Classic flavors have long dominated the sports drink market, but now unique flavors are stepping up to the plate.
The sports drinks niche, and the beverage industry, in particular, is a great space for innovation, with flavors at the forefront of new trends. While there was once a time when sports drinks came in just a few mainstay citrus flavors, now, drink brands are welcoming innovation in the flavor arena.
From bacon to creamsicle and beyond, today’s drink flavors run the gamut from the novel to the weird. Here are just some of the most innovative, strangest, and least expected drink flavors that have industry insiders talking.
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Fruity Dessert Flavors Play on Consumer Nostalgia
Mike Armstrong, senior marketing manager for beverages at Kerry Group (Tralee, Ireland), says that some of the most innovative flavors he has seen are themed around dessert foods, particularly fruit-based desserts. Says Armstrong: “I’ve seen banana crÃ¨me, blue coconut, and even Creamsicle flavors in the sports drinks market. The carbonated soft drinks category is also full of unusual flavors: cookies ‘n’ crÃ¨me, bacon, candy corn, and pumpkin pie, to name a few.”
Armstrong says these fruity and dessert-themed flavors were born out of a trend toward nostalgia in the beverage space. It’s not uncommon for soda companies to specialize in quirky craft beverages that incorporate flavors from the past, he says, in an effort to create an experience akin to that of a 1920s-era soda parlor.
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Category Leaders Choose Trendy Over Traditional
Large brands like Gatorade and Powerade have established particular flavors as mainstays, with the earliest flavors from the 1970s and 1980s typically consisting of only citrus fruits like orange or lemon-lime. For those brands, though, classic flavors that had previously been mainstays began to underperform in the mid-2000s.1
While Gatorade’s short-term solution was to retarget its existing product line, Philip Caputo, marketing and consumer insights manager for Virginia Dare (Brooklyn, NY), says that rebranding with trendier flavor names helped Gatorade to win consumer loyalty. “When you look at the names of Gatorade’s popular flavors-Tidal Punch, Glacier Freeze, Riptide Rush-you see that they are inspired by nature, but untraditionally named,” Caputo notes.
“As consumers, we’re accustomed to seeing familiar flavors like lemon-lime, grape, and fruit punch in our sports drinks. Gatorade supplemented its traditional flavors with more unique offerings, and has seen success and consumer loyalty as a result.”
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Childhood Cereals Inspire New Drinks
Perhaps one of the strangest flavor trends in the sports drink market is the tendency for brands to release new beverages that taste like popular children’s cereal brands. Angela Skubal, applications lab supervisor for Prinova (Carol Stream, IL), says this trend in protein-enriched sports beverages has been well-received.
“When the cereal flavors started coming out, it was definitely something new for the market,” Skubal says. “It sparked other releases along the same lines, including flavors like Bomb Pop and other ‘childhood’ candy variations.”
These beverages appeal to consumers’ sense of nostalgia, Skubal explains, while also creating a novelty effect: providing consumers with a pre-workout drink that is both new and familiar at the same time.
Skubal predicts these nostalgia-inspired drinks are here to stay. “Orange and grape just don’t cut it anymore. I can see this trend sticking around for a while.”
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Breakfast Foods in General Are Gaining Popularity
Beyond classic children’s cereals, though, a number of new sports nutrition brands are also introducing products featuring other breakfast food flavors.
Megan Trent, marketing representative at Gold Coast Ingredients (Commerce, CA), says that the high-protein sports beverage market has seen several breakfast-themed launches in the last year, with flavors like blueberry waffle, maple pancake, glazed donut, and cold-brew coffee hitting store shelves.
One example of this trend is the “Pancake Drink”, a beverage created by Morinaga (Tokyo, Japan) and DyDo Drinco Inc. (Osaka, Japan) that is essentially a pancake-flavored milkshake in a can. “Breakfast has become very trendy,” Trent says, “and trends in one sector tend to transition into other areas in the industry.”
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Creativity and Science Will Keep Brands Relevant
The drinks industry is experimenting with a variety of strange and unique flavors, and this experimentation is producing significant buzz. In some ways, by virtue of being so radically different, these beverages are viral marketing in product format.
Caputo says that a growing demand for additive-free beverages will drive formulations of natural flavors that are unique and exciting. As the beverage market continues to grow and diversify, innovations in flavor will hook consumers’ interest and help brands establish themselves.
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