of healthy beverages? Time-strapped, health-conscious consumers want added value in all their purchases, says George Pontiakos, president and CEO of BI Nutraceuticals (Long Beach, CA). He said consumers would rather drink a tasty beverage with health or energy benefits than take a pill or supplement.

"People recognize they have a responsibility for their own personal health," says Pontiakos. "The products are taking off because they work, they provide value, and for the most part, they do what they advertise they do."

According to industry experts, the major areas of growth in the healthy-beverage market include energy, weight-loss, and protein drinks, as well as beverages offering health-related benefits such as antioxidants. Drinks featuring organic ingredients also are expected to be more plentiful on shelves in the near future.

"Health and wellness claims continue to expand," says Tim Webert, senior marketing manager for the beverage category at Cargill (Minneapolis). "Key trends include organic and natural claims, antioxidants from superfruits such as pomegranate and acai, and a continued focus on calorie reduction and satiety for adults and children. Boomers are also looking for beverages to address key health concerns, such as weight management, joint health, heart health, energy, and diabetes."

The key is to obtain top-quality, safe ingredients that remain stable in liquids, according to manufacturers. Also, consumers want to know that the products can follow through on their claims. Consumers are more sophisticated than ever, says Paul Dijkstra, CEO of Interhealth Nutraceuticals (Benicia, CA).

"The challenge for manufacturers is the balance between efficacy and cost," Dijkstra says. "The supplement market is less costly, and the food and beverage market is a very competitive marketplace. I think what we see today is that it is almost the second wave of looking at functionality. In the beginning, a lot of companies sprinkled ingredients in their products. The companies really didn't understand the market. People want clinical data."

ENERGY AND MORE

Consumers do seem to be shifting their focus. According to Information Resources Inc. (Chicago), sales of carbonated sodas declined by 1.4% in 2006, to $13.3 billion, while sales of energy drinks jumped 44.6%, to $637 million.

"The market for energy drinks is accelerating, not only in North America but also globally," says Pontiakos, who notes that energy ingredients, and sometimes entire energy beverages, now are being used in leisure drinks, including alcoholic beverages. Sales of guarana, yerba mate, and ginseng, all popular components of energy drinks, continue to be strong, Pontiakos adds.

Dijkstra agrees that the energy market remains vital. "Every week there is another energy drink coming out, so I think at some point you will see some consolidation there," he says.

WEIGHT LOSS

Interhealth has positioned itself to address the obesity epidemic with ingredients that clinical tests show help suppress the appetite and inhibit fat production without using stimulants, says Dijkstra.

"Every company that I talk to has a platform to introduce products to address obesity and overweight issues," he says. "Overweight issues trigger a lot of other health problems, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes."

Interhealth's products are already in Fuze's (Englewood Cliffs, NJ) Slenderize line, Sobe Lean (Norwalk, CT), and a number of other well-recognized brands.

"If you can get a real diet cola-in other words, not just removing the sugar, but actually adding a functionality-that is available in supermarkets, petrol stations, and Wal-Marts, then you can reach the consumers who will actually make that beverage part of their lifestyle," he says. "That is the key to managing this whole epidemic."

One new ingredient that may also make its way into the mass market is Fabuless, a combination of oat and palm oils from DSM Food Specialties (Delft, The Netherlands). The satiety-inducing ingredient recently was shown in a study to help lessen appetite and weight gain after dieting, according to Philip Rijken, head of nutritional science at DSM.

PROTEIN

New protein drinks-including protein-infused flavored waters-are finding their way to store shelves. Many contain whey protein, which studies show helps with satiety. Additional studies indicate whey shows promise in battling other health problems, according to Hilmar's Bargetzi.

"Recent research suggests that whey protein can play an important role in helping people control their weight," she says. "We generally feel more full when consuming protein than when consuming the same calories of carbohydrates, in part because we digest carbohydrates more quickly." Bargetzi adds that whey components such as peptides, calcium, and amino acids "direct the body's energy away from producing fat and into producing muscle."

Bargetzi says Hilmar just introduced two isolates from sweet dairy whey with thin-as-water viscosity, making light fortified beverages, such as clear liquids, possible. The company also featured a new berry-flavored protein water at this year's Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting and Food Expo in Chicago.

Sharon Gerdes, technical support consultant for Dairy Management Inc. (Rosemont, IL), agrees that whey's popularity is growing. "Whey is being used in more mainstream beverages such as Kellogg's K20, which contains 5 g of protein from whey protein isolate," she says. "Consumers are learning that protein is important for satiety and for muscle synthesis. It's easy to incorporate 5 g of whey protein for a 'good source of protein' claim or 10 g for an 'excellent source'," she said. "At this year's IFT, DMI showed a ready-to-drink iced tea with whey protein. Whey is quite versatile and can be easily incorporated into both clear beverages and smoothies or meal-replacement beverages."

Another big player on the protein front is soy, which remains a popular ingredient in ready-to-drink functional beverages. While soy protein drinks have been heavily marketed toward women because studies show they help soothe menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, other studies indicate soy may have additional benefits.

"Soy isoflavones have been marketed mostly toward women, but in fact they are beneficial for both men and women," says Liza Pepple, product manager for ADM's (Decatur, IL) Natural Health & Nutrition division. "They have been shown to maintain bone density in both genders, and some of the newest research points to a benefit for men wishing to maintain a healthy prostate." Additionally, preliminary studies show soy might help protect cardiovascular vessels by maintaining flexible arteries.

ANTIOXIDANTS AND MORE

Tea is a popular base for many drinks due to its rich load of antioxidants, which have been given wide credit for helping to promote health and combat chronic disease, according to Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, chief of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University (Boston).

Superfruits, including berries and a number of exotic fruits such as acai and goji berries, also are hot because of their antioxidant levels.

"Demand for superfruit ingredients has grown rapidly, and these extracts offer beverage manufacturers a way to add antioxidant activity and other healthful properties to their finished products," says Pontiakos.

However, Blumberg, who is also on the scientific advisory council for the Tea Association of the United States (New York City), says he is concerned consumers will be turned off when they learn that some of the health benefits now being attributed to antioxidants are actually due to the anti-inflammatory qualities of the same ingredients. He said new research shows a number of factors play a role in the health benefits.

"People are attributing the functional benefits of their beverages to their antioxidant capacity," Blumberg says. "The irony is the actual mechanism underlying the benefits may be different. Consumers care about the function, they don't care so much about the mechanism. Manufacturers should focus on a demonstrated benefit. That is what they really are most interested in."

In addition to teas and the superfruits, other drinks offer ingredients aimed at combating specific ailments such as joint pain and vision problems, and also to protect cardiovascular health.

"People are taking a proactive approach when it comes to their health. They are getting ahead of it, working to avoid an illness by taking these additives in their energy drinks," says Pontiakos.

A number of companies have created ingredients to meet those concerns. "Cargill products creating interest in the beverage market include Regenasure glucosamine for joint health; Corowise plant sterols for heart health; Xtend sucromalt, a fully digestible sustained- energy carbohydrate; and Zerose erythritol, a zero-calorie sweetener," says Jon Sweeney, beverage applications team leader for Cargill.

According to Blumberg, the next trend will be combining ingredients that work together to make them even more effective.

"There are probably 5000 flavonoids out there in our diet," Blumberg says. "We are just beginning to understand what the individual differences are between all of these phytochemicals, and if you really want to know from my perspective about what's going to be new in the near-term future, it is not going to be discovering some new phytonutrient. It going to be discovering the synergy between them."

TASTE

A beverage may have all sorts of health benefits, but if it doesn't taste good, no one is going to want to drink it.

"There is a proliferation of more unique flavors and a blurring of traditional beverage segments driven by demographic changes and consumers' desire for variety," says Cargill's Webert. "Latin American, Asian, and African flavor trends are growing, including mango, white and red tea, chai, and lemongrass. There also are more unique and complex flavor combinations, such as juice teas, energy sodas, and sports waters. In addition, the premium product trend is growing."

Paul Riker, manager of beverage applications for Mastertaste (Teterboro, NJ), says there's an art to finding just the right taste for a specific beverage, based on its ingredients, pH, and texture.

"There are lots of challenges with functional beverages," Riker says. "A lot of times, these ingredients will add bitter components, and to get them to the functional level, the bitter may be almost too much. You want to get a flavor that marries well with the basic flavor. For example, ECGC and catechins are really hot right now, but they have a drying effect. You don't want to add something like a cranberry with it. You might want a little lime to lighten it up a bit, and something a little sweeter will help-a peach or a pineapple."

Keeping ingredients stable in a liquid is another challenge, and many companies have developed technologies to help with shelf-life issues.

Sweeney says the stability of ingredients can be affected by light, heat, minerals, packaging materials, oxygen, pH, processing conditions, and storage temperatures, as well as ingredient interactions. Instability can take many forms, such as chemical instability in the case of vitamins and aspartame, which degrade over time. Physical instability, such as phase separation or sedimentation, can also make the beverage unappealing, he explains.

Pontiakos says that's why it's important to know where your product is coming from. "You have to use a vendor that has expertise in not only stability and sustained release, but also in solubility and dispersion," he says. "These are arts. It is science, but it is also an art and you have to use a sophisticated vendor."

SAFETY

Can your beverage ever be too good? "Safety is a huge issue," says Dijkstra. "When you prescribe a supplement or a drug you can regulate the amount of tablets or pills, and people tend to stick to that regimen. But with a food product, it is hard to say, 'just drink two or three.' If somebody likes it, they might drink four or five instead."

Dijkstra says his company has heavily focused on safety so that the products remain effective but have no safety issues even at 10 times the recommended dose.

Pontiakos says his company, which has facilities in California, New York, and China, has a vendor surveillance program in addition to a proprietary sterilization process. He said ensuring product quality and safety is "sacrosanct."

"You have to ensure that what you are procuring is being procured from a high-integrity company. It's tempting to buy cheap, but the benefit that you are trying to market could be corrupted very quickly by buying poorly," says Pontiakos, adding that it's an exciting time to be in this particular market. "We don't see a slowdown," he says.