Trend alert: evolving the energy drinks market

A cycling drinks to his water bottle. Camera: Nikon D2x

The Brenntag Food & Nutrition EMEA beverage team has taken industry mega-trends and applied them in an energy drinks context with exciting results. Think plant-based, natural, energizing, vitamin-enriched concepts with the ability to sharpen mental and physical performance.

Whether or not they give you wings, energy drinks are flying. As they have transitioned from niche to mainstream, sales have soared. According to data from Innova Market Insights, they have outperformed soft drinks for the last five years in terms of both sales and NPD growth. And this trajectory is set to continue, with value sales on track to hit €7.5 billion in Europe by 2022.

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With energy drinks clearly trending upwards, there is massive potential to develop the market through innovation that goes beyond the core classic energy drink. “Most classic energy drinks follow the same basic matrix. They contain taurine, caffeine and the same combination of vitamins. Differentiation is centered on flavor and how much sugar they use – the functional ingredients are all the same,” notes Markus Kammerer, Sales Manager Sweet & Beverage Solutions, Brenntag F&N EMEA.

“Whilst we believe the classic energy drink category will remain strong, kept invigorated by new flavors and limited editions, there is space in the market for a new generation of energy drinks for consumers who are looking for something different. At present, we are only scratching the surface of what is possible,” he says.

Where will the market get its energy?

The demands of these energy drink consumers are varied and complex and cannot be met by blanket concepts. That is why Brenntag F&N’s dedicated beverage experts have led a trail-blazing project, guided by customer requests and trends data, with the aim of inspiring market innovation and creating consumer choice.

“Consumers are seeking specific functionality from their energy drinks, and this is often linked to activities they are doing, whether online gaming, physical activity, study or work. They might also be looking for natural, organic, clean label or health credentials,” explains Markus. This project has resulted in the development of three exciting ready-to-drink concepts that Brenntag F&N is preparing to present to the marketplace.

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Plant powered energy

The first blend - Plant-based Energy – combines the energy-boosting power of natural caffeine, mate, maca and guarana with naturally sourced vitamins and health-giving plant extracts. Explaining the thinking behind this approach, Thomas Fanzlau, Business Unit Manager, Food & Nutrition Solutions DACH, says: “From market data and customer requests it was clear that consumers are looking for plant-based, natural products and are skeptical about ingredients that look artificial from a declaration perspective. So, this was about providing a body and performance boost with natural ingredients.”

These energizing ingredients are married with plant extracts that are naturally rich in vitamins and minerals, such as guava, physalis, maca root and alfalfa. On-trend natural flavorings – green apple & guarana, pink grapefruit, lime & guava and raspberry & kiwi – complete this clean label, plant-based energy drink concept.

“From our perspective, natural flavors are more or less a must for this concept,” says Thomas, adding that these particular flavors were selected on the back of trend observations within the EMEA region. However, he is keen to emphasize that none of these ingredient choices are set in stone. “We are providing customers with an idea, a starting point for discussion. We can modify the blends to accommodate different requirements or develop tailored solutions,” he says.

Game on for nootropic energy

In recent years, the gaming and e-sport community has embraced nootropics as a means of enhancing focus and mental clarity during late-night marathon sessions. By promoting sharp focus and cognitive performance, Brenntag F&N’s Nootropic Energy concept is designed to harness this lucrative market opportunity, as well as appealing to other, broader audiences.

“Besides the fact that the e-gamer scene is constantly growing, we saw that demand for products that improve your focus is becoming more and more relevant for other consumer groups. People are seeking solutions that support a busy lifestyle, whether they are students or high performers in the workplace,” says Thomas.

The concentration-enhancing concept is powered by the synergistic combination of caffeine and a source of L-Theanine, blended with vitamins, minerals and gingko. On point flavors such as pomegranate & blood orange and blueberry & coconut add consumer appeal. Explaining the rationale behind the decision to use caffeine and L-Theanine, Thomas says: “Scientific studies indicate that a combination of these ingredients can improve focus and extend the boosting effect of caffeine. We paired this energizing ingredient combination with those vitamins and minerals that are needed for the nervous system, allowing products to make an EFSA-approved health claim.”

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Elevating the classic energy drink

With its third concept - Physical and Mental Power – Brenntag F&N says it has treated the classic energy drink to a makeover. “We redesigned the classical formulation and added natural ingredients like kola nut and natural caffeine. The amino acid arginine, which is linked to higher alertness, was added and we used vitamins from natural sources.” says Thomas.

The team also designed a more sophisticated vitamin complex, moving away from the default approach of loading up energy drink recipes with B vitamins to selecting vitamins that reflect latest scientific findings. Add to the base mix exotic flavours from fruits such as mango and acerola berry and you have an up to the minute energy drink with strong market appeal.

Solving formulation challenges

Developing these concepts was not without its challenges, mainly around the solubility and taste profile of the plant extracts. “Most plant extracts are not easily soluble and have a bitter aftertaste. Our aim was to create a neutral tasting base that would be very easy to work with, so we had to find solutions to overcome these issues,” recalls Thomas. Thankfully, one of Brenntag F&N’s strengths lies in its global supplier network. Rather than being restricted to one or two ingredient suppliers, the team can test and taste a number of different extracts to find the optimum solution.

Concepts that flex

The concepts are designed to be adapted to reflect the nuances of different geographical regions. “We drive the concepts globally but customize them locally to match the preferences and palates of that market,” notes Markus. Whilst these three are the concepts Brenntag Food & Nutrition is presenting to the marketplace, the beverage team has many more ideas up its sleeve that it would be keen to explore together with customers. The team is also more than willing to formulate according to a customer’s specific requirements.

“We have these market-ready recipes that we can produce as powdered beverage mixes, linked to flavor solutions from our chosen suppliers. We can also adapt the concepts to a customer’s specific requirements. For example, developing a vitamin complex that will deliver an immunity boost,” says Markus.

All three energy drink concepts demonstrate that Brenntag Food & Nutrition is alert to market trends and customer demands and with these forward-looking concepts the team makes sure that its customers are part of this trend.

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