Yes, you can start your own natural drink company! But before you do, you should make sure you know what that means.

If you’re getting ready to enter today’s food and beverage market, you’re going to have to address natural, organic, and ‘clean label’ trends. There are a lot of heuristics for consumers interested in living a ‘clean label’ lifestyle, such as: “Don’t buy products with more than three ingredients;” “Don’t drink anything with ingredients you can’t pronounce;” and “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t have had in her pantry.”


There is a large (and affluent) market of consumers that have taken these guidelines to heart and a legion of companies are happy to cater to that market. You may be one of them. And that’s great! We love to work with those companies, but our job is also one of education: helping companies and their customers really understand what they eat and drink.

If you’re going to change what the world is drinking with your new beverage, you’ll have to navigate the tension between what you’re allowed to put on your product’s label and what you are allowed to put in the bottle. Here’s three considerations to keep in mind:

 

1. Pick Natural Flavors.

Since we are Flavorman, we’ll start with flavors.

The three most common ingredients in all packaged foods are water, salt, and sugar. The fourth most common is “natural flavors,” but that term is a bit vague.

It is fairly common knowledge at this point that “natural flavors” does not mean “the naturally occurring flavor of the item named on the front of the package.” To get the technical definition, you have to refer to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)‘s Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) (revised as of April 1, 2020). According to the CFR, a natural flavor (or natural flavoring) refers to,

“the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”

That sounds like a mouthful (and it is), but all it really means is that a natural flavor is a substance derived from a natural source (through plant or animal matter) and whose function is for flavor, not nutrition.

The creation of natural flavors from raw materials is an extensive process. An array of extractive and transformative procedures are used to yield an extremely concentrated form of a single flavor component. Those single components can then be combined with dozens of others to create the natural flavors in packaged foods.

In short, the cherry flavor you love in your favorite soda may come from nature, and it may be delicious, but there may not be a single bit of cherry—its juice, flesh, skin, pit, or stem—in it. Instead, the cherry flavor may be made from a combination of single flavors from other natural sources, like fruits, vegetables, or roots.

Of course, making a consistent, delicious product that tastes like cherry out of only cherry-derived flavors is also possible, though surprisingly difficult—with a price tag to match. If you were to go this particular route, there’s a small labeling reward for you: the product could be labeled as having “Flavor From the Named Fruit.” You’ll have to decide if the prize is worth the fuss.

2. Mind Your Sweeteners!

The topic of natural sweeteners is even more convoluted. The most maligned of them all is the infamous high fructose corn syrup. Consumers associate it with unhealthy products and many natural foods-aligned retailers won’t even carry it. That means you can’t use it in your naturally positioned drink—period.

However, there are many other options that enjoy widespread acceptance and sound “healthier:” agave, honey, cane sugar, to name a few. The truth is, they all contain sugar, and if you add even a little bit of any of them, you can’t say “No Added Sugar” on your label.

That’s why other natural sweeteners like stevia and monkfruit are rising in popularity. Plus, these sugar-free options benefit from a no-to-low calorie content, adding to their associated health attributes. Note that these pass the pronunciation test, but several wouldn’t pass the “great-grandma’s pantry” test; however because they are perceived to be better for you than sugar, consumers generally accept these sweeteners in their drinks, especially because most people really do want sweetened beverages.

The important thing for you to remember is you have lots of options besides sugar or taboo sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup.

3. Explore Solutions for Preservatives.

You are going to have to do something to protect your product from the ravages of time. Preservatives are the way you do that.

Your goals are simple: to maintain the nutrition and flavor of your drink, as well as sustain the color and consistency of the drink over time. Even the most stringent, naturally-positioned products must take this into account in order to safely deliver products that can sit for some period of time before being bought and consumed.

Some of the “scariest” sounding names on labels are the preservatives. It’s a good thing then that there are a lot of natural-friendly options for preserving your drink. Whether it’s through the careful selection of ingredients or the way the product is processed before bottling, you can find natural solutions that keep your drink stable.

Moving on from the broad category of “natural,” you’ll find more labeling options in the realm of organic ingredients—those with the USDA “Organic” seal and “100% Organic” stamp. These categories are more defined, and your job is to make sure that you are providing your customers with what they are looking for on the label, and what they expect in the bottle.

If you’re ready to start your own natural drink company, or if you have any questions for our esteemed team of beverage architects, please do not hesitate to reach out through this webform or by calling (502) 273-5214. Flavorman is here to help you change what the world is drinking!

 

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Written on June 23, 2021.