With brand loyalty in the beverage aisles “in freefall” manufacturers have to work harder to excite consumers with new ideas from retro-style acid phosphates to drinking vinegar and Horchata, according to market researchers at The Hartman Group.
In the latest of a new series of webinars exploring food and beverage trends, Hartman’s director of culinary insights Melissa Abbott said consumers were particularly adventurous - and correspondingly fickle - in the single serve, ready-to-drink chilled category.
Consumers have become super fickle
“Consumers have become super fickle when it comes to beverages. They are seeking new and interesting varieties on a regular basis. Novel flavors, limited seasonal editions and a bit less sweet is where consumers are today.”
She added: “In a recent survey we asked consumers how they decide which beverage to purchase, and 30 percent said they usually find themselves switching around and trying a lot of new things whereas only 18 percent said that they prefer to stick with their favorite brands.”
Phosphated soda: Dry, tart and lip-smacking
One of the most exciting ‘retro’ trends was classic phosphates or phosphated soda (soda with added phosphoric acid for a sour taste), she said. “It ruled the soda fountains but disappeared in the 1950s. It offers a tongue tingling sensation, very dry and tart, lip-smacking.
“Acid phosphate is experiencing a comeback – initially by avant garde or molecular gastronomy chefs – and now by soda jerks looking to recreate the soda fountain treats of years ago as well as bleeding edge cocktail gurus who look to acid phosphate to enhance the sour character of drinks without relying on lemon and lime to balance sweetness which tends to make a lot of drinks and cocktails taste similar.
“Acid phosphate is actually a perfect way to change the character of the drink and it’s made with salts of calcium, magnesium and potassium. The pH is similar to lime juice.”
Drinking vinegars were also likely to gain traction as there was “cultural relevance dating back to colonial times in the States when they were commonly referred to as shrubs and consumed for a variety of health reasons, similar to the way that kombucha is enjoyed in wellness circles today”, she said.
“They are crafted from ingredients like tamarind and mulberry, honey and apple and they are actually really refreshing.”
Horchata: A new breakfast beverage?
Another beverage predicted to gain traction in the US was horchata, a chilled dairy-free Mexican beverage made of rice, almonds, cinnamon and sugar typically served at breakfast, she said.
“There is an opportunity for a culturally relevant beverage that contains proteins from the almonds, complex carbs from rice and subtle sweetness from the cinnamon.
“If it is tweaked a bit for the mainstream market by using less sugar and brown instead of white rice and we’re looking at a new breakfast beverage.”
Flavor trends: Rhubarb and basil, caramelized pineapple
In water, products with subtle flavors (blueberry, hibiscus, cucumber), hints of botanicals and infused culinary ingredients were gaining in popularity, she said.
As for carbonated beverages, some of the most interesting flavors doing the rounds in bars and clubs but potentially making their way into the retail sector included rhubarb and basil, caramelized pineapple, not-too-sweet coffee soda, hibiscus ginger lime soda and cola with botanical flavors.
HFCS or corn sugar? Name change could seem ‘shifty’
As for sweetener types, asked whether high fructose corn syrup would be more appealing to consumers if it were renamed ‘corn sugar’, she was skeptical.
“More than ever, and particularly with beverages, consumers are vigilantly reading labels. Simply renaming an ingredient that, in the consumer’s mind is perceived negatively will not make it more appealing.
“If anything, it will cause the consumer to distrust corn syrup manufacturers for seeming shifty. Consumers who were previously avoiding HFCS will now avoid corn sugar.”
However, there would always be a contingent of consumers that “simply don’t care about ingredients and will continue to purchase products containing either HFCS or corn sugar”, she said.
Functional drinks: Avoid overtly scientific messages
Finally, there were lots of exciting new functional beverages around, particularly cherry juices, said Abbott. But manufacturers should avoid messaging or packaging that made their products look too medicinal, she warned.
“Keep functionality playful and avoid overtly scientific messages."