Health and wellness have always been important to consumers, but in the face of the current outbreak, that’s truer now than ever before. As the world grapples with a global pandemic, consumers have found ways to take their health into their own hands—and stomachs.
In our 2021 Flavor Trends lineup, we re-introduced the concept of “Functional Plus;” consumers aren’t just looking for healthier alternatives with a single star ingredient, but rather drinks that they can sip to maximize on benefits. To stay relevant, brands are going beyond simply fulfilling consumer demands for “natural” and “clean label” products. As brands seek ways to stand out among the competition, drinks that taste great while delivering on a range of wellness and performance benefits are dominating the fray.
Here are three functional beverage trends to look out for:
1. Immunity Boost
In the wake of a global pandemic, immunity is all anyone seems to be talking about. But as vaccinations trickle out to our communities, consumers have taken to supplementing how they guard their health through immunity boosting beverages. Drinks containing citrus and other exotic fruits have seen particular growth under the current climate.
As a class of ingredients, citrus provides immunity boosting nutrients that are coveted by consumers, now more than ever. In fact, amid the global coronavirus pandemic, there has been a significant uptick in the purchase of citrus that is sure to carry over into the functional beverage space.
Citrus fruits like orange, tangerine, lemon, and grapefruit specifically offer an elevated vitamin C content that is catching the eye of health-conscious consumers worldwide. And although no correlation has yet been found for vitamin C’s effectiveness in preventing or combatting the symptoms of coronavirus, there is evidence that high doses of vitamin C can decrease the length of some illnesses, like the common cold. Naturally, consumers have readily applied this benefit to the recent COVID-19 outbreak, contributing to a rise in citrus-related sales.
Similarly, ingredients like coconut, prickly pear, and dragon fruit not only pair well with citrus flavors, but they also provide a variety of their own health properties. In addition to being highly nutritious and full of antioxidants, these exotic ingredients are immunity boosters in their own right. They also support weight loss and gut health, and prevent against many different types of diseases.
Of course, there are hundreds, if not thousands more ingredients that fall under the umbrella of citrus and exotics. Each offer their own natural, unique health properties that are best enjoyed in the form of a delicious drink. It follows then that consumers also tend to associate these kinds of drinks with wellness, and as a consequence, see beverages with aligned flavors as “better-for-you” products.
Future opportunities for growth involve offering increased functional value by adding vitamins and minerals, prebiotics and probiotics, as well as emerging “superfood” ingredients like mushrooms. Introducing naturally positioned, health-forward flavor combinations—ginger, turmeric, fennel, and nutmeg—can further heighten the beverage experience for consumers.
2. Stress Management
Beyond physical health, consumers are becoming more educated about the negative effects of stress on the body. Exacerbated by the disruptive nature of current events, drinks purporting relaxation, improved mood, and better sleep are becoming increasingly attractive to consumers. This might be the push that ingredients like CBD need to reach mainstream adoption.
Made from cannabidiol, the second most prevalent active ingredient in cannabis or marijuana plants, CBD beverages lack the psychoactive side effects of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, another chemical component found in cannabis plants; instead, it is cultivated to provide the wellness benefits of cannabis-plants without the mind-altering effects.
CBD researchers and consumers say it helps with a wide variety of health conditions, including insomnia, anxiety, and depression. Beverage brands are interested in developing drinks that maximize on those benefits—it’s easy to see the appeal.
From a beverage development perspective, adding CBD to your tasty drink formula may not only make it more marketable, but also provides an effortless way for consumers to incorporate CBD into their lifestyles and reap the benefits.
Recognizing its health properties, Flavorman began researching CBD’s potential in the beverage space in 2017. Flavorman sought to find a way to develop more broadly marketable, easier-to-drink CBD-infused beverages. In this process, we’ve successfully developed a water-soluable CBD distillate, called SoluCan BD, which allows us to do just that.
Overcoming a significant technical challenge, Flavorman’s formulation allows CBD to dissolve, not separate, when combined with liquid. This provides a consistent and uniform dose of CBD in each serving of a beverage. SoluCan BD is also shelf-life stable and completely customizable, meaning it can be added to almost any beverage formula imaginable.
In its isolate form, this formulation blends cleanly and easily, making it the perfect solution for entrepreneurs seeking to create a delicious, flavored CBD drink for consumers; that is, one that contains CBD without necessarily tasting like it.
Future opportunities in the CBD space involve offering increased value through combinations of adaptogens and antioxidant-rich ingredients, which can also contribute to reducing stress and promoting relaxation. Introducing flavors that evoke calm—chamomile, lavender, and mint—can further soothe consumers as they enjoy the beverage.
3. Fitness Recovery
While protein beverages are already a staple in the homes of many, they are becoming a more mainstream option as Millennials and Gen Z prioritize fitness more than previous generations.
Protein beverages provide a concentrated source of muscle-building protein from a variety of sources, whether milk, egg, or plant-derived. An RTD protein drink is almost always pre-mixed with liquid (usually water); meanwhile, powdered protein might be sold in individually pre-proportioned packets or in a large plastic tub with a scoop, where consumers will need to supply a liquid to create the finished version of the beverage. Water is the easiest choice, but nutritional value is often added through plant milks, yogurts, or fruit and vegetable juices.
Milk-sourced proteins, like whey and casein, are already common; but trends indicate that more consumers are opting for plant-derived proteins. Proteins sourced from soy, yellow split peas, brown rice, hemp, chickpea, lentil, alfalfa, chia and flax seeds, artichoke, and quinoa can provide almost all of the essential amino acids of a whey or casein, or at least be blended with other protein types to ensure coverage.
With the exception of fiber content, plant proteins are pretty similar to milk proteins. Plant proteins tend to offer consumers more fiber which can be a plus for weight loss; but the added fiber also takes longer to digest, which can be problematic for athletes seeking to replenish amino acids directly following exercise.
Regardless, plant-derived proteins have the benefit of accommodating vegan or lactose-intolerant diets, and present a favorable alternative to consumers seeking a more plant-based lifestyle—a decision that is becoming more mainstream. In fact, a recent study by Ingredion found that three-quarters of consumers cite protein content as an important factor in food and beverage purchase decisions, with 37 percent of consumers ages 18 to 34 reporting they ate more protein from plant sources in 2020 than in 2019.
It’s worth noting that different protein sources will have different flavor and formulation challenges. Generally, the more protein, the more challenges that can arise. Addressing potential formulation issues starts with the source, which also has an impact on flavor. Beverage developers have found that some plant proteins require more masking agents and sweeteners to get a desirable taste profile, especially when used in higher amounts. While not new, pea protein is quickly becoming a staple source of plant protein as it tends to offer the most neutral flavor for beverage development.
Future opportunities in the protein space involve offering increased nutritional value through fortifying vitamins and minerals, as well as the addition of other functional ingredients benefiting recovery. Fun, decadent flavors—think vanilla, chocolate, or birthday cake—have long existed in the space, but as competition in the category increases, brands will need to get more creative with their flavors.
Formulating for Function & Flavor
As brands continue to pack their drinks full of functional ingredients, beverage builders have their work cut out for them to ensure these beverages can also achieve a desired mouthfeel and flavor profile while delivering on anticipated benefits.
“The functional beverage category has become increasingly complex over the last several years,” says Wemer. “Beverage developers are being asked to formulate drinks loaded with beneficial ingredients, each of which come with their own set of formulation challenges.”
“At Flavorman, we custom create our clients’ beverages, including each flavor that goes into their drink,” says Gibson. “As a flavorist, I work alongside the beverage development team to create flavors that taste great while being compatible with trending ingredients.”
There is an exciting frontier ahead as brands continue to hybridize beverage categories, maximize on function, and change what the world is drinking.
Ready to bring your functional beverage idea to life? Partner with the beverage development experts at Flavorman. Give us a call at (502) 273-5214 or get started with our web form, here.