Now, more than ever before, consumers are seeking out drinks that promise functionality and freshness. Plant-based beverages manage to deliver on both.

While it’s true that most of the beverages we drink on a regular basis are already plant-based, more and more brands are finding ways to pack in plants and maximize marketing for doing so.

Globally, new food and beverages making a plant-based claim have increased 58 percent between 2013-2019, according to Mintel. This makes sense too, because to many consumers, what is perceived as “natural” is also considered to be “healthy.”

The correlation is hard to ignore when it comes to understanding why plant-based beverages have experienced such a surge, year over year. In fact, sales of plant-based foods grew by 11% in 2019, valuing the total plant-based market at a whopping $4.5 billion, up from $3.3 billion in 2018.

With no signs of slowing down, the global plant-based beverage market is expected to reach $33.96 billion by 2026, expanding at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.3% from 2017 to 2026. Some of the biggest contributors to this growth have been plant milks, digestive support drinks, and protein beverages. Here’s why.

Plant Milks

The most immediate category that comes to mind when discussing plant-based beverages are plant milks.

Representing the greatest growth in the plant-based beverage space, dairy alternatives make up more than 14 percent of the entire dairy market with plant milks boasting a $2 billion share.

Spurred by a combination of health trends and awareness around animal welfare and sustainability, plant milk has risen to popularity in recent years. Plant milks can be derived from almond, rice, flaxseed, oat, cashew, coconut, soy, and more, making it a versatile beverage category with a variety of flavors and nutritional benefits that appeal to a range of consumers.

The biggest contributor to its growth has likely been plant milks’ reputation for being a healthier substitute for cow milk, which is higher in calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, and sugar by comparison.

Of course, long before the mainstream adoption of plant milks, dairy milk consumption was experiencing a steady decline. According to the USDA, Americans drank 149 pounds of dairy milk per capita in 2017, down from 247 pounds in 1975. Meanwhile, the global dairy alternatives market is projected to go from $17.3 billion in 2018 to $29.6 billion by 2023, at a CAGR of 11.4 percent.

So even as the dairy industry continues to challenge plant milks’ position in the dairy aisle (and use of the term “milk” on labels), it doesn’t change that consumers seem to be moving away from dairy.

Digestive Support Drinks

Like plant milks, probiotic and fiber-rich drinks are becoming increasingly popular as consumers seek out support for their digestive health.

According to a recent study, 70% of US shoppers indicated that digestive health is “extremely” or “very important” to them, with 32% reporting that they “always” or “usually” choose foods and beverages for their digestive benefits.

Driven by a rise in health-conscious consumers, especially among the younger generations, probiotic drinks are becoming a force in the functional beverage sector. This steady increase in probiotic consumption can also be attributed to an increased understanding and willingness to accept “good bacteria” as a healthy choice.

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts which can help you maintain overall health, especially where the digestive system is concerned. Even though we often associate bacteria with disease and sickness, the human body needs to possess a balance of both “good” and “bad” bacteria to function normally.

Probiotics are often considered “helpful” bacteria because they keep your gastrointestinal tract healthy, counteracting the “bad” bacteria in your gut. When imbalanced, this “bad” bacteria can cause infections, inflammation, and other issues.

Like with regular milk, consumers have been active in their pursuit of alternatives to dairy based probiotic drinks. This has been a primary driver in the rapid rise of kombucha. Besides great taste, people drink kombucha for its health properties.

The fermented tea drink is most well-known for the living probiotics it contains which aid with digestion, though the added nutrients gained from the tea it contains should not be discounted. Some of kombucha’s health benefits include providing increased immune support, improved vitality, reduced heart disease, and helpful probiotics and antioxidants.

Other fiber-rich beverages have also seen a spike as 22% of all eating and drinking occasions involve the desire for fiber with 63% of consumers reporting an attempt to add additional fiber to their diets. As is with milk and protein supplements, we’re seeing more and more plant-derived digestive support drinks entering the market – from dairy-free yogurt drinks to fiber-rich fruit and vegetable juices.

For now, probiotic beverages like kombucha are still mostly popular in the Asia-Pacific and Northern European markets, but they’re quickly gaining traction in North America. A report by Global Market Insights (GMI) noted that the global probiotics market exceeded $2 billion in 2018, estimating that it with continue growth at a CAGR of approximately 7.3% between 2019 and 2026.

Protein Beverages

While not as widely adopted as plant milks or digestive support drinks, RTD protein drinks and powdered protein beverages are a staple in the homes of consumers like athletes, some older adults, vegans, or anyone else who may require a protein-heavy diet.

RTD protein drinks and powdered protein beverages both provide a concentrated source of protein from a variety of sources, whether plant, milk, or egg derived. Ultimately, the biggest difference between an RTD protein drink and powdered protein beverage is the presence of liquid.

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. Either way, 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 common. However, more consumers are opting for proteins from plants, including yellow split peas, brown rice, hemp, alfalfa, chia and flax seeds, artichoke, and quinoa. These sources provide almost all of the essential amino acids that whey or casein can provide, or they can be blended with other protein sources to ensure coverage.

Ultimately, protein drinks can be easily customized, depending on what your target consumer is looking for (think muscle gain vs. weight loss, or vegetarian vs. vegan options). Plant proteins typically offer consumers more fiber which can be a plus, but also take longer to digest (good for weight loss, but problematic for athletes seeking to replenish amino acids directly following exercise). With the exception of fiber, plant proteins are otherwise pretty similar to milk proteins.

Some brands may also choose to increase nutritional value by fortifying their offers with additional vitamins and minerals. Fun, decadent flavors – like vanilla, chocolate, or birthday cake – are also not uncommon.

As sales of plant-based products continue to replace animal products, it might be time for you to pursue your idea for a plant-based beverage. Luckily, the development experts at Flavorman help you bring it to life. Get started by filling out this webform or by giving us a call at (502) 453-0152.

 

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Written on July 8, 2020.