To your health: Lighter beverage enjoyment

Green and pink soda bottles in a line

In the first of a two-part series on healthy beverage innovation, we look at the rise of urban and adult soft drinks and themes such as sugar reduction.

The beverages arena has always been a fertile ground for product and flavor experimentation. But while the overall market has been stable in growth and new product development (NPD) in recent years, certain segments stand out as health consciousness drives consumer demand for “lighter enjoyment.”

The more traditional carbonated soft drinks (CSDs) juices & and nectars brands have generally seen their market shares decrease, amid a proliferation of flavored waters, energy drinks, and premium adult soft drinks. Various health platforms have surged, including:

In the first of this two-part feature we will speak about sugar reduction and flavor creativity in beverages within the EMEA region. The second part will go into more detail around fortification and addressing needs such as immune health, now even more significant in light of the Covid19 situation.

fresh juice

Adult soft drinks surge

The rise of adult soft drinks is a consequence of the overall search for healthier beverages. New categories are opening up, including so-called “urban drinks", which are typically marketed towards millennial consumers and positioned on various sustainability, premium and authentic platforms.

It’s all about meeting the consumer need for more natural products with ingredients that they can trust, and genuinely enjoy. Since the target market is adults, these urban drinks will tend to have a less sweet profile than mainstream drinks within sectors that include tonic waters, ginger beers, as well as fizzy drinks and colas. The next generation of these premium drinks will strongly feature fortified options too.

“The first premium bottled fruit juices and smoothies consisted of just the fruits themselves before fortified options emerged with benefits such as focus on immunity,” Markus Kammerer, Sales Manager Sweet & Beverage Solutions, Brenntag Food & Nutrition (F&N) EMEA explains.

“Urban drinks were initially marketed around ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ platforms, but the next stage will see them become even more complex,” he adds. The evolution means that product developers are currently busy working on ready to drink (RTD) formats in sports beverages, seasonal flavors in energy drinks, and indulgence products in juices & nectars.

Trimming back on sugar for success

While not a recent trend, sugar reduction remains an important opportunity for product development, especially as consumer requests for better taste and cleaner labels intensify and new natural sweetening options come to the fore.

A 2019 Innova Market Insights consumer survey found that for 3 in 10 global consumers, “low/no/reduced sugar” claims had most influence on their CSD purchasing decisions. The market researcher found that 23 percent of 2019 European soft drink launches featured a sugar-related claim. Interestingly, more than half of the new products launched in the energy drink and sport beverages segment bear a claim relating to sugar reduction in categories where the traditional core function has been around boosting energy.

The need for lower sugar products is partly influenced by shifting consumer behavior as awareness of sugar addiction and making healthy living choices increases. It is also driven by the influence of policy, such as the introduction of sugar taxes in several markets.

Jerzy Baczewski, Brenntag F&N Technology Manager EMEA notes that sugar taxes, such as the one introduced to the UK in 2018, created a huge pipeline of reformulations. “People really like the taste of sugar and the sugar taxes present a major challenge.

Photo taken in Virginia, United States

It all means that product developers can expect a wave of reformulation projects going forward. Stéphanie Pretesacque, Technology Director, Brenntag F&N EMEA stresses that it cannot be a case of one size fits all when it comes to sugar reduction. While sugar replacement solutions are well established nowadays, with various high intensity sweeteners available from both natural and synthetic sources, great formulation strategies are needed to obtain the best profile in the final product.

“Consumers are increasingly demanding around the authentic taste and clean label credentials of the products they are consuming, so you really have to adapt each formulation,” she notes.

Brenntag F&N has the ability to support customers in developing specific sugar-reduced formulations that work in their product. With a complete portfolio of nutritive and non-nutritive sweeteners, flavors and taste-masking agents as well as formulated blends, it is uniquely positioned to support customers in the reformulation or development of sugar-reduced products.

“Since we can combine different sweeteners and bulking agents, we can really help customers to achieve the best taste and flavor. That is the advantage of having both a global presence and local teams in every country,” Stéphanie adds.

Berries smoothie glass jar on blue table. Predominant colors are red and blue. DSRL studio photo taken with Canon EOS 5D Mk II and Canon EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM Lens

Less alcohol, more creativity

As health consciousness increases and drink & drive policies become stricter, adult consumers are increasingly turning towards low or no alcohol drink alternatives. The beverage industry is now proposing products that are specifically designed for adults with less sugary tastes and sophisticated flavor profiles.

Options can include anything from health & wellness style refreshing flavors like elderflower or Mediterranean citrus, through to indulgent flavors such as salted caramel or cafe latte. For example, Innova Market Insights reports a 25 percent average annual growth in soft drink launches featuring an “infusion” claim globally (CAGR, 2015-2019).

This flavor trend is inspiring the use of more exotic flavors like mango, coconut, acai and kiwi, or even cocktails such as mojito and pina colada. At the same time there is a greater emphasis on premium tastes.

Thomas Fanzlau, Business Unit Manager Food Solutions DACH notes a rise in interest towards more exotic flavor combinations and thinking outside of the box. For example, low alcohol Radler beers (half beer, half sparkling lemonade) continue to trend upwards and are increasingly featuring more creative citrus fruit flavors rather than plain orange alone, with grapefruit, and lime growing in popularity.

There is creativity across the EMEA adult soft drinks space. “We have a lot of requests from customers to switch to more exotic flavors, including herbs and spices. Many of these experimental flavors are now coming into the mainstream and are very easily combined with more well-known flavors,” Thomas notes.

He points to the success of a “Strawberry Pepper” flavored water brand in Austria as an example of developing new flavors with an extra surprise kick. Other trending flavors in EMEA right now include hemp, which is trending in NPD, albeit without the presence of active cannabidiol (CBD) compounds. Innova Market Insights highlights jasmine (+84 percent), hibiscus (+45 percent), and rose (+35 percent), as just some of the other fast-growing botanical for health and flavor globally, when looking at 2015-2019 growth in new product launches.

Jerzy Baczewski points to the opening up of a wide variety of different alcohol-related flavors for the non-alcoholic beverages segment as a key trend. While people may have reduced the amount of alcohol they are consuming, they will still be looking for that memorable pina colada, mojito or champagne taste. “There are a lot of mocktails out there and strong creativity. For example, we’ve seen champagne flavored energy drinks and the creation of alcohol-free gins,” he notes.

The right partner for the beverage industry

What’s clear from across European beverage segments is that this is a golden age for product development. But the rise of adult soft drinks presents many formulation challenges too, since desired flavor profiles vary so much across markets. That’s why it’s so important to have a product development partner in place during the formulation process, with a keen eye for market insights and trends.

Brenntag F&N goes far further than being a distributor for single ingredients. With 29 Food Application & Development Centers throughout the world, and 13 of them across the EMEA region alone, the company works with customers to find the right solutions for their local market. The Brenntag F&N teams help to create the perfect basis for their customers. By adding various functional ingredients selected on the specific customer needs, they will achieve an ideal basis to ultimately deliver an on trend RTD product to market.

“We are much more than a distributor,” notes Markus. “We offer our full capabilities and capacity for our customers to find the right solutions for their market, with our local F&N specialists supporting their application and product development work. We have the whole basis, standards and starting point in place for all beverage formulations, and we can use them as an additional R&D part at the customer level. With our tailor-made pre-mixes, we try to support our customers in the best possible way in order to achieve an easy manufacturing and implementation process,” he concludes.