With colder months rapidly approaching, consumers are gravitating toward hot drink options. This year, however, pumpkin spice lattes and peppermint mochas are shifting to the backburner. Instead, shoppers have a growing interest in emerging global flavors, bolder and spicier options, and functional ingredients that can address personalized wellness needs.

Wellness Takes Priority
Consumers attuned to contemporary wellness recognize the need to support both their physical and mental health, especially since the pandemic. Specifically, 61% of global consumers, and 66% of North American consumers, are more conscious of the need to lead a healthy lifestyle because of COVID-19*. Plus, 63% of North American consumers – 48% globally – are now more conscious of their mental well-being* and are looking for ways to support holistic wellness.

The beverage category has a lot to offer to meet consumer demands. For example, many people prefer closer-to-nature functional ingredients that can be customized to individual health and wellness needs. Trending ingredients include biotics, protein, fiber, antioxidants and botanicals because consumers connect them to immune function, gut health and sustained energy. 

Immunity gets a lot of attention at this time of year, the heart of cold and flu season. Plus, winter is marked by darker days and longer nights, so many people are eager for an energy boost, especially when they can find a clean-label source of stimulation, such as yerba mate, coffee or green tea.

Yet consumers are unwilling to compromise a pleasurable sensory experience for a healthier, nutrient-dense option. Beverages that are innovative and exceed expectations in taste, texture and nutrition will help attract shoppers’ attention as they peruse the aisles and retain their interest in repeat purchases thereafter.

Warming, Spicy, Seasonal Flavors
If there’s one flavor to prioritize this winter, it’s ginger. This bold spice is a hero ingredient for both flavor and function. Consumers have long associated ginger with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant functions, as well as calming nausea. Ginger pairs well with hot beverages from teas and coffees to cocktails and ciders. For instance, Indian-inspired chai flavors are sweet and spicy from ginger, allspice and cloves, and creamy with the addition of steamed milk. A sprinkle of cinnamon dials up the heat.

Cardamom – another spice often found in chai – is both sweet and pungent, adding a smoky warmth to many beverages. It complements a range of flavors, including vanilla, orange, anise and brown sugar. Other smoky flavors are gaining popularity as well. Smoked maple, smoked butterscotch, smoked caramel and more, add a layer of complexity to any recipe.

In other regions of the globe there’s a focus on fruit flavors, such as citrus and mandarin in southern Europe, dried fruit cake flavors in Italy and, across the EU, apple, pear and plum sweeten some seasonal sippers. Additionally, spicy wasabi from Japan crosses borders, and in some places, there’s even a bold trend of stirring hot sauce into coffee.

Consumers are seeking both soothing and energizing properties in their hot beverages. For example, spa-like flavors like lavender and mint, as well as nostalgic, comforting flavors of chocolate, vanilla and caramel, are abundant in teas and coffees. Holiday flavors such as gingerbread, cranberry, peppermint, apple spice and eggnog get a boost of caffeine in espresso drinks and black teas. Plus, consumers are exploring coffee varietals and roasts with the same enthusiasm they pour into wine tastings.

Trending Formats
The better-for-you appeal of tea and coffee is warming many consumers to beverage experimentation. Tea certainly has a health halo and while perceptions of coffee are more nuanced, consumers generally view it as a healthy beverage. Whether brewed to barista-level standards or served in a ready-to-drink (RTD) can or bottle, teas and coffees offer a delicious way to consume sought-after nutrients and bioactives in a portable package. 

In fact, 44% of global consumers are more frequently choosing functional foods and beverages due to the pandemic*. Furthermore, ADM research shows beverages are the preferred delivery format for probiotics**, which is likely due to the convenience of on-the-go drinks that easily fit into individual lifestyles.

Yerba mate, for example, is a rising star among consumers seeking sustained energy as well as the antioxidants commonly linked to green tea. Another example is protein-enhanced coffee, an increasingly popular choice for busy consumers. Matcha and matcha lattes are currently on the upswing, and other trending formats include whipped coffee drinks with spice-forward flavors. Additionally, tea extracts are frequently incorporated into better-for-you beverages to leverage the polyphenols sourced from certain botanicals.

Consumers are also discovering that cocktails can provide cozy contentment perfect for winter months. Warming spirits, such as tequila and agave, mezcals, bourbons and more are making their way onto consumers’ bar carts with increasing frequency. 

There’s also a trend back to classic and traditional mixed drinks. RTD packaging conveniently serves up ginger-lime Moscow mules, mango margaritas, blackberry mojitos and elderflower gin fizz for tailgating on the frozen tundra ahead of sporting events. German Glühwein is warming and nostalgic, perfect to enjoy in front of a fire at the ski lodge or at home. Plus, the childhood comfort of hot cocoa entices adults with the addition of peppermint schnapps, Irish whiskey or orange liqueur. 

Winter holidays and celebrations provide a delightful opportunity for indulgence in a variety of beverages that warm consumers from the inside out. From highly caffeinated whipped coffees and soothing herbal teas to playful cocktails and spicy lattes, seasonal beverages are heating up to meet consumers’ holistic wellness needs. Above all, shoppers expect an enjoyable sensory experience. Brands that mind these trending desires can create exciting beverages that consumers prefer.

*FMCG Gurus, How Has COVID-19 Changed Consumer Behavior, March 2021
**ADM Outside Voice℠

Micah Greenhill is a beverage marketing director at ADM. ADM unlocks the power of nature to provide access to nutrition worldwide. With industry-advancing innovations, a complete portfolio of ingredients and solutions to meet any taste, and a commitment to sustainability, we give customers an edge in solving the nutritional challenges of today and tomorrow. We’re a global leader in human and animal nutrition and the world’s premier agricultural origination and processing company. Our breadth, depth, insights, facilities and logistical expertise give us unparalleled capabilities to meet needs for food, beverages, health and wellness, and more. From the seed of the idea to the outcome of the solution, we enrich the quality of life the world over.