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Wholesome Cravings: Healthier beverage trends in ingredients and product development

Market shifts influencing beverage innovation and successful commercialisation

Today's health-conscious consumers are increasingly demanding that ingredients are Better for Me and Better for the Planet. Delivering sustainable and nutrient-dense, functional products in the Beverage sector is becoming the way we do business.

As the world learns to live with COVID-19, focus intensifies on boosting and maintaining health. Consumers have become Mindful Nutritionists, educating themselves on what the functionality and nutrient density of their food needs to be. Immune health is now a fundamental requirement for the health-conscious consumer, to prevent disease or to assist in recovery. Self-care in all its guises, from supporting mental health to improving the way we look, has gained more importance for the mindful consumer and will continue to guide purchasing choices.

Clean labels are essential in providing the health-conscious consumer with information, and therefore confidence, in their chosen products. "Front-of-Pack" claims are becoming well established throughout North America. The concept of Clean Conscience is beginning to supersede clean labeling, as it goes beyond what is good for the body and reflects what is also good for the planet, the provenance of ingredients, and their environmental sustainability.

Formulating in the beverage sector for this new generation of health-focused consumers sounds challenging, right? Well, the following might just help.

Raise a glass to the beverage market!

The functional beverage market is the leading innovator in the beverage sector (1). Casting a net across all the trend forecasts, the prediction is that food and beverage trends for the next couple of years will be a combination of holistic health and self-care, with a sprinkling of indulgence, underpinned by sustainability. As life returns to a pre-pandemic lockdown pace, on-the-go convenience will resume, albeit adjusted down for those now spending more time in the home office.

According to the October 2021 Food Drink Europe report (2), the five innovation drivers for food and beverage rank as follows (% 2020 vs % 2019):

  • Pleasure (46.5% vs 48.5%)
  • Health (31.8% vs 33.2%)
  • Convenience (6.6% vs 7.6%)
  • Physical (6.2% vs 5.4%); and
  • Ethics (8.9% vs 5.2%).

It is worth noting that, while small segments, the only two drivers to increase in 2020 were Physical, relating to slimness, cosmetic, energy, and well-being; and, Ethics relating to solidarity and ecology.

The functional beverage market in North America is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.02%, during the forecast period, 2022-2027. Concerns over diabetes and gut health are likely to see a rise in reduced-sugar beverages and probiotic products (3).

So, "Better for Me, Better for the Planet" is the key message, underpinned by Pleasure – where pleasure translates to incorporating a variety of senses, sophistication, and, derived from nature.



The sweet taste of self-care beverages

When did consumers shift to more healthy beverages? Now, more than ever before, consumers are being given more information about the health components of the food that they purchase. Many global markets in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa are adopting mostly voluntary, color-coded, and user-friendly front-of-pack labeling, such as Nutri-Score.

Promotions on food and drinks high in fat, sugar, and salt (HFSS) in medium to large UK retailers will be restricted from October 2022. These measures serve to assist consumers in making better health choices.

Driven by COVID-related health concerns, and facilitated by front-of-pack information, the Mindful Nutritionist is seeking out self-care beverage products that they know are both better for them (low sugar, natural, allergen-free) and also deliver a noticeable boost in terms of improved mood, better sleep quality, more energy and focus, and better skin and hair.

Teas and infusions, with a focus on the mental health side of self-care, are in the ascendency as their clean label credentials offer guilt-free pleasure. Bold flavors are in the spotlight due to the large swathes of people who have suffered a loss of taste and smell due to COVID.

The formulation sweet spot for self-care beverages relies on having an ingredient partner that can identify the optimal combination of natural flavors, sweetening systems, functional health ingredients, and texturizers to deliver the self-care agenda. Recent sugar reduction innovation has produced sweetening systems that use more refined stevia extracts and sugar alcohols, as well as the highly label-friendly cereal and dried fruit extracts. Then there are the soluble dual-purpose prebiotic fibers, such as fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) (c30-65% sweetness vs sugar) that are derived from various products such as chicory, and the slightly sweet galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) derived from lactose in cow's milk.

For fat reduction strategies in beverages, formulators can cut calories while maintaining mouthfeel by turning to ingredients such as maltodextrins from corn, potato, and tapioca starches.



Beverage innovations targeting immune and gut health

Demand for products supporting the immune system, leading to the inclusion of vitamin C and zinc, has jumped with half of the consumers claiming to have started taking vitamins and minerals that support immune health (4).

The water and carbonated beverage categories continue to push the boundaries in terms of ingredient formulations to meet consumer preferences. There has been an intriguing array of ingredients and processes to entering the healthy carbonated beverage market in recent years.

Think about fermented products such as kombucha, which is derived from tea, sugar, bacteria, and yeast, via a process similar to brewing; it is low in sugar but high in probiotics, purporting to deliver a wide variety of health benefits. Or the inclusion of adaptogens, which are natural ingredients that allow the body to adapt to stress. Some of the most popular adaptogens include ginseng, ashwagandha, and reishi (a medicinal mushroom). Again, holistic immune health is the main aim.

More is being discovered about the significant effects of the gut microbiome on holistic health. Prebiotics are being shown to stimulate immune health through feeding, and therefore increasing, the number of beneficial gut microbes, or probiotics, resulting in an increase in anti-inflammatory cytokines (small proteins involved in cell signaling) (5). Offering consumers easy ways to boost fiber intake and therefore gut health, by the inclusion of soluble fibers such as inulin, FOS, or GOS, in beverage products, is one way to attract the Mindful Nutritionist who is looking to improve their immune health.

Mindful Nutritionists of all ages are recognizing the value of everyday opportunities to boost their nutrition regime, making every sip count.



Boosting protein in beverage products

It is now possible to create protein beverages that can benefit the health and well-being of specific customer groups, including growing children and the elderly, as well as having a wider appeal.

In terms of product formulation, there is almost unlimited scope for new taste and texture combinations, so the challenge is to develop these while hitting those natural and low/no-sugar targets, and offering optimal nutrient density.

The protein content of beverage products can be boosted by whey proteins, particularly popular in sport recovery drinks, while pulse and wheat proteins will appeal to plant-based consumers.



Sustainability: Ingredient sourcing to process efficiencies

It is not a surprise that innovation is rapid in the beverage market. Alternatives to alcohol in the form of hard seltzers require sophisticated organoleptic properties, and therefore innovative ingredients and processes. The shifting health agenda is presenting opportunities and challenges at each turn.

Sourcing ingredients from sustainable and equitable sources is becoming the way we do business and will be key to tackling food insecurity. In terms of processes, carefully chosen ingredients can improve process efficiencies and product quality. Take natural enzymes, for example. These naturally derived ingredients can improve fermentation and filtration processes, leading to improved yield, clarity, and stability in juice production, thereby reducing production losses and food waste. Since enzymes are typically classified as a processing aid, it is not required to include them in the ingredient declaration, keeping that all-important label clean.

At every stage of the formulation process, well-chosen ingredients can contribute to better health, a clean label, and, a reduced environmental footprint: the ultimate clean conscience.


Discover more at univarsolutions.com/foodology or contact us at [email protected] (+1-800-531-7106).

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1. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1245009/top-functional-beverage-categories-us/


2. https://www.technavio.com/report/functional-beverage-market-industry-in-europeanalysis?utm_source=prnewswire&utm_medium=pressrelease&utm_campaign=T17_


3. https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/north-america-functionalbeverage-market

4. https://www.mintel.com/blog/drink-market-news/3-drink-trends-to-watch-out-forin-2022

5. Effects of prebiotics on immune system and cytokine expression - PubMed (nih.gov)

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