From the success of the Speculoos Latte in the Far East, to the popularity of matcha and chai tea in Europe, innovation in the beverages market is now crossing borders and transcending cultures with ease. And with the fusion of drinks and desserts such as the red velvet cappuccino – a red velvet cake sitting on a hot drink – product development is merging food categories as well.
But at the heart of all the weird and wonderful NPD now flooding the market, one truth remains – a new beverage product will only stand the test of time if the consumer considers it to be tasty enough to drink. And, as the clamour for ever more healthier drinks with clear, easily identifiable, naturally-sources ingredients continues to grow, meeting that taste challenge becomes increasingly difficult.
With UK manufacturers under pressure to reduce the sugar and calorific content of their drinks, Reginald Van Bokkelen, beverage application specialist at Cargill, has noticed a divergence of approaches – particularly among soft drinks makers.
“In moving to less sweet products, some manufacturers are gravitating to less outspoken flavours, light in taste,” says Bokkelen. “Others are going for more outspoken flavours, with spices and herbs such as ginger, cardamom and hibiscus gaining popularity.”
Van Bokkelen is not alone in spotting the inclusion of “nature-derived” high intensity sweeteners in drinks, to achieve both sugar and calorie reduction. Cargill’s stevia options include Truvia and ViaTech, which can offer sugar reductions of up to 70%. Used in combination with its Zerose erythritol, they are claimed to deliver 200 times the sweetness of sugar without a single calorie.
Working in partnership with specialist Sweet Green Fields, Tate & Lyle is also heavily invested in the stevia market. The ongoing drive for naturally sweetened and reduced-sugar beverages is a trend that’s here to stay, says Abigail Storms, vice president of global strategic marketing at Tate & Lyle.
As formulators become more adept, she believes there will no longer be a trade-off between taste and consumer appeal around plant-based ingredients.
“It’s about managing upfront sweetness, reducing linger and building back the mouthfeel that’s lost when sugar is reduced or removed from a beverage,” Storms says.
“But with taste being critical, for us it is no longer about supplying single ingredients, but working with the manufacturer to build a holistic solution fit for the brand and the consumer.”
Another type of sweetener making inroads into the market is a low- glycaemic carbohydrate from Beneo. Palatinose (isomaltulose) is soluble and comes with a mild sugar-like sweetening profile, ideal for use in drinks, claims the firm.
“Palatinose provides full carbohydrate energy in a sustained way, eliminating unwanted ‘boost and crash’ blood sugar spikes, helping to burn fat more effectively,” says Beneo marketing director Thomas Schmidt.
“It also means that when Palatinose is used in sports nutrition drinks, active consumers can draw on their carbohydrate reserves for longer, making it the ideal functional ingredient for use in products aimed at endurance athletes and those targeted at casual fitness users.”
Schmidt adds that Palatinose, along with Beneo’s Orafti inulin and Orafti oligofructose – derived from chicory root fibres – fulfil clean-label claims around all things ‘natural’, ‘ethical’ and ‘environmental’.
Clean label movement
Others agree that the clean-label movement has gone beyond a simple check of the ingredients list, and now represents something much deeper. “Providing consumers with understandable labels is key, as they look for ways to make conscious, mindful and ethical choices,” says Loes Snijder-Oeseburg, global marketing lead for beverages, at FrieslandCampina Ingredients Food & Beverages.
“But it doesn’t end with a clear and transparent label. The label also needs to address health, ethical, sustainability, food safety and quality demands. We have a wide range of beverage ingredients that include fewer E-numbers or are E-number free, full dairy options, as well as plant-based alternatives.”
While agreeing that the health agenda is increasingly driving the composition of beverages, Stefan Lander, vice-president of consumer goods group sales and marketing at Omya International, is a little more philosophical about the clean-label movement.
“Consumers scrutinise more and more product labels, so it is important that the ingredients used are natural – but in the end, it will come down to individual choice,” says Lander.
“The consumer will weigh up their own nutritional needs against the value such a product brings. If they are looking for a product that contributes with an extra nutritional value, many people will accept additional ingredients.”
Lander has in mind Omya’s calcium carbonate brand Calcipur, which can contribute to fortification thanks to its highly bioavailable properties. He concedes, though, that to ensure an “enjoyable drinking experience”, it is vital to guarantee good dispersion and keep calcium ingredient sedimentation to a minimum.
“Here, the size of the particles is vital in order to provide perfect mouthfeel,” Lander explains. “With controlled surface properties and particle size, our calcium carbonate settles more slowly than comparable technical solutions and does not affect taste.”
Taste the determining factor
Whatever the nutrients it contains, taste is likely to remain the determining factor in the success of a drink. But with sugar-reduced beverages in particular, it’s important to consider how the other senses play a role in enhancing sweetness perception.
Appearance and sweetness perception are vital, especially where there has been sugar reduction in a product, says Christiane Lippert, head of marketing at Lycored.
“A bright and vibrant colour is key to maintaining appeal where the recipe may have changed and creating the expectation of a beverage that will taste good even with less sugar,” she says. “Research has shown that more intense colours positively influence the perception of sweetness in taste.”
FrieslandCampina’s Snijder-Oeseburg takes the concept one step further, saying consumers are looking for experiences that “engage all senses”.
“They want a multi-sensory experience that includes look, feel, smell, sound and flavour,” she explains. “They are open to try new flavours and welcome experiences that combine the best of different cultures.”
To this end, Friesland-Campina’s innovation strategy is focused on healthier indulgence – creating healthier options on the one hand and maximum indulgence on the other. “We see this trend of healthier indulgence on a global scale for the industry,” says Snijder-Oeseburg.
With taste remaining paramount in the eyes of consumers, it’s a strategy that beverage makers may find worthwhile embracing.
Children and the ‘innovation gap’
While the global beverage market is rife with NPD, it appears children are being overlooked.
Mintel research shows that, in the UK, eight in 10 kids consume fruit juices and smoothies, while 94% of six- to 11-year-olds in the US drink juice. Yet, globally between December 2012 and November 2017, just 5% of new water launches, 6% of juice drinks and 6% of other beverages were aimed at kids. By contrast, 17% of new breakfast cereal launches over the same period were child-focused.
Manufacturers can close this “innovation gap” by using nutritional ingredients, according to Kerry, the maker of Wellmune, a yeast beta-glucan tailored to help support the immune system.
New research from Kerry shows healthy, functional ingredients that offer nutritional benefits may be the answer to kickstarting innovation in the category. This is because eight in 10 parents say their choice of product is influenced by how it will affect their child’s health and wellbeing, and most prefer their kids to get health-enhancing ingredients from food and drink rather than pills.
Furthermore, the addition of functional ingredients may help restore the parent-appeal of beverages that have suffered a loss of reputation, Kerry says.
Juices, for example, were once seen as a healthy choice for children, but are now often demonised for their high sugar content. The use of functional ingredients creates opportunities to offset such concerns, as well as offering nutritional benefits that allow product differentiation, it adds.
“While strategies such as sugar reduction are important, the real opportunity to differentiate kids’ beverage products lies in the use of healthy, clinically proven functional ingredients,” says John Quilter, Wellmune’s vice president and general manager.