Consumers seek beverages with health benefits that go beyond hydration

These days, many U.S. consumers also want a little something extra in the name of health and wellness.

Most U.S. consumers understand the importance of hydration. In fact, 60% of them specifically seek out nonalcoholic beverages as a way to stay hydrated, according to “Trending Flavors and Ingredients in Non-Alcoholic Beverages, US,” a 2022 report from global market research firm Mintel.

But these days, many of those consumers also want a little something extra in the name of health and wellness. The trend toward better-for-you beverages is not new, noted Gary Hemphill, managing director of research for Beverage Marketing Corp. It has accelerated in recent years, however, with the COVID-19 pandemic being a likely push.

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“We’re seeing great emphasis on both wellness and functional benefits with new refreshment beverages coming to the market,” Hemphill said. “In addition, we’re seeing more category blurring.”

Functional boasts appeal

Lynleigh Kersting, senior manager, retail channel strategy and commercialization for Atlanta-based Coca-Cola North America, said 71% of shoppers admit that the pandemic spurred them to “rethink their priorities,” citing “Impact of COVID-19 One Year Later,” a 2021 Mintel report. Better physical and mental health are among their top three desires.

Prioritizing overall health and wellness, drug store shoppers now want functional enhancements and beverages that promise restorative properties and better hydration, Kersting noted. “Drug stores are doubling down on the investment in these beverages,” she added.

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On the functional front, there now are many great-tasting, cool-looking ready-to-drink beverages with adaptogens (herbs or mushrooms that help the body respond to stress, anxiety and fatigue) and nootropics (compounds that enhance cognitive functions), noted Gui Jaroschy, co-founder of Unfiltered Hospitality, a consulting and brand development company based in Miami, Fla. He pointed to Parch and Kin as two popular functional brands that were designed as alternatives to alcoholic beverages.

“A wide range of people are drinking less alcohol or choosing not to imbibe at all,” Jaroschy said. “Still, they want something to drink socially that tastes good and can be consumed at times when they might have otherwise consumed alcohol, like social gatherings or to unwind after work.”

For its part, Coca-Cola soon will be launching innovations that mesh with the functional beverage trend. For one thing, the company is adding an antioxidant boost and +9.5ph to its SmartWater alkaline with antioxidant offerings, Kersting said. 

“Perfect for an action-packed day, the new and improved Smartwater alkaline with antioxidant will be made using the same pure, crisp, vapor-distilled water with electrolytes that fans know and love, now combining the top benefits into one bottle,” she noted.

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Also in the works, Kersting said, is the introduction of zero-sugar Vitaminwater with a new sweetener system — combining monk fruit and stevia — that offers an improved taste. The company will launch two new zero-sugar flavors, too: coconut and lime-flavored Forever You and dark chocolate and raspberry-flavored With Love. 

Powerade also is getting a makeover. “As a part of a strategic reformulation with strategic direction under Bodyarmor, Powerade will relaunch in 2023 with a new formulation, visual identity, athlete partners and more,” Kersting said. “The Powerade and Powerade Zero Sugar reformulation will offer 50% more electrolytes than the leading sports drink.”

Not sweet on sugar

Zero-sugar and low-sugar formulations are trending beyond the functional beverage side, too. Childless consumers tend to gravitate toward beverages with no/low sugar attributes, the Mintel report noted. 

Coca-Cola is championing its Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, Sprite Zero Sugar and other zero-sugar sparkling soft drink (SSD) innovations, Kersting said, adding that diet flavors are helping to drive SSD growth in the drug store channel.

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And making a splash on the low-sugar side is the Frescos Naturales sparkling beverage lineup. The winner of the 2021 Naturally Boulder Pitch Slam event, which recognizes up-and-coming natural and organic brands, the minority-owned Boulder, Colo.-based brand combines real fruit with flowers and plants to create refreshing aguas frescas with just 5-10 g of added sugar. 

The line also meets current trends toward Hispanic flavors. As founder and CEO Juan Ignacio Stewart pointed out, Latino purchasing power is growing steadily in the United States. The beverages come in six varieties: Rosa de Jamaica, Tamarindo, Maracuyá, Mango, Piña and Guayaba. 

Packed with protein

Protein-packed beverages also resonate with many of today’s consumers. In fact, a September 2022 report from India’s Mordor Intelligence projects that the global protein supplements market will enjoy a compound annual growth rate of 7.8% between 2022 and 2027. Protein supplements are popular among gym fanatics and fitness enthusiasts, the report notes.

But dieters also look to protein for satiety benefits and more. In line with this reality, the SlimFast brand of Downers Grove, Ill.-based Glanbia Performance Nutrition recently rebranded its Advanced Nutrition and Advanced Energy products to the High Protein line. The brand introduced a new packaging design, too, noted Sarah Lombard, senior brand director for the brand.  

“The new modernized packaging simplifies the brand differentiators and attributes, dialing up the flavors, ingredients and ‘deliciously doabe’ imagery,” she explained. “Validated by consumer testing, the new packaging modernizes the brand, aligns with current consumer need states and trends, and strengthens the taste appeal and flavor cues.


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Methodology: The products selected are RangeMe Verified™ brands that received the highest positive buyer interaction scores within the Beverage category — a score that represents a combination of buyer views, messages, saves, sample requests and purchases of the product. The RangeMe verification process confirms that brands and products meet certain standards and requirements that RangeMe’s retail partners look for before doing business with a brand.