More consumers are concerned about what they are drinking and eating, said Sylvia Rowe, president of SR Strategy LLC at the Chicago-basedWorldwide Food Expo in October. More often than not consumers are reading nutrition labels and noticing the product’s content. Concern also exists about the health claims products make. Manufacturers need to be more transparent about their products so consumers understand what is going in their bodies, Rowe says.

“The battle for the label, everything from health claims and nutrient profiling … nutrition standards are important across the board in the policy arena,” Rowe said.

Product attributes consumers will be paying attention to in 2010 and beyond are protein, sodium content, portion size, energy density and functionality, she added. Cholesterol concerns also will be an issue, Rowe said.

“Consumers continue to be interested in health, however the economic situation has clearly diminished their appetite for certain premium health-driven products,” says Tom Nagle, managing director at Statler Nagle, Washington, D.C. “There is an opportunity to help consumers make healthy food and beverage choices in an effective way, and I think it is what many of the beverage companies and food companies have tried to establish in their health food rating systems or designations.

“But I think in the end, once everybody does that and there are a whole bunch of different systems, I don’t think it improves consumer trust. Consumers want to make healthy choices, but they don’t all want to become nutritionists. People need to have a reasonably easy way to understand how to make those choices.”

Many beverage and food manufacturers have created their own logos on labels to indicate a healthy choice for consumers. With the growing number of “healthy” indicator labels, consumers can become confused about what the logos represent. In an attempt to halt consumer confusion, one industry-funded food labeling program, The Smart Choices Program, said it would “voluntarily postpone active operations and not encourage wider use of the logo at this time by either new or currently enrolled companies.”

Innovative introductions
Although increased consumer questioning about the nutritional content of health and wellness products is growing, manufacturers continue to introduce innovative ways to drink healthy. Nearly 200 functional drinks launched in the United States this year through Oct. 30, according to Chicago-based Mintel International’s Global New Products Database. This number is down from the 258 functional drinks that launched in 2008 during the same time period. Fewer new functional product introductions could be due to the economy or the increasing number of consumers watching their weight who are noticing the discrepancies in healthy beverages, says Garima Goel-lal, senior beverage analyst at Mintel International.

Preferences for functional beverages and ingredients has changed though. According to a 2009 Mintel “Functional Beverages” consumer survey about health and wellness, 36 percent of all functional drink users want antioxidants in their products. Calcium, added vitamins and probiotics are other health and wellness desires.

New functional introductions encompass all beverage categories, but some energy drinks, bottled waters, juices and ready-to-drink teas have led in innovation.

In the energy drink category, PepsiCo introduced Amp Energy Lightning, Amp Energy with Black Tea and Amp Energy with Green Tea, three flavor extensions in its Amp line. Amp Energy Lightning is a lemonade flavor with L-carnitine; Amp Energy with Black Tea contains amino acids and antioxidants; and Amp Energy with Green Tea carries antioxidants as well as beta-alanine.

As for bottled waters, Skinny Nutritional Corp., Bala Cynwyd, Pa., introduced Skinny Water Wake Up, a new “breakfast” flavor to its Skinny Water line. Skinny Water Wake Up is a blend of orange, cranberry and tangerine flavors, and each 16-ounce bottle contains 250 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C, the company says. The product also offers green tea extract EGCG, calcium, potassium, and vitamins A and E.

Enhanced waters need to be careful though with the claims that they are healthy and promote health, because if they are high in sugar, consumers are more or less rejecting them, Mintel’s Goel-lal says.

“Consumers are becoming very savvy when they are managing health and what they are buying to manage their health,” she says. “We are seeing growth in the number of consumers who are actually reading packaging to see how many calories they are eating or drinking.”

The Mintel Sept. 2009 “Functional Beverages” report says fruit juices and juice drinks have not had an easy time increasing sales because of high sugar content and lack of innovation. Energy drinks have gained a bit, due in part to the success of energy shots, and functional soy, rice and almond-based drinks have grown slowly but steadily.

One beverage company that concentrates specifically on functional innovations, Beverage Innovations Inc., Delray Beach, Fla., released Venga Functional Infusions, non-carbonated beverages made from fruit juices, teas, vitamins and enhanced water. The product is available in Brainstorm, which includes ginkgo biloba and ginseng root; Calorie Burn, which contains L-carnitine, garcinia cambogia rind, CitriMax and caffeine to increase metabolism and burn fat; and Health & Zen, with aloe vera added as well as vitamins A, E, C, B3, B6, B9 and B12. Additional flavors include Rehydrate, which adds orange, passion fruit and mango with aloe vera for body regeneration; Daily Dose blends vitamins A, B3, B6, B9, B12, B5 and E with pink guava juice, passion fruit juice, low-fat skim milk, pear juice and rooibos tea; and Energize, which includes yerba mate, guarana, caffeine, niacin and panax ginseng to boost metabolism.

Traditionally a soda-focused company, Jones Soda Co., Seattle, debuted Jones Gaba, a tea/juice blend with the amino acid Gaba. Jones Gaba contains PharmaGaba, which has shown to improve metal focus, balance and clarity, while reducing stress, the company says. The beverage is available in Fuji Apple, Lemon Honey, Nectarine and Grapefruit flavors.

Adina For Life Inc., San Francisco, also launched a new beverage line called Adina Holistics. Each variety is based on a blend of adaptogenic herbal extracts thought to exert a normalizing influence on the body, the company says. The drinks are available in five varieties: Pomegranate Acai, Peach Amalaki, Blackberry Hibiscus, Grapefruit Goji and Mango Orange Chamomile.

Known for its apple juice products, Tree Top, Selah, Wash., introduced Trim, a beverage that provides a full fruit serving coupled with weight-management functionality. Each 8-ounce serving contains one serving of fruit, fiber and chromium to promote healthy metabolism, and L-carnitine to burn fat, the company says. The product is available in Strawberry Kiwi, Mango Peach and Pomegranate Blackberry flavors.

A growing trend among health and wellness beverages is the use of stevia, a zero-calorie sweetener. Coca-Cola North America unveiled Sprite Green, a reduced-calorie beverage made with Truvia, its brand of the zero-calorie sweetener. Truvia uses rebiana, which comes from the stevia leaf. Sprite Green contains 50 calories per 8.5-ounce serving and 5 percent lemon juice. The company also launched Odwalla Mojito Mambo juice drink and Odwalla PomegranateStrawberry juice drink, both sweetened with Truvia.

Glaceau Vitaminwater, a subsidiary of The Coca-Cola Co., also released a functional bottled water, Vitaminwater10, a low-calorie beverage with 10 calories per serving. The product is available in XXX (Acai-Blueberry-Pomegranate), Essential (Orange-Orange), Energy (Tropical Citrus) and Multi-V (Lemonade) flavors. Vitaminwater10 Essential is sweetened with rebiana, a stevia extract.

PepsiCo jumped on the stevia bandwagon with its SoBe Lifewater Acai Fruit Punch and Mango Melon. The zero-calorie flavors are sweetened with PureVia, made from an extract of the stevia leaf; vitamins B, C and E; and herbal ingredients.

Stevia-based products and healthy kids’ drinks will be some of the trends for functional beverages in 2010, says Alison Lipson, U.S. research analyst for Euromonitor.

“Things like functional and lower-in-sugar will really drive growth,” she says. “I think a lot of the natural ingredients and natural positioning of products that are inherently healthy will probably do better because consumers really understand what is in it vs. trying to decipher ingredients that they may not be familiar with.”

Small but growing
Today’s youth are the biggest consumers and drivers of the functional drink’s market. A growing problem is the epidemic of childhood obesity, and manufacturers have introduced products to counter the increasing trend.

Nestle HealthCare Nutrition developed Boost Kid Essentials Nutritionally Complete Drink. The drink gives kids ages one through 13 immune-strengthening probiotics, the company says. Boost Kid Essentials Drink is fortified with 25 vitamins and minerals, 7 grams of protein, antioxidants and 244 calories.

Consumers continue to purchase healthy beverages for their children, even though they might be tightening the money belts for their own needs, Euromonitor’s Lipson says.

“Consumers are kind of wary about spending money, but they haven’t really cut back on their kids,” she says.

In addition, a coalition of more than 40 retailers, non-governmental organizations, and beverage and food manufacturers announced the launch of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF), a nationwide effort to help reduce obesity by 2015. The initiative focuses on the marketplace, workplace and schools.

“The stakeholders involved in this commitment recognize that by working together we can make a real difference on the obesity issue in our country,” said HWCF Chairman David Mackay, president and chief executive officer of Kellogg Co., in a statement. “We are united in an unprecedented, collaborative and focused effort to help children and adults achieve better energy balance between calories in and calories out.”

Health and wellness products are not only being consumed by children, but also college-aged consumers and older. In fact, Mintel’s Functional Beverages report says that respondents aged 18 to 24 are more than twice as likely as those over the age of 65 years old to consume functional drinks.

“When you look at consumer preferences by age, younger consumers are looking for benefits that are basically short lasting, basically energy boost or stamina or weight loss,” Mintel’s Goel-lal says. “But when you look at the aging population, they want benefits like managing blood sugar or managing hypertensions or cardiovascular benefits. If we want to see more growth in the category, those kinds of claims will bring in more consumers.”