Monitor: Functional beverages need to be beneficial—and transparent

Consumers deserve to know what beneficial ingredients their functional foods and beverages include. See how the industry can prevent fairydusting.

Rick Polito, Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Business Journal

June 14, 2024

2 Min Read
Monitor: Functional beverages need to be functional—and transparent

News of lower-sugar soda Poppi being sued for not delivering on its promised prebiotic benefits has already inspired a debate about the merits of the case but there should be no debate about transparency in functional beverages.

Poppi is being named in a class action suit on the contention that the two grams of agave inulin are not sufficient to deliver gut health benefits. While Poppi may be stretching the definition of gut health in a product that has more grams of sugar than fiber, it’s important to note that other fiber-forward products aren’t doing a whole lot better. Benefiber, for instance, includes just 3 grams of inulin in its beverage-mix stick packs.

Beyond the gram counting, however, the Poppi case raises questions for the entire functional beverage category. Poppi declares its inulin grams but too many other beverages leave the particulars of their formulation off the label, leaving consumers with no way of knowing if they have bought an adequate dosage of the promised ingredient. A label that says “with ashwagandha” but doesn’t say how many milligrams of ashwagandha should be a red flag to the discerning eye. Note that New Hope’s NEXTY Award program requires every entrant to declare on the label how much of the functional ingredient is in their functional food or beverages.

Related:The Natural List – What are functional beverages and do they work?

“Fairydusting,” sprinkling products with traces of functional ingredients, has long been an issue in “proprietary formulas” for dietary supplements, but it’s almost a bigger issue in functional food and beverage due to price. Even if a product includes a functional dose, people might already be paying a few dollars for the equivalent of what they might find in a single pill that would cost them a dime. Fairydusting would make that price premium make even less sense. If suits like the one against Poppi get widespread notice, it could cast a pall over the whole functional beverages category. It’s easy to see a “stop paying big bucks for sugar water” TikTok video going viral.

The answer for the brands is obviously careful formulation and complete transparency. The answer for retailers is to be the curator on these products. Just as the NEXTY Award competition doesn’t allow products with uncertain dosages into the running, natural retailers shouldn’t be allowing fairydusting beverages into the refrigerator case.

The case against Poppi may be debatable. The case for transparency never was.

About the Author(s)

Rick Polito

Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Business Journal

As Nutrition Business Journal's editor-in-chief, Rick Polito writes about the trends, deals and developments in the natural nutrition industry, looking for the little companies coming up and the big money coming in. An award-winning journalist, Polito knows that facts and figures never give the complete context and that the story of this industry has always been about people.

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