By Heather Landi
According to market research firm Mintel, 13 percent of all new food and drink products launched last year had an “all natural” claim, along with “no additives or preservatives,” which continue to be two of the most popular food and beverage label claims.
And, Mintel also notes that the organic and natural food and beverage market grew 20 percent from 2009 to 2011, despite the sluggish economy.
Consumers are looking for products with a small, simple list of ingredients —juice, fruit and herbs—rather than technical-sounding artificial ingredients and to satisfy this demand, large beverage manufacturers continue to switch to natural flavors and colors, while smaller, niche beverage players take the natural beverage market in new and innovative directions.
“There are significantly more beverages, whether it’s new brands or existing brands, that are trying to use less ingredients, trying to be more transparent with their ingredients and trying to go back to using whole ingredients rather than highly refined, processed ingredients to try and create an experience similar to what you could make at home,” says David Luks, CEO of Honeydrop, a line of natural honey-infused teas and juices.
Honeydrop and a host of other natural drinks are part of the latest movement in healthy refreshment, namely, natural functional beverages.
Guru Energy Drink, for example, is marketed as a 100 percent natural energy drink with botanical ingredients like guarana, panax ginseng, ginkgo biloba and Echinacea delivering 125 milligrams of caffeine. It also contains organic juices and organic cane sugar, with no taurine, artificial ingredients or preservatives.
“Active ingredients through a natural source are trending in a major way right now,” says Kate Ratliff, technical director at product development company Flavorman. “We have seen over the last 18 months a marked increase in requests for energy drinks that are natural, with the caffeine coming from herbal ingredients, such as guarana. And also we get requests for drinks that contain tea due to the purported health benefits of tea.”
John Crandall, vice president of marketing and sales at extract supplier Amelia Bay agrees: “Teas are where the industry is at right now. Our customers are asking us to extract and formulate simple, lightly sweetened tea-based beverages with fruit flavors and teas with juices and purees. Getting back to basics seems to be a major emerging trend.
Some good news for natural beverage makers is that thanks to increased demand for natural flavors and advances in technology and extraction processes, there is a vast range of natural flavors available today with quality and stability matching that of artificial flavors. Robertet, a vertically integrated ingredient company, has a core focus on natural flavors and ingredients and has worked with many companies on developing new natural drinks as well as reformulating existing beverages from artificial to natural flavors, says Steve Wolf, Robertet’s director of flavor applications. Beverage companies increasingly are switching from artificial cherry, raspberry and pomegranate flavors to natural fruit flavors, for example, he says. “It’s not just a niche market anymore; the majority of the beverage market wants natural flavors,” Wolf says.
With the tagline “From the Bee to the Bottle,” Honeydrop is leveraging the back-to-basics wholesomeness of pure, unrefined honey, with recent medical research indicating honey is high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and provides sustained energy. Launched in 2009, each bottle of Honeydrop teas and juices contains one tablespoon of pure unrefined honey sourced from U.S. beekeepers, as opposed to honey flavoring. Honeydrop also is made without the use of genetically modified ingredients.
The ALO Drink brand has become a standout in the functional drink market thanks in large part to the ongoing awareness of the health benefits of aloe vera and the natural story behind its ingredients. Each variety includes aloe vera juice and aloe vera pulp as well as juices, such as mangosteen and mango juice in the Allure flavor, and natural colors like beta-carotene. Tim Haselman, marketing manager for ALO, says using natural ingredients was a priority for the company and critical to the brand positioning.
“We’ve noticed recently that brands have come under fire for their natural claims. To be more proactive, we’re changing our packaging to make it clearer that it’s real aloe vera juice and pulp in the bottle, not reconstituted powder like others in this category,” he says.
Some companies, like IZZE, are taking soda waters back to their simple roots. IZZE, which is owned by Pepsi, created Sparkling Ginger and Sparkling Birch, all natural sparkling sodas made with natural root and birch extracts, sparkling water and sugar.
Jones Soda also recently launched its Au Naturel line of sparkling sodas containing carbonated water and natural flavor essences. The line, which includes green apple, lemon and orange mango flavors, is sweetened with organic agave syrup, stevia and cane sugar.