Many new and innovative functional drinks and drinkable supplements have hit supermarket shelves recently. Energy drinks, a category growing at an impressive pace for some time, are far from a novel concept in functional drinks. However, new this time around is the sheer number of new natural and organic energy drinks and shots, many with novel ingredients.

One significant new development is kombucha’s rising profile in energy drinks and shots. Some consumers already know this healthful, tea-based, fermented drink is loaded with probiotics and antioxidants, but the vinegar-like taste of kombucha can be divisive. Aficionados describe it as “bracing,” and that could explain a groundswell of interest in kombucha in shot form—a serving size long associated with energy products. Offering the best of both worlds is the launch of Celestial Seasonings’ Kombucha Energy Shot, an all-natural drink. Will consumers see a natural marriage between kombucha and energy? Research on energy shots performed by Growth Ventures in March 2011 found 64% of kombucha users already regard energy as kombucha’s primary health benefit, so the odds of success may be good for this type of drink.

Karvana Kombucha Shot Energy + Probiotics from Karvana Inc. also states the case for kombucha-based energy. Claiming to revive both the mind and body, each raw organic energy shot is packed with billions of active probiotics, B vitamins and organic botanicals.

Shot products, in general, have blossomed into one of the more innovative areas within energy drinks. Andrew Jacobson, co-founder of I Am Corp./I Am Enlightened Nutrition, says the industry has “learned from 5 Hour Energy that consumers want to take (energy products) as liquids,” because they are “easier on the body” than pills or tablets. I Am offers five shot-type supplements, including new I Am Focused, a 2.5oz drink that enhances focus, mental stamina, mental clarity and concentration, the company says.

 The success of Living Essentials’ 5 Hour Energy line  also is a contributing factor behind the launch of ReVive 21 Superfruits Sustained Vitality Energy Shots from Rushmore Superfoods’ Rushmore Essentials. Display boxes for this product ask consumers to “kick the artificial energy habit” with an energizer formulated with 21 different superfruits, from elderberry and maqui to prickly pear and yumberry. Bud Bergeron of Rushmore Essentials comments, “This is where the market is going to move to,” alluding to more nutritious energizers less likely to produce a “crash.”

As far as nutritious energy shots go, few products are as novel as Zingiwell Healthalicious Inc.’s Zingi Well Java Turmeric + Curcumin Zesty Anti-Inflammatory Antioxidant Shot. Based on turmeric, a member of the ginger family, this new health shot contains 40,000mg of Java-sourced turmeric with 140mg of curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) in each 2.4oz bottle.

The Java turmeric ingredient for Zingi Well is said to be “Southeast Asia’s natural herbal immunity booster.” Curcumin is known for its high antioxidant value and anti-inflammatory properties, enabling the “bold and refreshing” drink to claim an ability to support healthy skin, reduce inflammation and provide natural energy.

There is some new evidence suggesting curcumin may have powerful joint-health benefits. A recent study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research found the patented curcumin ingredient BCM-95 provided similar reductions in swelling and pain as a dose of the prescription drug diclofenac sodium, which is used to combat rheumatoid arthritis.

Another functional drink delivery system comes in the form of liquid concentrates. Flavorz Beverage Corp. is launching Organic Flavorz Liquid Drink Mix in Immunity, Sports and Energy drink variants; all are packaged in single-use, 1oz pouches to be mixed with water.

The liquid concentrate concept is relatively new to the U.S., as Americans tend to favor powders, but liquids are being popularized by Kraft Foods Inc.’s introduction of MiO Liquid Water Enhancer. Neil Turpin, a partner in The Green Seed Group, a consulting firm assisting with Flavorz, says that “over 20% of the UK market for beverage mixes is in liquid concentrates—called liquid squashes”—and notes this is a “very embryonic category in the U.S. right now.” The pouch packaging for this line has significant “green” benefits vs. PET plastic, as 75% of the latter ends up as litter or in landfills each year, according to Flavorz.

One of the more offbeat drink trends is the proliferation of chia-based drinks. Chia burst onto the scene in a big way around 2010, with the Aztec favorite finding its way into a number of grain-based products. However, 2012 could go down as the year when chia crossed over into energy drinks.

Hailed as “nature’s ancient energizer” is Chia\Vie Chia + Fruit Smoothie, a new energy drink from Bare Nutrition LLC. Packaged in 10oz resealable aluminum bottles, Chia\Vie blends ground chia seeds with fruit ingredients, such as banana, mango, apple, acerola and others. Each smoothie, in flavors such as Mango and Banapple-Berry, has two servings of fruit and a whopping 2,000mg of omega-3 oils.

Also carving out a spot in chia-based drinks is new XiΩmega3 LLC’s Xiomega Chia Water, a functional beverage with a hint of lemon or berry flavor. Sold in 16oz bottles, this functional drink is high in calcium and ALA omega-3s, the latter said to help the brain and heart. Rounding out the new chia drinks are Pomegranate Mint and Coconut Mango flavors of MammaChia Corp.’s MamaChia Vitality Beverage. High in fiber, MammaChia also has 2,500mg of omega-3s per serving.

Another natural drinks sector to watch involves sports nutrition products. In recent years, sports nutrition has advanced far beyond hardcore athletes to grab consumers who like the image of sports, but maybe not the sweat or exertion associated with exercise or sports. Datamonitor estimates 26% of the U.S. market for sports nutrition products consists of so-called “lifestyle users” and not “performance” or even “occasionally active” consumers.

Pre- and post-workout drinks, in particular, are trending. Representing the latter, new Core Power High Protein Recovery Drink from Fair Oaks Farms has 20-26g protein per 11.5oz bottle. Made with simple, natural ingredients, such as real milk and honey, the drink is lactose-free, yet is high in potassium, vitamins and minerals. It also requires no refrigeration, despite a milk-based formulation.

Taking more of a superfruit angle (at a time when superfruit products are noticeably quieter than in previous years) is new Good4U Ltd.’s Line of Athletic Supplement Drinks. Already established in Canada, Good4U offers System Preload, a pre-workout drink in a Tropical Citrus flavor with natural ingredients like astragalus (Astragalus propinquus) root and milk thistle. Good 4U’s Calorie Burner claims to stimulate metabolism, suppress appetite and prolong life, the latter with its anti-aging resveratrol ingredient.

The most unusual athletic tie-in could be YogaVeda Beverage LLC’s Ayurvedic Health Drink, a new, fruit-based health drink marketed as the first drink for yoga aficionados. Offered in flavors claiming to provide relaxation, boost mental focus and lend vitality, this drink is packaged in a plastic bottle shaped like a person in the “lotus position” typically associated with yoga.

Aloe-based drinks seem to be gaining traction. L.A. Aloe Inc.’s Aloe Glow Natural Aloe Water is not brand-new, but it is indicative of a new mainstream push for aloe-based drinks. Aloe Gloe takes the “beauty-from-within” route with high levels of naturally occurring vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Could aloe drinks be the next big thing? Danny Stepper, a partner with the company, comments: “Aloe is where coconut water was four years ago.” Where aloe goes from here is anyone’s guess, but aloe is similar in some ways to coconut water with its less sweet, but hydrating, formulation. Aloe Gloe itself is low in calories, at 35 calories per 15.2oz bottle.

Aloe drinks are popular in Asian markets, but Americans tend to view them as an oddity, especially since many contain chunks of aloe for a texture and taste Westerners might find strange. However, aloe is crossing over, suggesting its future could be bright.

In fact, one development coming out of the flood of coconut and aloe drinks is increased interest in textured drinks as a class of beverages. On trend is new Fruii, a drinks line from Jans Enterprises Corp. Offering “grinnable refreshment,” the four-flavor line has an array of textures, such as nata de coco (gelled fermented coconut water) bits in the Lychee Ichi flavor and aloe vera bits in the Passion Fruit product. All flavors are sweetened with coconut nectar, a potential tie-in with the meteoric popularity of coconut beverages.

A pair of other functional drink innovations points to promising future growth directions for functional drinks and supplements. The first is the eye-care niche, currently dominated by supplements. Ojo Fortified Eye Care Nectar Dietary Supplement from Insightful Solutions hopes to the lead the way as the “world’s first doctor-formulated visionary drink.”

Ojo helps protect and preserve vision with a formulation that contains ingredients clinically proven by the National Eye Institute’s “Age-Related Eye Disease Study” to promote eye health. That list of ingredients includes eye-friendly bilberry and lutein.

Created by Jodi Luchs, M.D., Ojo is claimed to represent better alternatives to what are characterized as “difficult to ingest” eye-care vitamins taken by millions of Americans. Insightful Solutions pegs the eye-care supplement market at over $280 million per year in the U.S. and estimates 1.75 million Americans have age-related macular degeneration, while 15 million people are pre-symptomatic for the disease. In all, an estimated 30 million Americans suffer from eye-related diseases, suggesting a large market for eye-care drinks.

Oat-based drinks are another functional drink innovation that could be ripe for growth. Oats have long been associated with heart health, to the point where consumers may be receptive to oats in more portable and user-friendly forms than oatmeal or oat-based breakfast cereal.

While there have been a few oat drinks launched recently (for instance Oat Solutions’ Simpli Oat Shake), this niche is starting to catch fire, at least on the new products front. Another example is new Sneaky Pete’s Beverage Co.’s Naturally Oatstanding Beverage, described as a “new age natural beverage” that is a “refreshing oat drink” instead of a milk- or milkshake-like drink.

Oatstanding contains 3g of fiber in each 12oz bottle, equivalent to the fiber in a bowl of oatmeal. The drink also is low in calories (just 40 per bottle) and comes in fruit flavors such as Peach Perfection, Raspberry Beret and Grape Escape. Labeling for the drink notes that it can help lower cholesterol levels.

If this exceptional crop of functional drinks and supplements is a sign of what is to come, the future should be bright. Datamonitor currently puts the market for nutraceutical drinks (excluding sports and energy drinks) at around $1 billion in the U.S., with growth around 7% expected for 2012. If some of these new drink niches take off, that number could rise even higher. pf