Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, chia seeds were most commonly associated with the novelty plant-growing kits Chia Pets. Now, beverage-makers are harvesting the hydrating and nutritional benefits of chia seeds and blending them into juice and juice drinks, soft drinks, and drink concentrates and mixes, according to Natalie Tremellen, market analyst at Innova Market Insights, the Netherlands.

Although chia seeds are more commonly included in food products, 12 percent of products launched with chia seeds in 2013 were beverages, compared with 3 percent in 2012, says Stephanie Pauk, global food science analyst at Mintel, Chicago. Thirty-nine percent of chia seed beverage launches in the United States in 2013 were categorized as juice and juice drinks, with 22 percent in the carbonated soft drinks category and 19 percent in the drink concentrates and mixes category, Innova’s Tremellen reports.

Regardless of a beverage’s category, chia seeds add a functional aspect to the product, according to experts. “Chia seeds are often touted as the next superfood due to their wide variety of health benefits,” says Brittany Carter, industry analyst at IBISWorld, Santa Monica, Calif. “Several studies have been made in the past few years linking the seed to lower LDL cholesterol, enhanced cognitive performance, and weight man-agement.”

Rockville, Md.-based Packaged Facts reports that chia seeds offer a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat in addition to omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, iron, calcium, vitamins and fiber. Chia seeds also are believed to support satiety and offer natural energy, Mintel’s Pauk says.

GoChia! Drink Chia LLC Co-founder Chandra Davis says the omega-3s in chia seeds help support endurance and hydration. Combining this with a low-sugar and low-calorie content and a light texture, the Altamonte Springs, Fla.-based company’s Drink Chia beverages are suitable for pre- and post-workout occasions for natural hydration and recovery, she says.

Later this year, Carlsbad, Calif.-based Mamma Chia plans to launch a line of enhanced, organic chia-based beverages that offer added functionality, Founder and Chief Executive Officer Janie Hoffman says. The brand also recently added Strawberry Lemonade and Pineapple Coconut flavors to its original chia beverage lineup.

Both goChia! and Mamma Chia’s flagship products incorporate whole seeds into their chia beverages, which contribute to the beverages’ texture. When soaked in liquid, chia seeds soften and contribute a mouthfeel similar to that of boba tea or bubble tea, IBISWorld’s Carter explains. 

However, this texture does not appeal to all consumers, Mintel’s Pauk notes. To help the chia beverage segment appeal to a wider range of consumers, goChia! recently developed a line of beverage mixes called Chia Boosters. These individual drink mix packets contain milled chia seeds, which offer a smoother texture than whole seeds, and less than one gram of sugar. The new line launched in May in Lemonade + Super Greens Chia Booster, Cherry Berry + Vitamin C Chia Booster, and 100% Chia Seeds Booster varieties.

In addition, the brand’s expansion into the drink mix category tapped into another trend in the chia drinks industry. Drink concentrates and mixes represented the greatest growth for chia seed usage in global beverage launches in 2013, Innova’s Tremellen reports. The segment grew 600 percent from 2012 to 2013, she adds.

San Clemente, Calif.-based Sambazon incorporated blended chia seeds into its Blended Breakfast Superfood Smoothie, which was released in 2013. This blended form can be another, more appealing option for consumers who dislike the texture of whole chia seeds, Mintel’s Pauk says.

In addition to helping consumers get accustomed to the chia seed’s texture, beverage-makers in this segment are tasked with educating consumers about the benefits of their chia seed beverages.

Mamma Chia’s Hoffman notes that media coverage by “Good Morning America” and “The Dr. Oz Show” has helped spread the news about chia seeds to mainstream consumers. “Although many people now know about chia and its health benefits, there still remains a huge opportunity for further awareness and to inspire more people to incorporate chia into their daily diets,” she says.

Athlete relationships also can help brand owners reach consumers. GoChia! recently partnered with U.S. Olympic gold medalist and fastest American male Justin Gatlin to spread the word about chia seed beverages. The brand tapped him as its chief athletic officer to assist with marketing campaigns and talk about how Drink Chia fuels his training, Davis says.

In other cases, word of mouth has been the best ambassador for the growing beverage segment. Mamma Chia uses a high-touch marketing approach by connecting directly with consumers through social media and face-to-face community contact.

 As the chia seed market spreads its roots through consumer culture, the segment is poised for high growth as consumers continue to opt for healthy beverages, according to experts. “There is no reason not to believe it will be as pervasive as the coconut water category,” goChia!’s Davis says.