“Beverage, as we know, is a very big category in the natural and organic space. If you go into any natural market you will see beverage cases all around the perimeter as well as the back of the store,” Kara Nielson, a culinary trendologist, said during a recent Packaged Facts event that focused on growth drivers in natural and organic.
She explained that stores are willing to give so much retail space to this segment because manufacturers offer a “plethora of benefits beyond quenching thirst,” which helps drive foot traffic, increase trips and boost basket sizes.
For example, Nielson noted, the natural and organic beverage segment is offering more products with added nutrients and fortification – especially protein, fiber, probiotics and prebiotics, antioxidants and omegas.
“We also see a lot of natural energy boost as consumers move away from some of the classic sodas and large Red Bull-type energy beverages as they look for more natural types of boosts – whether that be from caffeine or different types of plant-energy, like yerba mate or different types of tea,” she said.
A desire for more natural electrolyte-replenishment options also are driving consumer interest in beverages with natural energy boosts, she said.
Products offering a “sensory thrill” also are performing well in the beverage space, Nielson said, explaining “not everything about natural and organic is about nutrient boosts.”
Rather, she said, natural and organic shoppers also want “fun” from their beverages in the form of carbonation and nitrogen bubbles, layers of flavors and combinations of textures, such a thick and creamy or light and smooth.
The other major trend driving expansion and sales growth in the natural and organic beverage aisle is an increasing variety of packages and formats that easily fit into different occasions, lifestyles and uses, Nielson said.
“Whether they are shots, individual servings or multi-serve, we are seeing a variety of containers that are really interesting and different,” she said.
These macro-trends are playing out across the beverage category, but it is when they are combined with trends specific to the natural and organic sector that their fully synergistic potential is revealed.
Specifically, Neilson pointed to three emerging trends as examples: the building buzz around coffee, new digestive health offerings and “good plants” offering additional health benefits.
Consumers buzz about coffee
“One of the big areas where we are really seeing a ton of energy is in coffee and tea,” with a “host of different types of drinks … rippling out of tea salons and juice bars,” Nielsen said.
For example, butter coffee, which is a labor-intensive blend of MCT fatty acids from coconut oil or butter combined with a jolt of caffeine from coffee, is now available in ready-to-drink bottles from Blue Northern and Wonder Fuel, among others. These tap into the larger trends of natural energy boost, variety, fortification with the added fatty acids and sensory thrills by offering a creamy new texture, she explained.
The ongoing cold brew explosion also touches on sensory thrills with the recent launch of Califia Farm’s Nitro brew, and taps into variety with companies such as Happytree, which uses maple water as the base for the brew.
“We are also seeing more resourceful coffee drinks,” Nielson said. “This is looking at different ways we can use the coffee plant and get a new kind of beverage and beverage experience.”
For example, she said, cascara, which is an infusion made with dried coffee cherry husks, is an emerging sub-trend within the larger coffee boom. Slingshot Cascara Tea and Dogwood Coffee Co. both offer products in this space. Another resourceful coffee drink comes from Hawaiian OLA Kona Coffee Leaf Tea, which uses the coffee leaf – and not the more traditional bean – to make a beverage, Nielson said.
She added that both the coffee leaf- and cherry husk-based beverages also are gaining traction with consumers because they reduce food waste and are more resourceful at a time when people increasingly are worried about feeding the growing population.
New digestive health offerings
Beverages promising improved digestive health are another hot trend that pulls on the macro-trends of nutrients and fortification, sensory thrills and variety, Nielson said.
She explained that while probiotics are now making their way into mainstream America, players in the natural and organic sector continue to offer ever-more advanced and inventive twists on it in beverages.
For example, she noted some products, food manufacturers, such as Farmhouse Culture and Mothers-in-Law Kimchi, are not entering the beverage space with shots that come from the food fermentation process. In addition, she said, LoveGrace Probiotic Smoothies are blending probiotics with protein for a product that offers two benefits instead of one.
“Meanwhile, in a more palatable and mainstream way, there are brands like Uncle Matt’s with organic cold-pressed probiotic water,” that offers refreshment in addition to great flavor and probiotics, Nielson said.
Drinking vinegars also are taking up a larger share of the digestive health beverage space, she added. She pointed to Suja’s Drinking Vinegars with probiotics that launched in September as one example and Live Kombucha Drinking Vinegar as another, in addition to shrubs from a variety of manufacturers.
Plant-power permeates beverages
Plant-based is huge, currently, and while protein and meat-alternatives may dominate this trend, it also is influencing beverages in terms of adding extra functional benefits, Nielson said.
For example, she noted, “turmeric is definitely something that has been growing year on year and we are seeing more people recognizing its inflammation claims are real” when enough turmeric is consumed, and an easy way to do that is through beverages.
Specifically, she noted the bright yellow root is in Blue Print Turmeric Tonics, Temple Turmeric beverages and even in Califia Farms’ Ginger Almond Milk.
Adaptogenic herbs also are “coming up from the fringe,” with ingredients such as ginseng, maca root, rishi mushrooms and Manuka honey being positioned as stress-relievers that not only offer benefits but “look great and taste really good,” Nielson said.
Finally, she pointed to Matcha tea’s and watermelon’s rise to fame as more recent, well-developed examples of the plant-powered beverage trend.