Tracking Cutting Edge Beverage Trends
Liquid Culinology is trending as beverage makers keep the creative juices flowing
At the birth of every premium or functional beverage is a dreamer—someone who feels the need to fill a gap in the market for a particular concoction that goes beyond basic thirst-quenching.
It takes time and patience to put together the recipes and to design packaging that both delight taste buds and draw attention on supermarket shelves. Individuals might be inspired by anything, from a passed-down traditional recipe of ancient herbs and little-known berries to a desire to serve a previously unmet need in a liquid medium.
Beverage trends strike at any moment; wandering along some tropical beach one might notice how the locals simply hack the top off a coconut and drink the thirst-quenching water. Or, while trying to force down vitamins with water, one decides to mix the two and save the hassle. Another might be a traveler who notices how the wonderfully healthy locals all have a taste for a regional daily elixir that keeps their skin glowing, as well as keeping colds and flu at bay.
What many of the latest beverage trends have in common is that the product is based on a single ingredient or type of ingredient—coconuts, vitamins, anthocyanins—and a hook upon which to hang the marketing message and benefits regarding the inherent properties of the selected superfood. Successful sales in the coconut water category, especially with companies such as ZICO Beverages LLC (now owned by the Coca-Cola Co.) and All Market Inc.’s Vita Coco, are ample evidence of how fast and far a beverage trend can go. The top two coconut water companies in the US have combined sales of around $1.25 billion. And the Vitamin Water “industry upstart to $4.2 billion brand in six years” story is well-documented.
A prominent, sterling example concerns the antioxidant-rich açaí berry. About a decade ago, during a surfing trip to Brazil, Ryan Black, CEO and co-founder of Sambazon Inc., was instantly impressed by bowls of puréed açaí that were served as a common traditional breakfast.
As a healthy meal that “fills you up without weighing you down and tastes delicious,” Black appreciated the energy and versatility of the fruit. In providing both powerful health benefits and an adaptability to smoothies, cereals, beverages, and even frozen desserts, açaí contains a nutritionally dense combination of powerful antioxidants, vitamins, and healthy omega fatty acids.
After jumping through many hurdles—Brazil, the main source of the tropical fruit, has strict rules limiting forms and amounts of export of açaí—Black and his brother and Sambazon co-founder, Jeremy, brought the berry to the US. Within a few short years, their company almost single-handedly took the superfruit concept to astronomical heights. Such superfruit success had not been since POM Wonderful LLC made both pomegranates and antioxidants household words half a decade before.
With the ingredient and technology challenges they faced at Sambazon, Jeremy Black explains, “Brazil is the only producer of commercial açaí in the world, and açaí grows on palm trees that line the banks of the Amazon river. The skin and pulp of the small berries are what is used in products, and it takes hundreds of berries to make every single product.”
For Sambazon, the Black brothers built their own, dedicated facility to manage supply and demand, and to ensure the supply chain protects the workers and the biodiversity of the Amazon, simultaneously.
“Our triple-bottom-line mission is essential to the company,” adds Jeremy. “Sambazon currently helps support more than 10,000 family farmers in Brazil work more than 2 million acres of Amazon rainforest through our fair trade- and organic-certified project.”
Another trend-setter in this genre is Janie Hoffman, founder of Mamma Chia LLC fame. Taking an obscure seed previously popular in South American pilafs and known in the US mostly for novelty-shaped clay planters, Hoffman went the beverage route and made chia a star.
“We chose chia, because chia is one of the most nutrient-rich foods on our planet and had a significant impact on my own overall health,” she explains. “The chia seed is also incredibly versatile, plus it is neutral in flavor by itself and does not need to be ground to deliver its nutrients. It can be added to a wide range of foods and beverages without altering their taste, yet substantially boost their nutrient profile.”
Chia is especially high in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, and antioxidants, but it also forms a nutrient-rich gel that would seem unsuited to beverages. Hoffman took the route of being deliberately disruptive and launched the brand in late 2010, with no apologies for its unique texture. She instead focused on the myriad benefits and its organic cachet, plus the host of rich, tropical fruit flavors the beverages offered.
“My original kitchen recipes were a real challenge to commercialize,” Hoffman explains. “Our Mamma Chia Vitality Beverages encountered one disastrous test-run after another. We were even told that the beverage as I envisioned it—hydrated chia seeds beautifully suspended in organic fruit juice—simply could not be produced. But, through perseverance and an intimate knowledge—and love of chia—we were able to successfully bring these first-to-market chia beverages to life.”
One consideration with choosing to build a beverage based on a single ingredient or ingredient type is that of betting on that ingredient to remain popular, and that its efficacy or benefits will never come into question. White Wave Inc., one of the largest producers of soy-based, dairy milk alternative, faced just that issue with its early marketing campaign for its Silk soymilk, “Silk is Soy.”
Over the decades, the popularity of soy has weathered challenges. Everything from flavor to health considerations to allergies and even digestibility at some time or another has arisen to impact public perception of the ubiquitous legume.
When White Wave had to diversify its main brand into almond milk and other drinks, it was starting behind early movers Blue Diamond Growers Inc. and Imagine Foods’ (now part of the Hain-Celestial Group) Rice Dreams, makers of almond and rice-based milk alternatives, respectively. Resources had to be allocated to remaking an entire brand name. Today, Silk has become more proactive, with its Silk Coconut and Silk Cashew lines, taking the trends for tree nut and coconut substitutes for dairy milk into the mainstream.
Armin Salmen, PhD, vice president of R&D for Inc. and one of the original formulators of Silk, describes the challenges of reducing the strange flavors and achieving a creamy texture.
“Creating a clean-tasting, smooth beverage from mature, dry soybeans without inherent ‘beany’ or ‘grassy’ flavor notes required extensive product development. This went hand in hand with an evolution of the quality of soybeans, as well as ever-improving masking flavors and improving processing equipment and methods,” Salmen explains.
“Moreover,” adds Salmen, “the switch from aseptic packaging for ambient storage to Extended Shelf Life (ESL) gable-top cartons for refrigerated storage resulted in a significant freshness image. This also helped catapult soymilk from an obscure fringe product in the soup and nut aisle to mainstream dairy cases.”
According to Salmen, it was never the intention to “win at a sip test,” since this was not representative of how the product was truly consumed. “A full glass of over-sweetened, strongly flavored soymilk quickly becomes quite unpalatable” he says, “especially compared to one of the major usage occasions—on breakfast cereal.” Yet soymilk remains one of the primary choices for milk alternatives. Still, the competition has certainly broadened with the full spectrum of milk substitutes, from every kind of tree nut and seed one could imagine.
In dairy or plant-based beverages, the workhorses typically are plain, chocolate, vanilla, and unsweetened. But such limitations won’t make it in today’s market, as equally aggressive marketers seek to differentiate their brands and meet an ever-narrowing consumer segment’s particular needs. Take just plain old orange juice. A generation ago, the biggest news in orange juice was the transition from frozen concentrate to half-gallon cartons.
Then, orange juice made a daring move, positioning itself as a breakfast beverage to replace rather than accompany milk, enhanced with calcium, and later with vitamins D and E. With little room for expansion in the breakfast beverage corner, except for distant seconds like grapefruit and tangerine juice, orange juice still holds the premier spot for the American AM fruit juice fix.
Creative morning juice makers keep bringing other fruit blends to the breakfast juice shelves, such as those that include tropical juices like passionfruit and mango, or superfruits like pomegranates and berries, etc., but OJ is unlikely to lose that pole position.
From the other side of the refrigerated juice shelves, fruit smoothies segued from fringe demographics to the mainstream as Odwalla Inc. (now owned by the Coca-Cola Co.), Naked Juice Co. (owned by Pepsi Co.), and others offered a dizzying array of blended fruit (and fruit and vegetable) options limited only by what their juice chefs could get into a bottle. Dual marketing that targeted both the alluring produce ingredients and the function—energy, protein, vitamins, antioxidants—pushed them straight into the limelight. Then came carrots.
Bolthouse Farms Inc. managed to take simple carrot juice from fringe to mainstream, by promoting a “straight-from-the-farm” freshness, plus flash-pasteurization and cold-fill techniques that markedly extended shelflife without altering flavor or texture. The company supported that success with an array of pure, unsweetened juice blends (and now dressings) that continues to expand under the oversight of the Campbell Soup Co., which bought it in 2012.
Fresh-squeezed juice blends have been trending strong enough that there is ample room for new entrants into the field. Susan Mussafi-Cutler, owner of Apura Juicery in Boca Raton, Fla., is another Janie Hoffman in the making. Her creative combinations of fresh-pressed, raw fruit and vegetable juices, nut milks, raw superfoods, and local honey have developed a significant loyal following in both the local community and among visitors to the area.
With demand outstripping supply, her current challenge is how to stay in the raw zone but also increase shelflife long enough to fulfill demands, even from local supermarkets. The goal is for her to branch out beyond her current single-unit operation.
“I have people who come in here every day to get their fix of nutritious clean energy, but I just have to decide if I should open another juice bar or go down the long road of creating a packaged, branded blend,” Mussafi-Cutler says. She has explored options such as HPP, but also has concerns about maintaining the current ultra-high quality that comes with hand-selecting every piece of produce that goes into her juices and superfood bowls.
One way to reduce risk in the scale-up phase is to solicit the expertise of a flavor or blending house, such as Chicago-based Imbibe Inc. “Sooner is better than later,” according to Laura Klibanow, a company director. “I’ve encountered projects where our R&D team is brought in late in the game, and the brand owner has already spent a lot of time and resources going down a path of trying to develop a product that is not viable, and our team is asked to come in and re-direct.”
Klibanow notes that it’s “very common” for brands to hire a product development agency that “has limited-to-no experience in commercial scale-up and manufacturing, so what they create is a product that you might love, but is not commercially viable.” She admonishes, “This happens all the time.”
From the Gut
While the above beverage trends focused first on the primary ingredient and approached functionality as an added benefit, a significant beverage shift of the past decade has been to bring functional benefits to the forefront. Next Foods Inc.’s GoodBelly is one notable example of this paradigm shift. GoodBelly is a non-dairy probiotic beverage launched by natural foods pioneers Todd Beckman and Steve Demos of White Wave (Silk) fame.
With a name that effectively describes its benefit, GoodBelly was inspired by the Swedish product, ProViva, and takes advantage of the strong science supporting digestive health and overall health and immunity to support its claims. By blending flavorful, natural juice ingredients with precise measures of probiotics, GoodBelly’s patented formula and exclusive licensing agreements allowed the company to fully develop the category.
The challenges inherent in incorporating live probiotics into a juice beverage made the formulations especially tricky. Certain ingredients can inhibit probiotics, leading to a less active and less effective product; others can overstimulate the probiotic bacteria, leading to off-flavors, fizzy product and bulging cartons. Extensive screening of raw materials and shelflife testing were necessary to ensure that both the sensory quality and probiotic stability were on target.
As a non-dairy option to such probiotic-infused beverages as kefir, the GoodBelly product range kept itself open to expansion of the line. One recent launch is a protein-infused option that meets consumer demand for this important (and trendy) nutrient in a beverage format.
“We wanted to get one step ahead of the competition, while deftly avoiding any soy issues, plus staying true to the vegan mission and steering clear of whey,” says Beckman. “So, we designed beverages with vegan proteins, such as pea and garbanzo beans.”
With former Silk scientist Salmen on the Next Foods’ GoodBelly team, the company was able to maneuver the complexities of avoiding off-flavors sometimes associated with legume-derived protein, while infusing the right amount of the nutrient—all without disrupting the highly delicate probiotic environment.
Recently, other companies have entered the probiotic juice market, and the fermented tea, kombucha, has gained a strong consumer following. However, as has been noted in these pages, many kombucha products are essentially “dead” and, unless probiotics that can survive high-acid environments are added, are little more than flavored vinegar. (see “Raw: Defining Clean Food Label Trends,” PF, April 2016, or bit.ly/1XN6LDq)
GoodBelly has done just that, entering the kombucha market with three sparkling varieties that contain 5-10 times the number of probiotics as any similar product currently available. Staying true to its mission of efficacy of product, the company took advantage of a technological breakthrough that allows them to pack 20 billion probiotic bacteria into a single 16oz bottle—a first for the sparkling beverage market. Advanced fermentation techniques enabled the company to develop low calorie/low sugar options for the line as well.
Another category skillfully blending art and science in beverage development is the ready-to-drink (RTD) tea category. One of the early re-imaginers in the category was Dr Pepper Snapple Group’s Snapple brand of flavored teas. While the previous paradigm was to add sugar and perhaps lemon to an inherently bitter tea base, groups such as Snapple and companies such as Honest Tea LLC (also owned by Coca-Cola Co.) turned to fruit juices for flavor and to cut back on the sugar.
Sweet Leaf Tea Co., starting out as an old-fashioned Southern-style tea maker in the basic tea + sugar + lemon formula vein, branched off into fruit juice-infused teas as well, bringing rapid enough success to land under the Nestlé Waters North America Inc. umbrella. The success of these companies’ products focused on flavor, of course, as well as being organic and a lot less sweet.
While the brands and varieties of tea drinks continue to proliferate, other botanical beverages have enjoyed success. Rooibos (“red bush” in Afrikaans), a traditional African bush tea, has been gaining traction. The market also is seeing the emergence of another South African ancient remedy concoction, honeybush tea, from a variety of plants in the Cyclopia genus.
Known for its lack of tannins and sugar-free sweet taste, honeybush is already experiencing significant demand. Until recently, the plant was primarily wild-harvested, making a sustainable supply chain difficult. However, David Mills (a honeybush farmer) and his team at Heights Tea Estate perfected the method to sustainably cultivate and harvest organic honeybush.
With the goal in mind to introduce the unique health and wellness properties of honeybush directly to consumers, Mills, in collaboration with US-based product innovator Auburn Ivey, worked out a process for concentrating honeybush extract into a proprietary, organic dry powder form. The formulation is scalable and can support large markets, such as RTD teas.
Mills then brought Keith Bearden on board. Bearden, a veteran of the tea and ingredients industry, having led the global growth of East West Tea Co. LLC’s Yogi Tea herbal tea brand, recognized the tremendous potential of honeybush.
Based on significant clinical research on the health attributes of honeybush, Bearden noted that, “Of all the herbal beverages available, honeybush has the potential to emulate the success of green tea, due to the combination of superior taste, zero caffeine, zero sugar and proven functionality.” The team established Sweet by Nature Inc. as a US company to introduce organic and sustainable honeybush ingredients to the market.
With the deftness of an upscale mixologist, Jayme Starrak, co-founder of Busy Bee Yerba Maté Co., fluidly merged several trends in the beverage arts to create her company’s line of cold RTD yerba maté teas. The South American botanical stimulant made popular headway in the US 20 years ago with Alex Pryor and David Karr’s Guayakí Sustainable Rainforest Products Inc. line of yerba maté products.
Starrak took the normally astringent yerba maté to the next level by using locally sourced, Central Texas honey as a sweetener, in combination with citrus for balance. With those flavors as the base, the drinks get a floral or spice top-note.
The resulting orange blossom-flavored maté, lavender-lemonade, and ginger-limeade trade on multiple levels of attraction for consumers. In addition to being low-sugar, botanical energy drinks, most of the ingredients are organic and fair trade and the teas are marketed as natural “revitalizing, thirst-quenching” drinks. Icing on the cake is Busy Bee’s connection with the Xerces Society, a “nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat” and other efforts to prop up the endangered honey bee populations in the wake of the Colony Collapse Disorder pandemic.
Another central Texas-based tea company, Teas of Texas by D. B. Miller Inc., combines its fruit-flavored beverages with the regional sourcing trend. This reaches its pinnacle with the company’s RTD, organic teas infused with such esoteric Texas fruits as west Texas Pecos cantaloupes, Nacogdoches blueberries, Poteet strawberries, and nationally famous Fredericksburg peaches. Calling its products “Farm to thirst beverages home-grown, from Texas,” the company also has a line of lemonades and limeades.
To say coffee is undergoing another morphing would be an injustice in a beverage environment that has seen recent launches of probiotic coffee, maple water coffee, protein coffee, and similar drinks. Perhaps one of the most unique coffee launches is Brewed Cold Experts LLC’s line of “coffee juices,” described as “proprietary, ready-to-drink recipes made up of fair trade-certified, cold-brewed coffee extract, juiced whole blueberries, and cane sugar.” The line is offered in four flavors: Original, Coconut, Sweet Vanilla, and Salted Caramel.
Fruit and vegetable juice makers JÙS by Julie launched its probiotic Cold Brew Coffee, combining “instant energy, along with additional immune and digestive health benefits.” Using the same hearty Bacillus coagulans BC-30 strain of beneficial bacteria employed by Tipton Mills Foods LLC, makers of the first probiotic coffee, JÙS by Julie’s is the first cold RTD probiotic coffee to hit the market.
But sometimes, people just want a nice cup of coffee. And, while newly launched coffee companies have been in no short supply, the ones who concentrate on just that—a good cup of joe—are finding success in this most crowded field. Oakland Coffee Works Co. (OCW) is a prime example of this effective approach.
“We are coffee fanatics,” enthuses Mike Dirnt, company co-founder. “We’ve been importing and roasting coffee for more than 10 years, in small batches, to develop a coffee with as rich a flavor as possible.” Excellent coffee delivered from ethical and sustainable practices is Oakland Coffee’s declared goal.
In describing how OCW took such a seemingly pedestrian beverage to the next level, Dirnt explains, “While performing blind tastings of organic, fair trade coffees, we consistently chose coffee grown at high altitudes in the Andes Mountains. Within the high Andes, we source from small farms and cooperatives in Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia that produce beans with both unique and enjoyable qualities.”
Dirnt points out that the roasted beans in OCW coffee are not of a single unified color: “Since the beans from each source have their own distinct characteristics, we roast them separately. Once the beans reach their optimal roasts, they are combined to create our final blend. The result is a consistently delicious cup of coffee, with smooth chocolate overtones and bold, earthy flavors.”
The OCW team is preparing to launch its AtomicGarden Blend, using beans from Colombia and Honduras origins. “This blend shows similar taste profiles to our Andean blend, yet has some rich characters distinct to the regions the beans are sources from,” adds Dirnt. His dedication is apparent in the company motto, “All of this is fueled by love!”
Originally appeared in the July, 2016 issue of Prepared Foods as Beverage Arts.
According to a report by www.drinksector.com, “Some of the most successful people learn from the failures of others; knowing what causes failure allows you to avoid the same mistakes and increases your chance of success.” The report highlighted “feature case studies incorporating the latest thinking about what causes failure and what cultivates success.” The following links provide access to a synopsis of information available in each for-purchase report.
Failure Case Study: Carlsberg Beo
Failure Case Study: Nestea Iced Tea in China
Failure: Dr Pepper TEN - The difficulties facing “not quite diet” carbonated soft drinks
Failure Case Study: Nestle Nesfluid - The risk of conveying multiple promises/messages for a new product
Smell of Success
With the knowledge that some 80% of the sense of taste is olfactory, and considering the intense efforts and meticulousness companies such as Oakland Coffee Works deploy into creating a perfect cup of coffee, it’s a wonder no one thought of the FoamAroma lid before Craig Bailey. The lid, designed to “enhance the coffee- or tea-drinking experience by engaging more of your senses,” has a precision vent that channels the aroma of the beverage to the consumer’s nose without encouraging splash, burn, or the “geyser squirt” from conventional lids.
“Customers on-the-go can now have a similarly enjoyable and rewarding experience as those drinking in the shop from an open cup,” says Bailey. Adds Stephen Zirschky, a Seattle Barista Academy trainer, “An underlying dilemma in the coffee industry is the push and pull between convenience and quality. For coffee shop owners with a strong ‘to-go’ presence, offering disposable cups and lids is a must. This has always meant sacrificing full flavor and aromatics with a traditional to-go lid. The introduction of FoamAroma lids revolutionizes this aspect, allowing customers to taste every nuance one would get from a porcelain cup.”