Functional benefits, sensory adventure, and affordable escapism: Imbibe shares top trends during coronavirus pandemic

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

©GettyImages / Tom Merton
©GettyImages / Tom Merton

Related tags functional beverages Antioxidant COVID-19 coronavirus

As Americans spend more time at home and are paying acute attention to health and wellbeing, their demands are shifting towards products with specific functional benefits, options to recreate restaurant experiences at home, and an intensified desire for affordable, healthy items, says beverage development company Imbibe.

While consumers have been willing to pay more for convenience and premiumization in recent years, economic uncertainty resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic makes cost a top consideration, said Holly McHugh, marketing associate at Imbibe.

“Consumers will seek out products that are affordable and meet taste, quality and functional expectations, especially for everyday items like coffee or sparkling water. This may pose a challenge for smaller brands launching niche products that incorporate novel ingredients with immature supply chains, thus upping the cost to produce,”​ she said in a blog post​ ​on Imbibe's website.

Over the past two months, big food manufacturers have come to the forefront with renewed consumer interest, and will continue to see strong sales as the pandemic marches on, predicted McHugh.

“Big food brands have a key advantage in the industry, which is healthy financial flexibility to pivot when directions change and absorb price reductions of their products to beat out competition on the shelf.”

Immunity, sleep, and stress relief

According to Imbibe, the industry can expect greater demand for beverages that claim specific functional benefits including improved immunity, sleep, and stress relief.

“There was a market for all three of these types of functional beverages before COVID-19, but consumers have a heightened focus on staying healthy right now and are experiencing considerable stress and lack of sleep due to the uncertainty of their physical and economic wellbeing,”​ noted McHugh.

Antioxidants are coming more into the spotlight as consumers place increased attention on their own long-term wellness.

“Antioxidant-rich superfoods, probiotics, elderberry, echinacea, turmeric and ginger are some of the ingredients you can anticipate seeing in immune-boosting beverages. Calming ingredients like lavender, chamomile, green tea (due to its l-theanine content), cacao, and hemp-derived CBD will be used in mood boosting and calming beverages,”​ she said.

While growing, the market for adaptogens will remain relatively niche, according to McHugh.

“More novel ingredients like adaptogens and medicinal mushrooms, which potentially have mood boosting and immunity benefits, may also become more popular, though they tend to be more expensive which could limit their entrance into the mainstream.”

Creating advanced sensory experiences

As most consumers are not able to eat out as much as pre-COVID-19 days, CPG brands will have to fill a sensory void restaurants, cafes, and bars once filled, noted McHugh, who has observed an uptick in ‘DIY’ at-home creations from Shake Shack’s take-home burger and shake kits to a rising interest in making your own kombucha and nut milks.

“CPG brands will be challenged with creating adventurous sensory experiences that induce excitement and help consumers escape from the mundane. In addition to playing on many of the trends mentioned in this blog (i.e. DIY, function, and nostalgia), brands can create a unique experience through exotic flavors, enticing colors and novel textures like nitrogen infusions.”

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