Natural and nutritional beverages are among the leading trends in the marketplace. As such, natural sourcing of ingredients has become a notable trend, as evidenced by recent introductions from Red Bull (Simply Cola) and Pepsi (Raw in the U.K.). The former carries a powerful brand into a segment dominated by two companies: Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. Red Bull, however, is quick to note the differences found in its Simply Cola; it is positioned as “a more natural cola, made from 100% natural juices, with no phosphoric acid, preservatives, artificial coloring or flavoring,” an approach similar to the route taken by Pepsi's Raw launch.
For Simply Cola, Red Bull developers turned to ingredients atypical for the modern category: original kola nut and cocoa leaf, some of the original ingredients of cola soft drinks; they lend the product a bit of a retro positioning. The flavors are derived from plant extracts, with the caffeine coming from coffee beans — all with the ability for Red Bull to proclaim them as “natural.” Of course, “natural” can be widely interpreted.
The USDA's Economic Research Service has found that the beverage industry is increasingly turning to “all-natural sugar.” Sugar deliveries are up 36.8% over the same period in 2007. As Andy Briscoe, president and CEO of the Sugar Association, notes, “We are seeing a strong trend within the beverage industry. Consumers prefer the taste of beverages and foods sweetened with all-natural sugar, and the industry is responding.” Among the companies introducing sugar-sweetened beverages in the past year are Jones Soda, Hansen’s Natural Soda, Crayons all-natural sports drink and Thomas Kemper Soda Co.
Frequently, consumers demand more nutrition than merely “natural” can provide; thus, manufacturers have moved toward products enhanced in one way or another. Energy drinks, for instance, have been a rapidly growing beverage segment for years, and Ocean Spray has taken a natural approach to energy with Cranergy. One of the first lines of juice drinks that are naturally energizing, the range (available in Raspberry Cranberry Lift and Cranberry Lift varieties) incorporates such natural energizers as five B-vitamins, vitamin C and green tea extract. Ocean Spray notes the product has been clinically proven to improve alertness and reduce fatigue. The energy drinks segment primarily targets young, active consumers, so the wider-appealing Ocean Spray brand may help lure the interest of older consumers and those with families.
Return to FormulationHowever, formulating these natural beverages comes with a unique set of challenges and opportunities. “Health options clearly continue to drive growth in the beverage market in many regions,” explains Marie-Jane Fallourd, beverage team knowledge manager with an ingredient supplier. “Consumer demands are at their highest-ever level, as are the opportunities for manufacturers to innovate new, healthy beverage products.” Responsible for optimizing the opportunities from global beverage trends, Fallourd has found manufacturers are looking for “solutions that either have a proven nutritional effect or that, for example, restore mouthfeel in low-sugar and -fat beverages.” Of particular interest have been beverage products that stimulate digestive and immune health, promote weight management and reduce glycemic response.
Fallourd notes the high potential for alternative sweeteners and specialty carbohydrates in healthy beverages, where they can help reduce sugar, fat and calories. Certain ingredients, for example, can improve mouthfeel in reduced-sugar beverages; stabilize protein in acidified products, such as drinking yogurt; and help in the formulation of calcium-fortified, acidified dairy beverages. In high-fruit juices, some stabilizer systems can maintain fruit pulp in suspension and improve overall stability throughout shelflife.
As Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) has learned, chief among the challenges for developers can be delivering on sensory expectations — both in terms of taste and consistency across brands, while also delivering health and wellness benefits. Strawberry milk, for example, would seem a simple beverage formulation, but as DMI can attest, this can now involve complex decisions to meet the expectations of consumers.
DMI notes that the flavor profile for a strawberry milk in which they assisted was barely half the task, as a significant question remained on the colorant: natural or artificial colors? Carmine red? Red dye #40? Lycopene (as is used in Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia flavor shakes)? Beet juice (as is used in Stonyfield Farm’s range of smoothies)? Any and all of these possibilities would have provided the desired pinkish hue, but each had different characteristics in terms of taste, UV sensitivity, label cleanliness and “natural” positioning. All of these increasingly matter to end consumers, and this goes without mentioning the fortification issues to be considered (added calcium, protein and/or omega-3s).
A coloring system can even present the opportunity to formulate unique, great-tasting beverage products that deliver health and wellness benefits. As DMI notes, a color can provide antioxidants, as with pomegranate. Cadbury Schweppes discovered as much when launching a pomegranate-flavored soft drink under its 7-Up brand. It contained 100% natural flavors, while being free of caffeine and artificial flavors and very low in sodium. The limited-edition soft drink bore a deep burgundy color, in keeping with its holiday-oriented, November-January period of availability.
Purple ReignAntioxidants are a hot trend in the U.S., and DMI explains, “Colored foods can allow companies to talk about the natural fruit or vegetable origin of antioxidants in a way that is linked to natural color. Colored foods are expected to do well in the U.S., given the health and wellness trends and the emphasis on the importance of fruits and vegetables in the American diet.” Europe has a number of such examples: Findus That’s Amore is a purple frozen soup in Italy from Unilever. It is made with purple chicory and herbs, and its packaging mentions “Colors for Better Living.” Purple vegetables are increasingly popular in both Asian and Western markets for their functional health properties and interesting appearance. In the U.S., SimplyOriginals Purple Corn Drink is a naturally functional beverage. Featuring purple corn, which is mostly found in Peru, the beverage also contains the highly potent antioxidant C3G.
Granted, purple is not strictly relegated to healthiness. Fillmore Street Brewery’s The Purple Label Pimp Juice Energy Drink is lightly carbonated and contains acai, ascorbic acid, pomegranate juice, yerba mate and extracts of grape, green tea and pear. In addition to the beneficial antioxidant elements, it also boasts 81mg of caffeine per serving, courtesy of taurine and guarana.
For beverage processors, colors’ importance increases as the consumer demands more “natural” foods and can sometimes harbor negative feelings toward ingredients that sound “chemical, synthetic and artificial,” DMI has found. Synthetic colors may remain popular in beverages, because they tend to be brighter, encompass a wider range of hues and are less expensive than colors derived from nature. However, DMI believes that natural colorants may be a growing trend in the coloring industry. Those natural options are not without their challenges: pH, heat, light, UV light, oxygen, enzymatic/cultured bacteria interaction or other ingredients may all impact the stability of a color. All of these challenges are surmountable, and the benefits can outweigh the troubles.
A ready-to-use, natural lycopene is one example. This phytochemical derived from tomatoes is highly stable under a wide range of temperatures and does not shift with changes in pH. Available in liquid dispersion or cold-water-dispersible form, it delivers a vibrant color as well as potential added health benefits associated with the antioxidant, including a reduced risk of prostate cancer and improved cardiovascular health in men and women.
Of course, the benefits are not always to be found in the finished beverage. Bev-Rev has introduced U.S. consumers to Liquid Energy Mix In. This is a flavorless liquid, the company assures, enhanced with taurine, guarana, caffeine, ginseng and ginkgo biloba. It is added directly to hot or cold beverages, instantly transforming them into energy beverages. Energy drinks typically have a rather sweet taste to them, so the flavorless aspect of this product could expand the energy drink concept to a wider audience.
Energy, however, is far from the only modern trend impacting beverage introductions. Amid huge fanfare, Coca-Cola launched Enviga nationwide last year, and the beverage's calorie-burning claim immediately drew attention, both positive and negative. In its wake, Kraft has launched a product with a green tea extract that makes a softer weight-loss claim. The company expanded the Crystal Light To Go line of drink mixes and stickpacks to include Metabolism+. The new variety includes green tea extract plus added caffeine, while also providing a short-term increase in the body's metabolism. Similar to Enviga, it must be consumed multiple times per day: the Crystal Light version recommends using three stickpacks per day to get the most benefit.
All of this is not to say that flavors and colors solely relate to health and wellness. One of the more popular trends of recent years has been the rise in the diversity of ethnic flavors and offerings in new food introductions, and this has been no less evident among beverages. Horchata, a favorite in Latin America, is rapidly spreading to and within the U.S., offering a creamy alternative for a growing ethnic population. Marquez Brothers, for example, has introduced Instant Horchata Drink under the El Mexicano brand. Of course, as could be expected considering the tendencies among beverages, the product is made with 100% natural ingredients.
Ethnic flavors and energy beverages are the hot trends of today, but there have been some interesting additions of late to a segment that was the hottest just a few short years ago. Flavored alcoholic beverages are seeing the incorporation of “healthier” fruits, such as cranberry, blueberry, pomegranate and acerola, known for their high antioxidant or vitamin C content. California Cooler, for instance, has launched a Pomegranate Berry Flavored Wine, infused with the natural fruit flavor of pomegranate and ripe wild berries, and Canada has seen Siptop Packaging launch Zero Frozen Vodka Coolers in cranberry and raspberry flavors. Still, this trend toward healthier FABs is more notable in Japan, where introductions have included vegetables (Choya Umeshu has launched Vegetable Cocktail Carrot & Honey with Plum Liqueur, while Asahi Breweries’ Tomate is a 5% alcohol tomato cocktail), perhaps an indication of things to come Stateside.
Sidebar: Fortification ConsiderationsIN EFFORTS TO CASH IN ON THE BURGEONING ENERGY DRINK MARKET, STARBUCKS OFFERS AN ENERGY-PROVIDING MIX OF B-VITAMINS, GUARANA AND GINSENG IN ITS READY-TO-DRINK DOUBLESHOT +ENERGY COFFEE. CUSTOMERS ALSO CAN REQUEST THAT ENERGY BOOST BE ADDED TO THEIR FOODSERVICE DRINKS. INCREASING VALUE BY ADDING NUTRITIONAL INGREDIENTS IS A TIME-HONORED MARKETING TACTIC, BUT THESE SAME INGREDIENTS ALSO PRESENT FORMULATION CHALLENGES.
“STABILITY IS A HUGE ISSUE WITH SOME FORMS OF POLYPHENOLS AND MANY OTHER ANTIOXIDANTS,” SAYS PETE MALETTO, PRESIDENT AND SENIOR SCIENTIST AT BEVERAGE DEVELOPMENT FIRM PTM FOOD CONSULTING INC. INGREDIENT INTERACTIONS ARE IMPORTANT. FOR EXAMPLE, “SOME ANTIOXIDANTS ‘DON’T LIKE’ ASCORBIC ACID (VITAMIN C),” HE SAYS. A SEVERE REDUCTION IN ORAC, A MEASURE OF ANTIOXIDANT CAPACITY, CAN OCCUR OVER A 12-MONTH PERIOD OF A PRODUCT’S SHELFLIFE. ONE SOLUTION IS TO USE ROSEMARY-TYPE EXTRACTS TO INCREASE STABILITY OF CERTAIN COLORS (WITH ANTIOXIDANT PROPERTIES) AND PROTECT THEIR ORAC VALUE. “CATECHIN POLYPHENOLS SEEM RELATIVELY STABLE, ALTHOUGH THEIR RATIOS CAN CHANGE FROM PROCESSING, AS WELL.” THAT IS, THE TOTAL POLYPHENOLIC CONTENT REMAINS RELATIVELY CONSTANT, BUT THE CATECHIN COMPOSITION IS ALTERED.
A BEVERAGE’S PH HAS A HUGE IMPACT. “WE GENERALLY TARGET A PH OF ABOUT 3.5 WITH PROTEIN-BASED SPORTS DRINKS AND 6.8 WITH MILKSHAKE-TYPE PROTEIN DRINKS,” SAYS MALETTO. “ALTHOUGH IT DEPENDS ON THE APPLICATION, WE LIKE USING CITRIC AND MALIC ACID FOR PH REDUCTION AND TRY TO AVOID HEAVY ACIDIFIERS, SUCH AS PHOSPHORIC ACID.” HE SUGGESTS THE USE OF MINERAL PHOSPHATES AS ELECTRON DONORS, WHICH IS ALSO A KEY MECHANISM OF ANTIOXIDANTS. MINERAL CITRATES ARE USEFUL AS BUFFERING AGENTS.
AMINO ACIDS ALSO HAVE STABILITY ISSUES. GLUTAMINE IS FRAGILE AND IS NOT STABLE IN A RTD BEVERAGE. L-TYROSINE AND L-PHENYLALANINE HAVE BETTER STABILITY, AND THE BRANCHED CHAINS AMINO ACIDS (LEUCINE, ISOLEUCINE AND VALINE) POPULAR IN SPORTS PRODUCTS “ARE STABLE, DEPENDING ON PROCESSING TEMPERATURES,” ALTHOUGH THIS IS NOT TRUE AT PH LEVELS BELOW 3, STATES MALETTO. COOLER PROCESSING TEMPERATURES ARE EASIER TO WORK WITH IN REGARDS TO NUTRITIONAL INGREDIENT STABILITY; THE B VITAMINS AND VITAMIN C FORMS ARE EXAMPLES.
DRY, DAIRY-BASED PROTEINS ARE ALSO POPULAR BEVERAGE ADDITIONS. K.J. BURRINGTON, DAIRY INGREDIENT APPLICATIONS COORDINATOR, WISCONSIN CENTER FOR DAIRY RESEARCH AT THE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN—MADISON, OFFERS ADVICE ON HOW TO IMPROVE THEIR STABILITY TO HEAT. THIS IMPROVES THEIR FUNCTIONALITY AND DECREASES RISK OF CERTAIN BEVERAGE DEFECTS. THEY INCLUDE GRAININESS, WHICH CAN RESULT WHEN PROTEINS DENATURE—THAT IS, WHEN MOLECULES UNFOLD AND THEN INTERACT WITH EACH OTHER. ALSO, SYNERESIS MAY OCCUR IN WHICH WATER FORMS A TOP LAYER DURING THE FINISHED BEVERAGE’S STORAGE.
IT IS IMPORTANT TO REHYDRATE THESE INGREDIENTS BEFORE ANY HEAT TREATMENT, SAYS BURRINGTON. USING HIGH-SPEED MIXERS AND ALLOWING THE PROTEINS TO ABSORB WATER FOR 30 MINUTES AT TEMPERATURES UNDER 130ºF HELPS IMPROVE HEAT STABILITY.
BEVERAGE PH LEVELS, NORMALLY RANGING FROM THREE TO SEVEN, ALSO INFLUENCE HOW PROTEINS REACT TO HEAT. CASEINS SHOW POOR SOLUBILITY BELOW 4.6, WHICH IS THEIR ISOELECTRIC POINT. YOGURT DRINKS TYPICALLY HAVE PH LEVELS BELOW THIS. STABILIZERS ARE USEFUL IN PRODUCTS IN THE 3.5-4.5 PH RANGE. THIS REQUIRES A HOMOGENIZATION STEP FOR HYDROCOLLOID DISPERSION AND TO CREATE INTERACTION BETWEEN HYDROCOLLOID AND PROTEINS, SAYS BURRINGTON. HOWEVER, FOAMING SHOULD BE AVOIDED. AIR TRANSFERS HEAT WELL, AND PROTEINS POSITIONED NEXT TO AIR CELLS WILL GET AN EXTRA “ZAP” OF HEAT.
ONE MUST TAKE CARE WITH CALCIUM ADDITION, SINCE THE MINERAL INTERACTS WITH BOTH MILK AND WHEY PROTEINS, ESPECIALLY UNDER HEAT. CALCIUM CHELATORS, FOR EXAMPLE, AND PHOSPHATES SUCH AS SODIUM HEXAMETAPHOSPHATE, BIND CALCIUM AND HELP INCREASE STABILITY AND DECREASE RISK OF FLOCCULATION.
—CLAUDIA D. O’DONNELL, CHIEF EDITOR