To keep pace with consumers thirsting for new, better-for-you products, beverage-makers consistently are formulating and releasing new products into the market. Although it can be difficult to stand out from the rest on store shelves, some brands innovated to create their own buzz this year. 

The editors of Beverage Industry analyzed the new beverage market launches of 2016 and selected five brands that they think are driving innovation — and energizing consumers — within the U.S. beverage market. The following are Beverage Industry’s 2016 Innovations of the Year.

Garden Party Botanical Hard Sodas

After studying trends in the adult beverage category and noticing the fast emergence of the hard soda segment, Erin Edds, creator and co-founder of Garden Party Botanical Hard Sodas, set out to develop a premium ready-to-drink (RTD) alcohol beverage that rose above the rest. “One night, a simple phrase hit me, and I sent a text to my husband and business partner Stephen that stated ‘the wine cooler grows up,’” she says. “Utilizing recipes I had developed in my early farmers market days, we spent the past year working to bring Garden Party Botanical Hard Sodas to life.”

A brand of Indianapolis-based RumsTech Ventures Corp., Garden Party is a premium, 100 percent all-natural hard soda with no artificial additives or preservatives and flavors that are modern and innovative through the use of botanicals. The 8 percent alcohol-by-volume hard sodas initially launched this fall in two flavors: Garden Party Ruby, a ginger soda with hints of hibiscus and pomegranate; and Garden Party Violet, a lemon soda infused with lavender and blackberry. Two new flavors, Peaches and June, are set to debut in spring.

Distributed through Monarch Beverage, an Indiana-based beer and wine distributor, Garden Party is available throughout Central and Southern Indiana at such chains as Kroger, Marsh and Whole Foods Market.

Edds says that Garden Party Botanical Hard Sodas create a great singular drinking experience while allowing for versatility as a mixer with spirits, wine or beer.

The state’s fascination with the Indianapolis 500 drove Edds and her husband to package the hard sodas in slim cans, she says. “We live in Indianapolis, home to the world’s largest single-day sporting event, the Indy 500. The 500 is a BYOB affair, but glass is strictly forbidden,” she explains. “Plus, there is the issue with breakage and ultimately looking like every other brand in a six-pack container. We’re not like every other brand, and our packaging reflects that. We love the tall slim cans that we are using. They are feminine and reflect our premium flavors and present an upscale brand. We’ve forged our own path to this point and expect the brand to continue to grow.”

Sonoma Cider Apple Brandy

In April, Healdsburg, Calif.-based Sonoma Cider added to its portfolio with the release of Apple Brandy, a Calvados-inspired organic brandy that uses the juice from five varieties of organic apples that are fermented at the company’s cidery before being double-distilled at Ally 6 Craft Distillery, the company says.

Co-founded by Robert Cordtz and his son, David, in 2013, Sonoma Cider’s new Apple Brandy is the company’s first foray into the crafts spirits market. “This is the first spirit Sonoma Cider has produced. It’s been a long time coming though,” says Robert Cordtz, the company’s cider maker and vice president of operations. “As soon as we started doing fermentation here, we wanted to distill it,” he says.

Robert Cordtz explains that its Apple Brandy is the big brother of the Hatchet, a hard cider made from fermented single-strength organic apple juice. “We start with our Organic Cider, double-distill it in an alembic copper still, [and] then age it in small oak casks for six to 10 months to develop complexity and a satin-smooth finish,” he explains. “Once it’s fermented, we take it over to our friends at Alley 6 distilling, and we distill it together and put it in medium-char, new American oak barrels.”

The brand’s hand-crafted Organic Apple Brandy is a natural extension of its Organic Cider line, Robert Cordtz says.

“We launched this [in] April 2016 and have had great response. We are mostly selling direct to consumers in our tap room, but are also selling to a handful of craft spirit retailers and bars around Sonoma County,” he says. “Cider is not the only category in the U.S. that is experiencing a renaissance, micro-craft spirit producers have been springing up all over the country. Our hand-crafted Organic Apple Brandy can now join this wave of excitement in the craft spirits.”

Suja Organic Drinking Vinegars

Born out of Suja Juice Co.’s obsession with nutritious cold-pressed juice and supporting consumers’ immune and digestive health, the San Diego-based company added Suja Organic Drinking Vinegars to its portfolio this fall.

Made with organic apple cider vinegar and cold-pressed fruits and vegetables, each 13.5-ounce, single-serve bottle contains more than 4 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) of live vegan probiotics. The line is available in five flavors: Hibiscus Ancho Chile, Strawberry Balsamic, Peach Ginger, Cucumber Ginger and Lemon Cayenne. The 30-calorie drinking vinegars also are lightly sweetened with stevia and/or coconut nectar and are exclusively available at Whole Foods Markets nationwide for a suggested retail price of $2.99 a bottle.

“Our consumers are always looking for [the] best-quality products and, to us, that means always organic, never GMO, and cold-pressed,” says Heather MacNeil Cox, chief marketing officer for Suja Juice Co. “… With the addition of organic apple cider vinegar, we are moving into the functional beverage space, providing the traditional kombucha drinker with another option that is both different and delicious.”

Apple cider vinegar and drinking vinegars, or “shrubs,” are seeing a resurgence of interest in the culinary space as leading restaurants around the country have added them to their menus, MacNeil Cox says.

Used in combination with vegan probiotics, the fermented and unfiltered apple cider vinegar enables Suja’s Drinking Vinegars to stand out from the rest, MacNeil Cox says. “When it comes to the added vegan probiotics, there are 4 billion CFUs at the time of consumption (many competitive kombuchas and tonics only have 2-4 billion CFUs at time of manufacturing),” she explains. “As for the juice, we use cold pressure, also known as high-pressure processing (HPP), instead of high heat, to extend shelf life and to help maintain essential vitamins, minerals, enzymes and flavor.”

In 2017, Suja Drinking Vinegars will expand its availability to more natural and conventional retailers.

Tropicana Probiotics

Significant consumer and category insight led Tropicana, a brand of Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo Inc., to launch Tropicana Essentials Probiotics, a line of 100 percent juices with probiotics that will start its national rollout in January, according to Björn Bernemann, vice president and general manager for Tropicana North America. 

“We have witnessed functional juice grow at twice the rate of total juice and juice drinks; and we have paid attention to consumers’ growing appetite to incorporate more probiotics into their daily routine,” Bernemann says.

Tropicana Essentials Probiotics contain 1 billion live and active cultures in each serving and will be available in three flavors: Strawberry Banana, Pineapple
Mango and Peach Passion Fruit. Each 8-ounce serving contains more than the recommended daily value of vitamin C and has no added sugar, preservatives or artificial flavors. The juices will be available in 10- and 32-ounce bottles for a suggested retail price of $1.69
and $3.49, respectively.

“We also know that consumers are only getting busier, so they’re looking for on-the-go solutions that don’t compromise on taste and nutrition,” Bernemann says. “... Tropicana Probiotics was a journey for many years. … We are thrilled to bring a delicious probiotic offering to the mainstream consumer.”

The launch of Tropicana Essentials Probiotics coincides with the company’s 70th anniversary. “We are approaching our anniversary with vigor, Bernemann says. “… Tropicana is poised to embrace its 70th anniversary with a forward-looking approach to juice for the next 70 years and beyond.”

Verday Chlorophyll Water

Also capturing consumers’ quest for healthy, hydrating beverages that contain functional ingredients was New York-based Chlorophyll Brand LLC’s Verday Chlorophyll Water. Noting the growth of the bottled water category, Verday Chlorophyll Water was born from its founders’ chance introduction to chlorophyll on a beach in Tulum, Mexico, several years ago.

“After making chlorophyll a regular part of their diet and experiencing the antioxidant and cleansing benefits themselves, our founders saw the opportunity to transform the increasingly mainstream healthy water category by adding a deliciously refreshing, thirst-quenching beverage with a therapeutic amount of chlorophyll,” Verday’s Director of Marketing Jonathan Murray explains.

Verday Chlorophyll Water is packed with 100mg of chlorophyll, more than consumers would find in four cups of spinach or 12 cups of arugula, Murray says. It also is shelf stable, non-GMO, vegan, gluten free and paleo with zero calories, sweeteners or preservatives, he adds.

“Unlike many enhanced waters that contain only [a] ‘fairy dust’ sprinkling of active ingredients, the 100mg of antioxidants and cleansing chlorophyll in every bottle allows consumers an opportunity to invest in their health in a unique and great-tasting way,” Murray says. 

Available since April in New York City and Los Angeles, Verday Chlorophyll Water has enjoyed traction at the consumer, store and distributor level. The line is available in four flavors: Cucumber, Watermelon, Lemongrass & Ginger, and Coconut.

Distribution of Verday Chlorophyll Waters also is trending well as it prepares for nationwide expansion through recently formed partnerships with United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) and KeHE Distributors LLC. 

“We consider Verday Chlorophyll Water as the first in a series of game-changing consumer packed goods products based on our key ingredient: chlorophyll,” Murray says. “[It] has been known for years to contain a variety of proven healthy properties which have made it a favorite among leading wellness experts and healthy active consumers. Our mission is to bring chlorophyll products to the mainstream.” BI