Kombucha was just the start.
The meteoric rise of bubbly fermented tea has inspired a wave of new drinks packed with probiotics, electrolytes and other ingredients that promise to do more than just taste great.
“Functional” drinks are now in fashion.
“I don’t see it stopping any time soon,” said Sally Lyons Wyatt, food and beverage expert at IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm. “Almost all beverages add functional benefits.”
For Minneapolis-based Panache, that means infusing apple juice with ingredients like ginger and turmeric for their anti-inflammatory properties and other benefits. The company has seen a steady increase in farmers’ markets at local grocery stores over the past few years, as more consumers seek improved health and wellness through foods and beverages from all over the world. days.
“Putting functionality first is mindful eating, for lack of a better term,” said Ameeta Jaiswal-Dale, CEO and co-founder of Panache. “And I think most people now want to eat mindfully.”
The functional drink market is dominated by energy drinks and sports drinks, which are generally high in caffeine and sugar, just like sodas. But natural products are making big gains, as teas, seltzers and juices deliver targeted benefits like stress relief, gut health and immunity.
Beverages containing prebiotics or probiotics have seen sales jump 52% in the past year, according to IRI data, and beverages that highlight protein as their primary benefit are up 27%. Kombucha sales have exceeded half a billion dollars.
Beverage checkouts at retailers have expanded or reorganized to meet demand, which has accelerated during the pandemic.
“This growth has remained strong due to increasing pressures from the world we live in,” Lyons Wyatt said. “You need your drinks and food to do more so you can live well.”
Like using chicken noodle soup to fight a cold or ginger ale for an upset stomach, Jaiswal-Dale says she and others are putting a name to a practice that predates modern marketing.
“Each food group has a function,” said Jaiswal-Dale, also a business professor at the University of St. Thomas. “Food is something that has to be adapted to your body, so we have to personalize our consumption.”
Remedy for resurgence
When Melina Lamer started making Superior Switchel – an apple cider vinegar drink said to replenish electrolytes and boost immunity – she was selling it in glass jars at farmers markets.
Now owned by Sociable Cider Werks and rebranded as Superior Craft Elixirs, the tart refresher can be found in cans at a variety of retailers and drinking places.
“It’s not just for people looking for an alternative to alcohol, it’s great on a hot summer day if I’m dehydrated,” said Jim Watkins, co-founder of Sociable Cider Werks. “I think he has legs.”
It is also a resurgence of a natural remedy first used centuries ago. Indeed, the revival of drinks is a trend in its own right.
“We have a tonic water and a ginger beer coming out later this year. Both were originally concocted to be medicinal,” Watkins said.
But while many functional drinks are quick to point out their wellness benefits, superior craft elixirs keep them out of the can.
“It has to stand on its own, taste great, and make people think, ‘It’s a guilt-free drink,'” Watkins said. “I think there’s so much of the ‘Hey, it’s better for you’ approach to beverage sales that feels a lot like snake oil.”
Shelves are increasingly cluttered with health claims, and IRI consultant Lyons Wyatt said brands and retailers need to help consumers navigate them.
“Education is so important. We’re seeing a lot of new benefits emerging, and less than 20% of consumers might know what they are,” she said. “You have a lot of manufacturers coming in, and the degree of impact of their ingredients varies.”
The most desired function in any drink, other than hydration, is caffeine.
Americans spend billions on cold brews and bottled teas every year — and that’s just in grocery stores and convenience stores. The energy drink category in the United States is estimated to be around $14 billion and growing, according to Research and Markets.
Big Watt Cold Beverage Co. has introduced a line of caffeinated sparkling waters intended to provide an all-natural alternative to Hiball and even Monster – or perhaps a coffee break for an afternoon shake.
“Enhanced waters” also contain electrolytes and vitamins that provide additional functional appeal.
“There’s definitely been a shift in the way people consume and think about what they’re putting into their bodies,” Big Watt chief executive Alex Gese said. “New products are constantly hitting the shelves, so for us to have any chance of succeeding, we have to be nimble and eager to create something new.”
As more consumers turn to “clean labels” – short lists of natural ingredients – Big Watt has refreshed its packaging to draw attention to its own.
“The most important brand feature is actually the can. It has to speak to people on the shelf,” said Big Watt sales manager Rick Dow.
Once it’s in a buyer’s hands, there’s a greater tendency to “flip the box” and check the label, compared to the dozens of other functional options packing coolers selling at the retail.
“‘Natural flavor’ is often a signal that it’s not. Our raspberries are raspberries,” Dow said. “These products are very appealing to high-value consumers who are increasingly looking for ‘good for me’.”
Adaptogens — Certain mushrooms and plants contain compounds that can help the body respond to stress. Ginseng, ashwagandha, reishi, and lion’s mane are common sources of adaptogens.
Antioxidants – A number of vitamins and minerals have antioxidant properties, which help prevent or slow cell damage.
CBD — Cannabidiol is a hemp-derived compound widely marketed for its calming effects and devoid of THC, which is the high-producing chemical in marijuana. Although Minnesota does not allow CBD in food and beverages, a wide variety of infused products are commonly found at retailers and online.
Collagen – A protein that our bodies make in abundance — but less so as we age — animal-derived collagen is marketed for skin and bone health.
Clean Caffeine – This label is used to refer to natural sources of the world’s most popular stimulant, such as coffee or tea, as opposed to synthetic caffeine commonly found in energy drinks.
Electrolytes — Essential minerals like sodium and potassium that the body needs to function. A balanced diet usually contains enough of them, but strenuous exercise and heavy alcohol consumption can deplete electrolytes.
MCT Oil – Typically distilled from coconut oil, medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are an easier-to-digest type of fat and can trigger feelings of fullness. Commonly used in the keto diet and in “bulletproof” coffee.
Prebiotic – Certain plant fibers are called prebiotics because they are an especially good food source for the healthy bacteria in our intestines that make digestion possible.
Probiotic — Naturally found in yogurt, kombucha, kimchi, and other fermented foods, probiotics are beneficial bacteria and yeasts often referred to as “gut flora” that aid digestion.
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