“When you’re talking about ready-to-drink, single-serve beverages that you grab in a convenience store, people are much more adventurous,” says Randy Kreienbrink, a certified food scientist at botanical ingredients specialist BI Nutraceuticals. “They maybe wouldn’t go to the supplements aisle and buy blue-green algae, but they will try it in a green juice or smoothie.
“The beverage category is one of the more progressive areas of the industry along with healthy snacks, it’s really at the forefront of innovation in terms of unique ingredients and trends.”
Wanda Jurlina, technical service manager at gums and hydrocolloids expert CP Kelco, adds: “It’s not just new ingredients; we’ve seen completely new categories emerging in the beverage sector in the last few years. It’s incredibly dynamic.”
Protein-enriched drinks; ready-to-drink coffee; and dairy-alternatives
So what’s trending right now?
Protein-enriched drinks (whey, pea, rice, hemp, soy); ready-to-drink coffees and new 'cold-brew' coffees (some of which also use nut milks, such as those from Califia Farms); and dairy-alternatives (almond, cashew, soy, rice, coconut); are particularly hot areas for CP Kelco, says Jurlina.
“A few years ago, you wouldn’t see hydrocolloids in many beverages except carrageenan in low-fat chocolate milk. But now you are seeing them in everything from diet carbonated soft drinks to juice-based drinks, where hydrocolloids can build back the body you get with a full-sugar soda or 100% juice.”
Gellan gum enables the uniform dispersion and suspension of insoluble particulates in protein-fortified beverages and nut milks
Dairy alternatives such as nut-milk-based beverages present particular challenges for formulators, as nut particulates need suspending (along with calcium and protein powders that are often added to nut milks to boost their nutritional profile), and because they can be thin and watery, says Jurlina.
“A lot of companies are using gellan gum [a water-soluble polysaccharide produced by microbial fermentation] to suspend ingredients in dairy alternatives so you don’t get sediment at the bottom, and then adding locust bean gum, xanthan gum or cellulose gum to get a fuller bodied mouthfeel.”
“With some of these nut milks, the particulates are never going to dissolve, so the most you can do is grind them to a fine paste and find a way to get them to uniformly disperse and stay suspended in the beverage, and gellan gum can do that really well.
“The same applies to calcium. If you use the soluble variety, it won’t be stable through all the processing, but if you use insoluble tricalcium phosphate or calcium carbonate, you get all these dense particulates that settle on the bottom of the bottle; gellan gum keeps them suspended in the beverage.”
Carrageenan: The R&D people love it, but marketers have issues
An advantage of carrageenan, a popular - but much-maligned - ingredient derived from seaweed, is that it can perform both functions simulataneously: suspending ingredients, and adding mouthfeel, says Jurlina.
“Gellan gum is great at suspending insoluble ingredients, but it doesn’t add viscosity; carrageenan will do both, and is incredibly cost-effective as you can use it in very small amounts.
“However, some customers don’t want to use carrageenan, and we have to explain to them that they will probably have to replace it with two ingredients instead of one, and it’s going to cost them more.”
She adds: “The R&D people in the companies we deal with all know that there is no issue with carrageenan (click HERE) but the marketers sometimes come to a decision that they don’t want to deal with it (click HERE).”
Customers are also asking more questions about GMOs, she said, noting that both xanthan gum and gellan gum are produced from micro-organisms that are not genetically engineered and that both have been used in finished products that have gone through the non-GMO project verification process.
Oddly perhaps, given that it starts with an ‘x’ and is derived from microbial fermentation, consumers do not necessarily regard xanthan gum with suspicion, she says. “Perceptions have really changed in part I think because of how widely used it is in gluten-free products. Home cooks can even buy it in stores to cook with [so for some people it is a kitchen cupboard ingredient].”
Pectin, meanwhile, they get, “because Grandma used it to make jam”, she adds.
BI Nutraceuticals: Energy is still a very hot trend, despite all the negative PR
Moving onto botanicals, and where they fit into broader beverage trends, what is BI Nutraceuticals seeing?
“Energy is still a very hot trend, despite all the bad PR about caffeine,” says Randy Kreienbrink, who observes that some food marketers have persuaded consumers that the natural variety is somehow superior to the synthetic stuff, which has driven a lot of interest in plant-based caffeine sources such as yerba mate, green tea, Kola nuts, guarana, and guayusa.
From a biochemical and physiological perspective, however, there is little evidence to support this thesis, stresses fellow certified scientist Alison Raban: “I hear people say if you get caffeine from yerba mate you’re not going to crash, and so on. But caffeine is caffeine.”
Turmeric is becoming bigger and bigger
Other beverage ingredient trends BI Nutraceuticals is picking up on include ginger, chamomile, peppermint and lemongrass in calming products; and chia, green tea extracts, ginseng, omega-3s and gingko biloba in products on an energizing or cognitive function platform.
For those looking for a general health halo, traditional ‘superfruits’ such as black cherries, acerola, blueberries along with ‘green’ foods (spirulina, kale, kelp, spinach, often in juice and smoothie blends) remain popular; while turmeric is gaining a lot of momentum in both the food and the supplement arena [where products containing curcumin, the bioactive component in turmeric, are growing extremely rapidly], says Raban.
“Turmeric is becoming bigger and bigger. There’s a generation of people that have been cooking with it, they are familiar with it, and now they are seeing all this stuff in the media [click HERE] about health benefits, and saying, Wow, it’s also beneficial.
“We’re also starting to see some interesting turmeric-based products [such as HPP-treated TumericALIVE] hit the market, which have raised awareness.
“You often see this pattern with a food or ingredient that is popular in other cultures or cuisines becoming popular here, like ginger. It’s sort of familiar and different at the same time.”
Chia, meanwhile, is also starting to creep into more beverage applications, in no small part owing to the success of Mamma Chia, says Kreienbrink.
Interested in new beverage trends?
Tune into our online Beverage Innovation Summit on February 4 and hear from speakers including:
- Janie Hoffman: Founder & CEO, Mamma Chia
- Bill Moses: Co-founder & CEO, KeVita
- Valentina Cugnasca: Co-founder & CEO, Vertical Water
- Chris Reed: Founder & CEO, Reed’s
- Pamela Naumes: Senior director of brand engagement, Bolthouse Farms
- Reuben Canada: Founder & CEO, Jin+Ja
- Steve Jones: CEO, Fairlife
- Seth Goldman: Co-founder & TeaEO, Honest Tea
- Shaun Roberts: Founder & CEO, KonaRed