NPD Group research finds U.S. adults more frequently opt for water than such beverages as coffee and soda. While coffee may help American consumers start the day, beginning with the snack occasion occurring between breakfast and lunch, water was the choice in 46% of all drinking occasions the rest of the day. NPD research also found younger consumers are less likely to drink water; tap/filtered water accounted for 26% of all drinking occasions across all meals, but it accounted for only 21% of “drinkings” among children. Teenagers, on the other hand, are more likely to choose regular (non-diet) carbonated soft drinks with their meals; soft drinks hold a 14% share of teen meal beverages, but only 8% for all consumers. 

Those soft-drink consumers may well soon have a new option from beverage giant Coca-Cola, as the company’s chairman Muhtar Kent has hinted Coke Life could be coming to U.S. store shelves. The low-calorie cola drink sweetened with stevia and sugar promises roughly a third of the calories of regular Coke and has reportedly been a big hit in Argentina, where the beverage launched in early 2013. The move to incorporate stevia is a first for the company in its flagship cola and may prove essential to bottlers looking to stem the continuing slowdown in soda sales.

That slowdown appears to be losing little steam. It began in the late 1990s, as consumers began to reduce their consumption of sugar-sweetened sodas, due to obesity and other health concerns. While diet soft drinks had benefitted from that shift in consumer opinions (diet soda consumption rose from 26% in 1990 to 31% in 2010), even diet sodas are experiencing a distinct downturn. Over the course of 2013, sales of diet soda plunged 6.8%, even more drastic than the 2.2% decline in sales of regular soda.

Soda manufacturers, therefore, are turning to other selling points to promote their beverages. For Reed’s Inc., that included beginning to label all of its products as free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). All of the company’s products are GMO-free, but the labels will be featured on Reed’s Ginger Brew, Virgil’s Root Beer and Reed’s Culture Club Kombucha.

As Chris Reed, founder and CEO of Reed’s, explains, “[Reed’s has] avoided GMOs in our products, because we feel they have not been adequately researched. Our customers have been very vocal about GMO ingredients in their food. GMO-free food products are a very fast growing trend in this country, and I can see the natural food industry moving to go completely GMO-free in stores in the near future.”

Reed’s has verified its ingredients as non-GMO with all suppliers.

For its foray into all-natural cream sodas, AriZona Beverages partnered with basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal for Soda Shaq Cream Soda, a four-flavor line including vanilla, blueberry, strawberry and orange. The Soda Shaq line promises no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. It is made with real Madagascar bourbon vanilla extract and pure cane sugar.

Outside the U.S., Coca-Cola launched a number of innovative products. In addition to the aforementioned Coke Lite, the company’s Japan division introduced cans of “hot” Canada Dry Ginger Ale, a beverage which reportedly required four years of research to bring to market. While Japan’s consumers are no strangers to hot canned drinks, those tend to be coffees or teas. The Coca-Cola Japan product, meanwhile, features ginger extract, apple and cinnamon flavoring.


Coffee Contention

A hot ginger ale may have been an unexpected offering this year from one of the beverage industry’s giants, but a notable coffee launch came from a company more frequently associated with a different category entirely. Mars Inc. released Steel Horse Coffee, described as the first office-focused beverage powered by pure, robust coffee and circulation-supporting cocoa flavanols. Each cup promises 150mg of cocoa flavanols.

“We aim to develop products that help support some of the most important elements of a company’s workforce: energy and focus,” explains Xavier Unkovic, regional president, Mars Drinks. “With this notion, we developed a revolutionary hot drink that did more than a cup of coffee by adding circulation-supporting cocoa flavanols.”

Protein was also added to a coffee beverage this year, as Bariatric Advantage introduced Pro Joe Magnifico Mocha. Each serving of the decaffeinated coffee promises 20g of protein, 5g of carbohydrates and 0g of fat. The product particularly targets bariatric surgery patients, who should consume 60-120g of protein. Considering four out of five Americans drink coffee daily, according to a 2013 National Coffee Association survey, Bariatric Advantage felt inspired to introduce a protein-enhanced variety.

Which brand of coffee do consumers favor in the morning? A Harris Interactive poll found, somewhat surprisingly, Starbucks holds only a 3.3% share of the U.S. market, well behind the 15.6% of Folgers coffee. Harris Interactive noted Folgers’ success may stem from its accessibility, considering its various roasts are a staple on supermarket shelves across the country. Second position also went to a household brand (Green Mountain), with Seattle’s Best Ground Coffee in third.

Coffee consumption has been associated with numerous health benefits over the years, but one study released in 2013 found that overconsumption has definite pitfalls. Researchers at New Orleans’ Ochsner Medical Center found consuming 28 or more cups of coffee over the course of a week increased a person’s chances of dying prematurely by 21%. Furthermore, the risk was more than 50% greater in adults under the age of 55. The researchers noted the average American consumer drinks roughly three cups of coffee per day, and it is important to note that the study’s results were based on caffeinated coffee.

That is not to say coffee introductions failed to capitalize on the beverage’s healthful attributes. Califia Farms harnessed the healthy potential of cold brewing for what it claims was the first cold-brewed, soy-/dairy-free, RTD iced coffee. The three flavors of Califia Farms Iced Coffee with Almondmilk (Mocha, Café Latte and Double Espresso) are all made with organic, fair trade coffee. Each has 80-100 calories per serving and no saturated fat; and, per Greg Steltenpohl, Califia Farms’s CEO, the cold-brewing process results in a coffee with 65% less acid than its heated counterpart.


Such Teas

The healthy reputation of tea got a boost this year with a Netherlands study that found a greater consumption of black tea and other dietary sources of flavonoids may decrease the risk of advanced state prostate cancer. In fact, the study of 58,279 men found that those who drank five or more cups of black tea a day had a 25% less risk of stage III/IV and a 33% decreased risk of stage IV, compared with those who drank one cup a day or less.

A launch from Vemma Nutrition Co. attempts to merge the benefits of tea with energy drinks. Verve ParTea is a RTD energy tea, combining organic green tea leaf and extract with energy-enhancing nutrients. The tea has a fruit flavor; is sweetened with a proprietary blend of organic cane sugar, xylitol and stevia; and boasts 40mg of natural caffeine per 45-calorie serving.

“On any given day, half of Americans drink tea,” notes Vemma executive vice president of Marketing and Brand Development, Mark Patterson.

EQ Energy Drink Inc. likewise merged energy with tea for its Lemon Tea Drink boosted by Power Cap.

Water might be regarded as a healthy beverage, but there is always someone looking to improve even the positive. In the process, developers of Agua Enervivá incorporated on-trend Hispanic flavors -- as well as natural energy -- via the guarana berry. The company describes it as a counter response to other beverages on the market that are laden with “excessive sugars, questionable energy sources and HFCS.” The result is a beverage that developers say combines the best of all categories: sports drinks, enhanced waters and energy drinks. The five flavors in the line are Pomegranate Berry, Orange Passion, Fruit Punch, Kiwi Strawberry and Mate Lemonade.

Hard Rock Energy Drinks made their debut in south Florida, the first step in rolling out the product nationwide by the Seminole Tribe of Florida Inc. Joining the $20 billion energy drink market will be three flavors or Hard Rock Energy Drinks: Original, Paradise Punch and Sugar Free. The beverage is produced, distributed and marketed by Enterprise Beverage Group LLC, an entity majority-owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which regard the energy drinks as a logical extension of its growing line of beverages, which now includes citrus juices sold under the Seminole Pride brand.

Well-known in the area of performance drinks, Clif Shot introduced an entirely new line with Electrolyte Hydration Drink Mix and Protein Recovery Drink Mix, intended to provide athletes with options for hydration during activity and fast absorbing protein to aid in post-activity recovery. Available in two flavors (Lemon Lime-Ade and Cranberry Razz), the Electrolyte Hydration Drink Mix is made with 90% organic ingredients and promises a multiple-source carbohydrate solution to aid in fluid transport, absorption and retention. The Protein Recovery Drink Mix’s two flavors (Orange Mango and Chocolate) are made with 70% organic ingredients, and contain 10g of whey and casein to “help maximize the body’s muscle-building potential and prevent muscle breakdown.”


Just Juice

For younger consumers, the maker of TummyTickler Tots, TummyTickler and BellyWashers announced all three will undergo a rebranding. In Zone Brands has established the brand good2grow for all three lines, contending, “The new name more closely aligns the company with its vision to be a leader in healthy children’s beverages.”

The move also sets the stage for the company to expand into multiple new beverage categories beyond juice. “When our company began, we focused more on the fun aspect and packaging of children’s beverages,” says Jim Scott, founder and CEO at In Zone. “Our vision today is to be a leader in healthy children’s beverages. We want to leverage our unique package to help kids lead healthier and happier lives.”

In Zone’s new branding will debut in March 2014, offering three serving sizes based on nutritional guidelines for portion control, while remaining all-natural juices with no added sugar or HFCS, colors, flavors or preservatives. At that time, Strawberry Kiwi and Tropical Fruit Medley will join the company’s 6oz offerings, featuring all-natural, apple, carrot and beet juice.

Mango Ginger + Carrot Juice was one of several new flavor launches in Bolthouse Farms’ portfolio. Each smoothie delivers almost four servings of fruits and vegetables, as well as 220% of the daily value of vitamin A and 80% of a person’s daily vitamin C needs. Bolthouse also added a Multi-V Goodness Smoothie -- a grab-and-go, cherry-flavored smoothie with many of the nutrients found in multi-vitamins: 8g of fiber and folate, and 100% of the daily value of vitamins A, C, D, E, K, B6 and B12, as well as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and biotin. The Salted Caramel Latte introduction, meanwhile, provides a convenient take on the coffeehouse favorite, but with 7g of protein, 660mg of potassium and 30% of a day’s vitamin C, with 130 calories per 8oz serving.

A Campbell Soup Co. addition to its V8 V-Fusion Refreshers line offered 100% of the daily value of vitamin C and 100 calories per serving. Each serving offered a 20-25% blend of fruit and vegetable juices, and the line features four flavors: Peach Strawberry, Black Cherry Berry, Cranberry Grape and Tangerine Passionfruit.

Naama Goldberg Studio has attempted to alleviate some of the challenges in finding a good lemonade (i.e., one that balances the sweet and the sour but with no artificial taste) with the introduction of Lemonitz. This organic, sparkling mint lemonade features a fairly simple ingredient list: water, lemon, juice, organic cane sugar and natural mint. The company notes the drink is particularly good as a natural cocktail mixer for a take on margaritas or mojitos, and a pair of line extensions has already joined the mix: Strawberry Lemonade and Ginger Lime.


Sweet on Alcohol

The mixer joins a crowded adult beverage market, one with notable competition in the area of sweet flavors. Liberum Capital notes the U.S. has seen a candy- and confectionery-flavored vodka boom, with flavored varieties of the drinks accounting for more than a fifth of the consumption of vodka. Considering vodka accounts for a third of all spirits sold in the U.S., this is no small market.

It is, however, a trending one.

Technomic finds 52% of consumers surveyed (1,000 respondents over the age of 21) order a mixed drink with vodka away from home at least once a month. The market researcher’s online Digital Resource Information Knowledgebase (DRINK) database finds flavored vodka accounts for nearly 30% of total vodka volume, a market share that is continuing to grow. Beam Inc.’s Effen Vodka added a Salted Caramel Vodka; Phillips Distilling Co. introduced a candy bar-flavored vodka; Svedka Vodka has Svedka Orange Cream Pop-and Svedka Strawberry Colada flavored vodkas -- as manufacturers incorporate a variety of sweet flavors to separate their vodka from the pack. However, the surge in vodka flavors is not limited to sweet: chili peppers, bacon, smoked salmon and even rose have all accentuated the libation.

Nevertheless, those sweeter flavors seem to stand out from the crowded marketplace. In addition to the Effen expansion, Beam also added five new flavored vodkas for fall and winter under its Pinnacle brand: Caramel Apple, Peachberry Cobbler, Pecan Pie, Salted Caramel and the limited-edition Peppermint Bark joined the 30 flavored vodkas in the brand’s portfolio.

As Jason Dolenga, senior director of vodka with Beam Inc., explained in launching Effen Salted Caramel Vodka, “When deciding to expand the Effen Vodka portfolio, we wanted to ensure that our next innovation complemented the brand’s existing unique and modern flavors. Consumers are looking for sweet and savory flavor profiles.” The Salted Caramel Vodka promises a delicate combination of sweet and savory; the sweetness is enhanced with a touch of salt. It joins a line which includes Cucumber Vodka, Black Cherry Vodka and Raspberry Vodka.

The flavored alcohol segment is awash with sweeter takes on the traditional tipple, and with good reason. In introducing its candy bar-flavored vodka in early 2013, UV Candy Bar, Phillips Distilling noted sales of its dessert-flavored offerings, a portfolio which includes UV Cake, UV Chocolate Cake and UV Whipped, had increased 81% in the year prior. Nevertheless, UV Candy Bar promises a vodka unlike any other, one infused with all-natural milk chocolate, caramel and peanut butter flavors. Flavored vodkas may not be new (they have been on the U.S. market since the 1950s), but manufacturers have certainly devoted their formulation efforts to devising unique takes on the concept, of late.

Take Absolut’s initiative to devise the flavors of various cities in its vodka. In the fall, the Pernod Ricard SA brand introduced Absolut Chicago, the seventh in its line of “city-inspired flavors,” which began with the mango and black pepper vodka in honor of New Orleans in 2007. What flavors constitute the city of Chicago? According to Absolut Chicago, it is notes of rosemary, olive and thyme. As Technomic notes, flavored vodkas represented 28% of total vodka volume in 2012, with 21 new vodka flavors introduced in the first quarter of 2013 alone.