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What natural consumers want in functional beverages

What natural consumers want in functional beverages
Although millions of gallons of sugar water are still sold every year, natural consumers are two times as likely as conventional shoppers to purchase bevs—and healthier ones, at that. Here are the top functional ingredients that satisfy consumers' thirst.

It seems like everybody’s got a beverage for sale these days—from energy and relaxation drinks to three-step Gatorade for your entire workout routine, and every kind of kombucha, tea, or protein smoothie you can imagine. Some are fantastic additions to the consumer consciousness and to the market at large and some make a resounding flop.

Beverages make up a massively popular segment of the market—filled with potential, innovation and consumer demand. According to David Sprinkle, publisher of Packaged Facts, 21 percent of shoppers purchase a refrigerated convenience beverage while at the supermarket. And in the natural channel that percentage is more than double, at 47 percent!

That means that nearly half of all shoppers at natural retailers stop by the beverage case to pick up their favorite tea, water, or functional beverage before leaving the store. So what are they looking for?

Top beverage ingredients that satisfy consumers' thirst


The No. 1 ingredient consumers look for in functional beverages, according to the information presented by Elizabeth Sloan, president of Sloan Trends, at Nutracon 2012, is calcium. Clearly milk is being counted as a functional beverage here, but it’s illuminating to note that consumers view milk as a vital functional beverage. Another 50 percent of consumers look for “added vitamins.”

A full 56 percent of consumers surveyed want their beverage to provide their daily vitamins and minerals. And for consumers aged 55-64 that number shoots up to 70 percent.

Even more interesting is the consumer drive toward natural functionality. More and more consumers want their vitamins and minerals to come from whole fruits and vegetables. Fully 75 percent of consumers report that getting a serving of fruits and veggies from their functional beverages is “very important.” Until recently, V8 had this segment of the market locked down, but new product launches in the natural channel from brands like BluePrintJuice could give this mass brand a run for its money.


This seven-letter word makes it into every article, presentation or study covering functional beverages these days. It seems to hold the key to satiety, weight loss, anti-aging, and sports performance. Plant-based proteins like soy and brown rice still carry a lot of weight with certain consumer segments—the vegan and lactose-intolerant—but these days blends including whey, casein and soy help formulators target different consumer needs.

Whey absorbs quickly and can be marketed for workout recovery, while soy and casein are absorbed more slowly and work well in meal replacements and for sustained satiety and energy. From Boost to Bolthouse to Gatorade, protein-enriched beverages are changing the way we feed our bodies.

Energy and focus

Longer work hours, more to do and the inevitable advance of age make energy and focus the most popular and fastest-growing category in the functional market. According to Sloan Trends, 51 percent of all consumers want energy from their functional beverages. And this desire seems to run throughout the market; for young consumers aged 18 to 24, the number is only slightly higher at 57 percent.

Interestingly, only 24 percent of consumers surveyed look for caffeine in their functional beverages, while 51 percent look for antioxidants and as many as 37 percent seek out green tea extract specifically. This should spell opportunity for products like Bazi, Nawgan and Neuro, which make their energy and brain-boosting claims from ingredients like ribose, B vitamins, citicholine and L-theanine. And be on the lookout for new ingredients showing promise for focus and energy. Acetylcholine such as that found in ChemiNutra's AlphaSize A-GPC has been shown to help improve and maintain memory, concentration, focus, and recall. Plus it's water soluble and tasteless, making it ideal for brain/energy beverage formulation.


It’s ironic that all these consumers who desperately need energy seem to have trouble sleeping or relaxing, but what goes up, must come down. With names like Dream Water, RelaxZen, Tranquila, and iChill, these beverages carry their functions front and center. Gamma amino butyric acid (GABA) crops up in many formulations. But other calm- and sleep-inducing ingredients like melatonin, L-theanine, magnesium, and even L 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) also have a clear presence in this category.

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