Consumers Want it All
With the emergence of new technologies, consumers are becoming very demanding--especially in the world of beverages. They want it all. Trend after trend, compiled one upon another, show consumers want beverages that deliver real benefits. Good-tasting or thirst-quenching beverages are no longer enough. The beverages must do more and incorporate the hot topics of the day. Beverage formulators must continually change course to keep up with constantly changing consumer and technology trends.
When is a trend really a trend? Is it merely just a fad? Suzy Badaracco, president of Culinary Tides, is a trends forecaster. She says, "It's a trend, when it has a name and when you can Google it, because it has a name." She also adds that true trends can be tracked with statistics, such as sales figures, foot traffic and usage rates. Many brands and beverages are associated with particular trends. This progression of compiling trends can readily be seen in the non-alcoholic, carbonated segment.
Soda has been publicly available since the late 1800s. However, in the past few decades, it has contained what consumers consider to be unnatural components. With the rising trend in healthy eating, consumers can find ingredients such as caffeine, artificial sweeteners, flavors and colors unappealing. Natural is a trend that was given a second chance after the devastating events of September 11, 2001. Badaracco explained this was a time when consumers were frightened and took comfort in simple, trusted and non-artificial products. Organic products were an option; however, consumers lacked trust in them at that time, due to minimal regulations. Additionally, they were costly. When combined with consumers' strong desire to be healthier, the natural trend gained ground in this emotionally charged atmosphere.
One product developed in response to this trend is Pepsi Natural. Although not launched until 2009, Pepsi requested the trademark for the name Pepsi Natural back in December 2006. Pepsi Natural was launched in limited markets (Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Las Vegas and New York) as a healthier, all-natural alternative to the company's iconic mainstay. A similar product, Pepsi Raw, was launched in the UK in 2008. The two colas are extremely similar, differing primarily in their sugar source. Pepsi Natural replaces high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) with a combination of beet and cane sugar, while Pepsi Raw uses only cane sugar. Both drinks utilize natural apple extract and caramel as a natural colorant system and boast kola nut extract as part of their label-friendly flavor system. Delivered in a sleek and sophisticated clear glass bottle, Pepsi Natural has the same amount of caffeine and calories (38mg caffeine and 150 calories per 12fl oz) as regular Pepsi, with a more earth-friendly image.
"Sweetened with Juice" Trend
For the past several years, consumers have become increasingly leery of HCFS and its negative image. This topic is an ongoing, multi-faceted debate. Opponents say HCFS cannot be considered natural, since it is an enzymatic by-product of corn that undergoes cleavage of chemical bonds, producing smaller molecules that are also chemically rearranged in the manufacturing process. Others worry about health risks (possible ties to diabetes, hyperactivity and obesity), as well as negative environmental impacts. The debate is heightened by the fact that the term "natural" is not defined or regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). An outcome of this conflict is that many beverage manufacturers are now sweetening their products with juice to convey a more wholesome image.
In 2002, two friends, Todd Woloson and Greg Stroh, were impressed with sophisticated European sodas and wanted to create an all-natural version for the American market. Thus, the IZZE concept was born. However, these entrepreneurs took the beverage world a step farther than just offering an all-natural, great-tasting carbonated beverage; they ensured the product's sweetness came entirely from real juice. IZZE products contain 70% juice and are marketed as "sparkling juice."
IZZE had such promise and appeal that Pepsi bought it in 2002. Line extensions, such as IZZE esque (a low-calorie version containing only 25% fruit juice) and IZZE Fortified (with 30% USRDA vitamin C, 10% vitamin B6 and 10% niacin), were created. IZZE esque Sparkling Mandarin was the winner of "Enlightened Beverages" for Vegetarian Times' 2010 Foodie Awards.
In the last two years, organic products have made a big comeback. The original shortcomings of organic have been somewhat resolved over recent years, setting the stage for resurgence. Several issues, such as trust, cost, sustainability and availability, are being addressed and resolved. With the USDA's recent debut of the National Organic Program (2009 CFR Title 7), consumers are more trusting of "organic-labeled" products bearing the USDA organic seal. In order to be "stamped" organic, third-party certifying agencies, such as Oregon Tilth, compile stringent paperwork and testing to ensure product candidates meet up to the myriad of constraints that deem them organic. Although still more expensive than the conventional counterparts, organic products are much easier to find in the retail marketplace. According to Badaracco, the barrier to access was lowered by retailers like Trader Joe's, Wild Oats and Whole Foods, which provided organic products in mainstream outlets.
With respect to organic beverages, the Saranac Sparkling Organics line is a great example of a carbonated beverage that has compiled several trends over the years. These lightly carbonated sodas are made with all-natural ingredients and sweetened with real juice.
Like other food products, when soda is certified organic, its ingredients must meet criteria set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Among many other restrictions, organic ingredients must be grown in soil free of pesticides and fertilizers and cannot be genetically modified or irradiated. Often, ingredients matching these requirements are difficult to find or are cost-prohibitive. Some items are not yet offered in organic forms, due to low volumes and low demand. Development of certified organic ingredients can take years. Thus, The National List was created by the USDA to categorize some ingredients as exempt from the normal organic rulings and allow their presence in finished organic products.
One of the most difficult challenges manufacturers face when formulating organic products is doing the calculations. First, the calculations do not include salt and water (juice is calculated on a single-strength basis), which can confuse novice formulators. Secondly, although an ingredient is certified organic, it may not be 100% organic. Formulators must take into account fluctuating organic content levels to ensure the finished end-product is at least 95% organic, which the National Organic Program mandates for a product to be considered USDA-certified. This 5% range leaves very little "wiggle room" and can easily be consumed by organic options that are difficult to source.
Benefits in Other Beverage Segments
Of course, consumers are not limiting their expected health benefits to just carbonated beverages. Dairy is a category that has experienced much innovation, as well. With the growing trend of omega-3 fortification, Farmland Dairies developed Skim Plusô Omega 3 plus CoQ-10 fortified milk. Omega-3s support cardiovascular health, and the company's studies indicate this product enhances brain development and function. The formulation challenge is to incorporate the fish oil at a level that will deliver significant quantities of EPA and DPA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid), without creating a fishy off-note. Marine oil suppliers have developed a state-of-the-art, oil-in-water emulsion that provides clean-tasting actives in a convenient, pre-made form for beverage plants.
Nothing is sacred in the modern world; even water is subject to increasing modification. With the up-and-coming focus on satiety, Fonterra's WH2OLE protein-/fiber-fortified water and Kellogg's Special K20 protein water mix turn water into a weight management tool.
What is Next
Some trends will stay, some will go away, and new ones will always follow. What will be next? Consumers will provide the answer; a formulator's job is to ask them and find out. pf
For more information on beverage formulation trends and challenges, type "beverage formulations" or "formulating for beverages" into the search field at www.PreparedFoods.com.
Sidebar - Whey to Go
A search of Mintel's GNPD shows hydrolyzed whey protein appearing in beverages around the world. In Gatorade's G Series 03 Recover Protein beverage, it is the second ingredient listed, following water. The drink is described as "a post-game protein energy beverage, with electrolytes and carbohydrates for athletes and for performance."
Whey protein hydrolysates (WPH) have many formulation advantages. They are antioxidants, help prevent gelation of proteins and have enhanced heat stability compared to some other proteins, says MaryAnne Drake, Ph.D., Department of Food, Bioprocessing & Nutrition Sciences at North Carolina State University and director of Dairy Management Inc.'s sensory applications lab, administered by the Dairy Research Institute. Additionally, they can be very rich in bioactive peptides, such as those that may benefit hypertension. Research also points to benefits for enhancing athletic performance and in meal replacements. Like many other protein sources used in food and beverage formulations, WPH can sometimes create a bitter taste and "off-aromas," two sensory aspects that are independent of each other.
A study (Leksrisompong, et al. 2010. J. Agric. Food Chem. 58 (10):6318ñ6327), in which Drake was the principal investigator, evaluated 22 WPHs from eight global suppliers. Samples were extensively characterized by both instrumental and descriptive sensory analysis. GC-MS was used to quantify 15 aroma-active compounds. Results include that "potato/brothy, malty, and meaty flavors and bitter taste were key distinguishing sensory attributes of WPH." However, although a greater degree of hydrolysis (DH) was correlated with a higher concentration of low molecular weight peptides and higher bitter taste intensity, these characteristics were not necessarily associated with intense flavors, says Drake.
Off-aroma thresholds are significantly lower than thresholds for bitter taste and should be considered separately, when formulating. However, some bitterness may be acceptable in certain applications, such as coffee, chocolate and even strong mango-flavored beverages, says Drake.
The manufacturing process for WPH is generally to create a slurry with the unhydrolyzed protein; add hydrolyzing enzyme(s); monitor the process until the desired degree of hydrolysis occurs; inactivate the enzyme with heat; and then spray-dry.
"Process optimization will help minimize undesirable flavors," says Drake. The Southeast Dairy Research Institute is looking at ways to resolve these issues, including length of time for enzyme hydrolysis, time/temperature profiles in the enzyme deactivation, and cool-down and spray-drying. Other considerations involve the enzyme cocktail itself, which suppliers consider very proprietary.
Research is also underway to evaluate masking taste and aroma. "Some suppliers sell masking components with WPH, but they work best with specific applications," she offers. One should also look at the masking ability of other components in a food/beverage matrix.
Formulators should shop around for WPHs, suggests Drake. Great variability in aromatic flavors occurred among the samples studied. Two WPH ingredients with the same degree of hydrolysis and from the same supplier can even have different aromas. For more information, see www.ncsu.edu/sensory.
--Claudia D. O'Donnell, Chief Editor