“Not every functional ingredient can be part of a beverage-delivery system,” says Michael Bush of Ganeden Biotech.
The prevailing theme in contemporary beverage design puts a whole new spin on the statement, “I sure could use a good drink.” That’s because now more than ever, good-as in “good for you”-moves product. Today’s most successful beverage launches are in the wellness category, where packing good-for-you functional ingredients into something more palatable than a pill is the name of the game.
But the same functional formulations responsible for the sector’s dynamism also set up obstacles in the way of wellness beverage creation-for these drinks aren’t just dynamic as a category; each is a dynamic chemical and physical medium that can confound even well-plotted fortification efforts.
As a result, “not every functional ingredient can be part of a beverage-delivery system,” says Michael Bush, senior vice president, Ganeden Biotech (Mayfield Heights, OH). Nevertheless, he insists, “There is tremendous opportunity in this market.” Capturing that opportunity requires focused formulation and familiarity with the tools that best pull it off.
Pouring It On
The value of the U.S. functional beverage market topped $25 million in 2012 and will likely continue rising at a rate close to 9% through 2017, according to research firm MarketLine. When you consider all wellness beverages have going for them, that growth makes sense.
Americans’ adoption of generally healthier diets and lifestyles may be the greatest contributor to the growth. But beyond that, the beverage format itself has an inherent advantage in that it permits what Mathieu Dondain, marketing and communications director for Nexira (Rouen, France), calls “nomadic usage”-that is, it lets you grab it and go.
This is the vaunted convenience factor, and, says Bush, “The convenience of wellness beverages fits today’s on-the-go lives. They’re a great way for consumers to receive desired health benefits without changing their day-to-day routines.”
Moreover, wellness beverages may represent the next stage in supplements’ evolution. As an alternative to tablet- and capsule-taking-which Mitch Skop, senior director of new product development, Pharmachem Laboratories Inc. (Kearny, NJ), notes “many people can’t stand”-wellness beverages are hard to beat.
And the fact that consumers now flock to wellness drinks is the flipside of their defection from sodas. U.S. soda consumption saw its eighth consecutive year of decline in 2012, falling by 1.2% according to Beverage Digest. This doesn’t surprise Skop, who calls sugar-sweetened and even diet sodas “passÃ©, as we all know from the data,” and adds that “juices aren’t doing as well, either-they contain sugar, too.”
Indeed, added sugar is growing unwelcome across the beverage spectrum and especially in products built for wellness. “Though product formulators may not be trying to achieve a low-calorie product, there are still limits to how many grams of sugar are acceptable to wellness consumers,” says Bob Verdi, business director, health and wellness, Virginia Dare (Brooklyn, NY).
That just underscores yet another feature of the category that can be both vexing and liberating, depending on your perspective. That is, with no definition of wellness beverages, what we put into them is largely up to us-and our audience’s demands.
“Manufacturers are approaching this from many angles,” says Thomas Douglass, category director, food market unit, Corbion Caravan (Lenexa, KS). “Some merely want to add a touch of the basics, like vitamins A and D to dairy-based drinks. Others are adding a broader palette of nutrients at levels ranging from 10% to 100% of the RDI. Still others are adding nutrients to make specific health claims.”
One clear theme aims to keep things simple, leaving the bulk of the formulation to Mother Nature. Bush sees this “natural” trend as strengthening and predicts that “back-to-basics juices, teas, coffees, and milks are going to be the leaders going forward, as consumers typically want to feel that the beverages they consume are normal parts of their diets versus ‘frankenfoods’ that have been designed in a lab somewhere.”
That helps explain the success of coconut water, which witnessed a whopping 540% rise in product launches from 2008 to 2012, according to Mintel research-attributable mainly to the products’ reputation as “natural” wellness beverages.
“Coconut water is one of the most versatile natural products consumed worldwide for its nutrition and health benefits,” says Reza Kamarei, PhD, vice president, science and technology, Sabinsa Corp. (East Windsor, NJ). Sabinsa’s Cococin product is a freeze-dried coconut water made from green coconuts. “Shikimic and quinic acids-with potential antiviral effect-have been detected in coconut water,” Kamarei says, as have cytokinins, phytohormones that promote healthy cell growth, maintenance, and aging. What’s more, he adds, coconut water “delivers more electrolyte potassium than typical sports drinks.”
Another wellness drink with close ties to nature comes from Aloe vera,which Peter Haferman, president, Improve USA (DeSoto, TX), a division of Pharmachem Labs, calls a hot and emerging category. Its wellness buzz involves the main constituents of the plant’s inner leaf gel. Probiotic bacteria in the small intestine break down these constituents to short-chain fatty acids, oligosaccharides, and monosaccharides-including mannose, which macrophages and fibroblasts use to make glycoproteins and glycolipids, compounds crucial to intercellular communication, Haferman says.
Russ Hazen, PhD, raw materials and innovations specialist for DSM’s Fortitech Premixes group (Schenectady, NY), notes that some consumers want natural caffeine alternatives, with guarana, green-tea extracts, theobromine, ashwagandha, and ginseng “all seeing increased interest.” Similarly, functional ingredients recognizable to the home cook are enjoying attention, as in the case of curcumin derived from turmeric, whose “anti-inflammatory properties make it a good addition to heart- and joint-health products,” Hazen says. “It fits well into a variety of popular targeted-nutrition categories.”
But fitting everything from vitamins and botanicals to proteins and probiotics into one bottle is a tall order, with ingredients interacting in ways that can threaten stability and quality. Trying to keep the beverage label “clean” makes the task even harder.
Per Hazen: “As food product developers, we find it easy to get tied up in advanced new ingredients and adding technology to processing. But it’s often just as important to consider simplicity in the design of a product.” For instance, clean label means that many of the usual ingredients that solve formulation challenges are no longer options. “It will be the ingredient suppliers who continue to lead the charge in identifying new and innovative natural alternatives,” he says.
Such alternatives may already be available, as with chia and quinoa powders that processors have “repurposed” for beverage formulation. “These ingredients can help replace some stabilizers,” Hazen notes, “while at the same time providing protein and fiber from natural sources.”
But more typically, manufacturers will have to rely at least somewhat on “high-tech” ingredients. Consider the issue of solubility. Wellness beverages are water-based; vitamins A, D, E, and K; omega-3 fatty acids; plant sterols; and many botanicals are not. Though processors can suspended these materials in hydrocolloid stabilization systems, or encapsulate or spray dry them for greater solubility, they still “often end up dispersible but not soluble,” Hazen says, thus clouding an otherwise clear beverage. New emulsion technologies have allowed the delivery of some ingredients in nanoparticles “so small they appear clear,” he notes, “but these materials are not suitable for powder applications.”
Colorants can also behave unpredictably. “Wellness beverages often employ natural colors, which can be less stable in light, heat, and acidic pH than artificial FD&C colors,” says Melanie Goulson, applications manager, Cargill (Minneapolis). Moreover, many nutritional ingredients are colorants themselves, like curcumin, beta-carotene, and lycopene, and at certain use levels may interfere with the color the manufacturer is trying to achieve.
But perhaps even trickier to tie down is taste. As Donna Rosa, senior director, consumer-health business unit, Symrise (Teterboro, NJ), says, “Just about anything that’s good for you tastes bad or has issues like ‘off’ notes, astringency, et cetera.” Common culprits include vitamins, minerals, herbals, omega-3s, proteins, and caffeine.
And while encapsulation can restrain the taste impact of these somewhat, manufacturers more likely use masking flavors to neutralize or cover the ill effects of good-for-you ingredients. Flavor masking “is a biggie-huge” in wellness beverages, Rosa says, and she notes that building these flavors is no treat. “Every time we think we’ve tasted the worst thing on earth, the next worst thing comes into our lab and takes the prize,” she says.
Natural high-intensity sweeteners hardly fall into that category, but the strong licorice-like quality of some stevia-based sweeteners has been an Achilles’ heel that suppliers are only now beginning to overcome. “We routinely work with a number of stevia products,” Hazen says, “and the advancement in these materials has decreased the undesirable licorice note significantly, though they often still need careful flavor profile selection and some masking.”
And if masking flavors alone can’t do the trick, Hazen suggests adding a small amount of vanilla or a subtle fruit note to the dominant flavor to reduce any bitterness. Even better: formulate beverages with flavor profiles that complement whatever flaws the functional ingredients might impose in the first place. “Flavors like cranberry, coffee, mocha, or grapefruit may allow you to end with an acceptable flavor profile,” he says.
Texture can also make or break a beverage, and both proteins and insoluble fibers may leave a gritty mouthfeel or even precipitate out of solution. Hydrocolloids like guar, locust bean, and xanthan gums can even out the texture, Hazen says, and carrageenan, pectins, and similar stabilizers can hold ingredients in suspension and improve mouthfeel. “This is especially true in reduced-fat dairy-based products or smoothies,” he says, “and in low-calorie products that have had drastic reductions in sucrose or corn syrup.”
On the Level
But no less important than texture and flavor-albeit less noticeable-is the need to ensure that nutrient levels stated on a wellness beverage’s label match what’s actually in the beverage.
This isn’t simply a matter of what you add is what you get. Vitamins A and C are notoriously labile, for instance, and interactions among iron, zinc, and calcium can interfere with their absorption. “The pH, solids, and ingredients involved in the system can have a significant impact and need to be factored into the nutrient levels used,” Hazen adds. Then there’s processing. Heat and shear can destroy nutrients “and should also be considered during formulation to ensure sufficient nutrient additions to meet label claims at the end of shelf life.” That means overages.
Getting the overage math right requires stability testing and nutritional analysis, which Haferman encourages manufacturers to conduct before they go to market. “Often we see formulations where little or no work is done,” he says, “but customers need to do a pilot run and stability work to ensure their products will deliver what they promise. The pasteurization process, bottle, cap, and ingredients all have to work in concert to make the product work. If one element fails, the product fails, and it will not meet its label claims.”
And don’t forget the three magic words: “Science, science, science,” says Skop. Long gone are the days when anecdotal information made any difference to a wellness beverage’s credibility with consumers, let alone with regulators. These days, he says, “It’s all about the clinicals and safety data and how we communicate those to the consumer.” Do so with clarity and accuracy, and you’ll have with a good-for-you beverage that everyone can feel good about.
Sidebar: Conditional Love
Beverage ingredients target on-trend issues
We don’t expect nutritional supplements to be “one size fits all,” so why should we expect the same of wellness beverages? Increasingly, we don’t, as consumers seek targeted formulations that address their unique wellness concerns. As Russ Hazen, PhD, raw materials and innovations specialist, DSM’s Fortitech Premixes (Schenectady, NY), says, “Condition-specific products are coming on strong. Given enough time you could likely find a beverage targeting any condition-and if you can’t that may be the next big opportunity.”
Here are some issues gaining traction with consumers:
The Healthy, Aging Heart
“With baby boomers the largest consumer segment for the foreseeable future,” Hazen says, “we’re seeing more formulations targeting ‘healthy aging.’” He says boomers are eager to confront head-on aging’s attendant health issues, including heart health, blood-sugar management, and diabetes.
Keeping cholesterol levels in check fits that to-do list. Melanie Goulson, applications manager, Cargill (Minneapolis), notes that regulatory authorities, cholesterol education coalitions, and independent researchers have reviewed the data from multiple clinical studies and concluded “that dietary intake of plant sterols is effective in lowering LDL cholesterol,” she says.
Her company’s line of plant sterols, called CoroWise, is able to block cholesterol absorption following consumption of a meal because plant sterols are structurally similar to the blood lipid. Products made with the sterols can qualify for the FDA-approved health claim linking their intake to reduced risk for heart disease if they contain 0.4 g per serving to be eaten twice daily with meals-and as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol-for a total daily intake of at least 0.8 g.
Probiotics Go for the Gut
Wellness beverages with a probiotic payoff are a hit with the moms, athletes, and active seniors who’ve helped goose the good bacteria’s popularity. According to Michael Bush, senior vice president, Ganeden Biotech (Mayfield Heights, OH), “Currently about 80% of consumers know what probiotics are and associate them with a health benefit.”
But not all probiotics are created equal. The harsh pH of the gastrointestinal tract, not to mention the rigors of beverage processing, distribution, and storage, can be murder-literally-on the live and active cultures manufacturers add to their products.
To overcome this, Bush’s company developed GanedenBC30-Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086-a patented probiotic strain whose spore-forming ability protects it throughout gut transit. Once in the intestine, the spores germinate and the probiotics initiate their digestive and immune support “through direct interaction with the intestinal and immune cells,” Bush says.
Further, the same spores that protect the bacteria from our own stomach acid and bile help the probiotics survive beverage manufacture. Bush notes that the ingredient “maintains its viability in beverages with a temperature-controlled cold chain typical of refrigerated beverages during manufacture and distribution.”
Prebiotics: Probiotic’s Partner
Just like us, probiotics have to eat, and it appears their favorite meal consists of prebiotics, a class of fibers that, while largely indigestible to humans, are perfect for probiotics to digest. The products of that digestion include the short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that studies link to benefits ranging from improved mineral absorption and immune function to digestive health and reduced risk for colorectal cancer.
Prebiotics come in many forms, including the Fibregum range from Nexira (Rouen, France). Derived from acacia gum, the ingredient’s prebiotic benefits have backing from human clinical studies “highlighting its effect in stimulating the production of short-chain fatty acids,” says Mathieu Dondain, marketing and communications director for the company. “The unique progressive fermentation of Fibregum by beneficial intestinal microflora improves digestive health without discomfort.”
Of note to beverage developers, the ingredient is an odorless, colorless, flavorless, free-flowing powder that dissolves thoroughly and rapidly even as it resists hydrolysis under extremes of temperature and pH. In sum, Dondain says, it “combines the nutritional properties of acacia gum as a source of prebiotic dietary fiber with exceptional technological properties, which make it particularly suitable for wellness beverage applications.”
Take a Load Off
Can drinking a beverage help you lose weight? Perhaps, if that beverage also enhances satiety. According to Scott Turowski, technical sales manager, Sensus America Inc. (Lawrenceville, NJ), “Companies are highlighting protein, sometimes in combination with dietary fiber, as a way to promote satiety and help consumers reduce their calorie intake.”
One of the fibers associated with increased satiety is inulin derived from chicory root. As a soluble prebiotic fiber, chicory-root inulin promotes the growth of beneficial Bifidobacteria, which Turowski says “have been linked to a variety of health benefits.” Emerging research suggests that their fermentation of chicory root fiber may have positive implications in the area of weight management, he continues. “The data show that the consumption of chicory root fiber causes increases in satiety-related hormones such as PYY and GLP-1.”
Research also shows that the fiber can help reduce calorie intake at a dose of 16 g per day. As if that weren’t enough, chicory-root fiber has a natural sweetness about 65% that of sugar’s, which helps mask the off flavors of the high-intensity sweeteners and nutritional ingredients common to wellness beverages while improving the overall taste profile.
The Best Offense Is an Immune Defense
When it comes to on-trend wellness issues, “Boosting the immune system is consistently on the hot list,” says Richard G. Mueller, CEO, Biothera (Eagan, MN). He’s seen immune-boosting ingredients in everything from drinkable yogurts to energy shots and functional waters. “While consumers may not understand everything about immunity, they know that providing support to their immune system is an important part of overall health and well being,” he adds.
To help them do just that, beverage manufacturers can formulate with Wellmune WGP, Biothera’s natural beta-1,3/1,6-glucan derived from the cell walls of highly purified, proprietary strains of baker’s yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
Researchers have sussed out how it works at the cellular level. To wit, after we consume it, immune cells in the gastrointestinal tract absorb and transport it to immune organs throughout the body, Mueller explains. There, another set of immune cells called macrophages break it down into smaller fragments that bind to yet another class of immune cells: the neutrophils, which account for 40% to 60% of all immune cells in the body, Mueller says. Wellmune then “primes and strengthens the key immune function of neutrophils,” he goes on, “which now more quickly move throughout the body.”
U.S. beverage manufacturers using the ingredient can make health claims regarding “immune system support, health and wellness, energy and vitality, sports performance, and stress management,” Mueller says. “We offer claims guidance to customers thoroughly vetted by the foremost legal experts in this specialty area.”