Performance drink sales continue to grow overall, but not at the same rate as in years past. The category grew its volume in 2008, but the rate slowed from the double-digit increases seen earlier, according to Chicago-based Euromonitor International’s “Functional Drinks in the U.S.” report.
Performance beverages though still appeal to consumers for energy, electrolyte replenishment and other functional benefits they offer. In the United States, sports drinks are controlled by two major national brands â€” Gatorade and Powerade â€” that are showing signs of maturity, Euromonitor says. This is because some cannibalization of existing lines is occurring, and new products are no longer enough to draw in new consumers, the market research firm says. The energy drink category is a far more recent introduction to the market, and continues to grow through new packaging, flavor innovations and the introduction of energy shots.
Functional drink manufacturers have found recent success by introducing new products targeting specific consumer demographics, Euromonitor says. For example, Gatorade has several sub-brands, including milder flavors for morning workouts, and Powerade has its Powerade Option brand, targeting women with its lower calorie content.
Energy drink manufacturers have shown the most ingenuity with this sort of targeted marketing. While brands from larger companies hold a broad appeal, dozens of smaller beverage-makers expand the market each year with drinks targeting women, Hispanics, and specific niche markets, like extreme sports fans, overseas military, professional wrestling fans, amateur racers, collegiate sports teams and golfers, Euromonitor says. A targeted niche market has become as important as product formulation and packaging for new brand entries to stand out in a crowded marketplace, it says.
The popularity of functional drinks is expected to continue to grow as consumers look for healthier alternatives, though growth is expected to be constrained by the continued sector maturity of sports drinks. Sports and energy drinks in the United States are predicted to grow by 2 percent in total volume from 2008 to 2013, reaching 6.7 billion liters, Euromonitor says. Energy drinks are predicted to show the strongest growth during the forecast period, rising by 34 percent in total volume, the research firm says.
Energy category drivers
The multibillion-dollar market of performance beverages caters to anyone from professional athletes to mainstream consumers. In general, consumers are looking for performance-enhancing beverages that are not filled with calories, and many are searching for drinks that provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and select herbs, says Yi Wu, chief innovation director at The Wright Group, Crowley, La.
“The sports-performance segment continues to prosper with protein-enriched nutritional shakes and after-exercise recovery drinks,” he says. “This trend is driven by people trying to get more active and supplement this activity with food and beverage products that meet the nutritional demands of increased exercise.”
But the most popular segment in the beverage category is still energy beverages aimed mainly at young consumers, Wu says. Energy drinks with vitamin and mineral fortifications, antioxidants or high polyphenol content, green tea, caffeine or berries appeal to many consumers.
“Also, smoothies continue to grow in popularity because they have a positive health perception and can be customized and created for very specific nutrition targets, whether it’s for energy, fat-burning or mental acuity,” Wu says.
The Wright Group’s customers have been using blends of stimulants like caffeine, concentrated coffee, green tea extract and inositol; B vitamins; herbs and botanicals like ginkgo biloba extract, ginseng root, guarana extract and yerba mate powder; amino acids such as L-taurine, L-arginine and L-carnitine; and other functional ingredients such as body-building ingredient glucuronolactone, vinpocetine for a targeted mental boost, and N-acetyl-L-tyrosine to target mood enhancement.
Quercetin is another key ingredient being added more frequently to energy drinks for improved exercise performance and oxidative stress, says Holly Petty, senior product innovation scientist at Seltzer Nutritional Technologies, Carlsbad, Calif. More natural ingredients, such as beet extract, bee propolis and ginseng, as well as fruit and vegetable extracts, also are appearing more in energy drinks, she says.
“There is a movement for energy drinks that not only provide energy throughout the day but also will aid in exercise performance and alertness,” Petty says. For improved performance and hydration, electrolytes like calcium, sodium, potassium and magnesium, which traditionally appear in sport drinks, also are being added to energy drinks, she adds.
Energy drink-makers also are using low-calorie sweeteners and new no-calorie sweetener rebaudioside A to distinguish their energy drinks in the marketplace, says Jennifer Stephens, senior market analyst at GTC Nutrition, Golden, Colo. Other novel functional ingredients being formulated into applications include prebiotic fibers and omega-3 fatty acids, she says.
“The functional beverage marketplace has become saturated, and manufacturers are responding by producing beverages that deliver multiple health benefits such as bone, digestive and immune health,” Stephens says.
A large portion of the growth in the energy-enhancing category also can be attributed to the popularity of energy shots. Energy was the main focus of energy shots in the past, but new functions have made their way into this segment as well.
“For energy drinks and shots, consumers are looking for greater functionality, including alertness, improved mood, balanced energy, hydration and antioxidant capacity,” Petty says.
Consumers also are interested in mental acuity, increased concentration ability and physical stamina, Wu says.
Carbohydrates serve as a key source of energy in most drinks, but consumers have become wary of the possible crash caused by sugar and caffeine, Stephens says.
“Consumers are looking for energy drinks that sustain energy levels for longer periods of time without the crash,” she says. “Consequently, this equates to lower sugar and/or removing the caffeine. As a result, sugar replacers such as polyols and Reb A are increasingly being used in these functional beverages.”
Natural sources of caffeine, which also are sources of antioxidant flavonoids, such as guarana and green tea, offer sustained energy as well, Petty says. Green tea also contains theanine, which can serve to reduce the jitteriness caused by caffeine, she says.
“Because botanicals contain caffeine and/or a mixture of antioxidative compounds, the effects imposed are of slower, sustained release,” Petty says.
The addition of certain vitamins also can reduce a crash effect, Wu says.
“Most of the energy shots provide a quick or instantaneous burst of energy and are not usually thought of as providing sustained energy levels,” he says. “However, the B vitamins could provide sustained energy levels when present in the body in sufficient amounts as they are one of the keys to unlocking energy from food.”
Sports drinks do more than just hydrate these days. They are designed to sustain energy for longer periods of time, provide pre-exercise preparation, aid post-exercise recovery and support overall well-being.
During exercise, people lose water and electrolytes, which sports drinks can help to replace. Dehydration, even at low levels, can significantly impair exercise performance, Petty says.
In addition, sports drink ingredients can help athletes use food or glycogen stores for better use during exercise.
“When athletes workout for more than two hours, they start to exhaust their muscle glycogen stores and the body starts to break down muscle for energy production,” Wu explains. “This can be minimized by drinking a beverage that has carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals in specific ratios, thereby offering a more sustainable energy source.”
Drink-makers creating beverages to help consumers during their workouts have included L-taurine for a stimulant effect, creatine for quick muscle recovery and B vitamins, Wu says. Sports drink-makers have been including natural sources of caffeine in their beverages to provide energy as well. And antioxidants are added in sports drinks for workout and post-workout recovery.
Protein is integral to post-exercise recovery, and amino acids, particularly branched chain amino acids, can aid in repair and building of muscles, Petty says. The body also needs minerals like sodium and potassium lost in sweat, and soluble fiber like inulin to keep the digestive system healthy and slow the absorption of sugars into the blood stream, Wu says.
In addition to all these performance-enhancing ingredients, beverages need to taste good in order to succeed.
“Sweet tastes, as well as a reasonable level of electrolytes encourage drinking,” Petty says. “However, excessive saltiness can negatively impact taste and tendency to consume fluid.”
Flavors, flavor maskers, carbonation and sweeteners can serve as starting points for taste improvement of performance beverages, she says. Concentrated fruit, fruit extracts, chocolate and coffee also can be used to improve taste. BI