The term “superfood” has been bandied about the beverage industry in reference to products containing nutrient-rich fruits like blueberries, pomegranate and cranberry, which increasingly have become popular with health-conscious consumers. In fact, a 371 percent increase has been reported in the number of new food and beverage products launched with the term “superfood” between 2012 and 2017, according to the Netherlands-based Innova Market Insights. In 2017 alone, the rise was 17 percent, it adds.

“Superfruits are nutrient-rich fruits considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being thanks to their high content of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. They can be included in foods and beverages as well as in mixes and health supplements,” explains Julie Impérato, marketing manager at Nexira Inc., Somerville, N.J. “Their native pigment and typical taste can be useful to add a natural color and flavorful taste.”

Acai, blueberry, pomegranate and goji are the four most popular superfruits, according to Impérato.

Hibiscus also is gaining ground. “Have you already enjoyed this summer a tea, a drink or a confectionery with hibiscus ‘super flower?,’” Impérato asks. “You will see it soon everywhere. Hibiscus has seen a 10 percent increase in product launches in 2017, as this pleasant-tasting and potent antioxidant moves into many mainstream health products.”


Back to nature

The overall clean-label trend is impacting the use of botanical ingredients in alcohol and non-alcohol drinks.

“Plant-based ingredients, organic, non-GMO are all trends pushing for botanicals to be used in beverages,” says Randy Kreienbrink, vice president of marketing for BI, Rancho Dominguez, Calif.

Among the popular botanicals featured within beverage formulations are green tea, guayusa, guarana, kola nut, turmeric, yerba mate, tamarind, hibiscus, rose hip, passion flower, acai, blueberry, cranberry, pomegranate, papaya, faba bean, pumpkin seed, acerola, chia and quinoa, Kreienbrink says.

“Plant-based proteins like lentil, faba bean and pea are being used to replace dairy proteins,” he adds.

Holly McHugh, marketing associate at Imbibe, Niles, Ill., notes the proliferation of botanical flavors across categories, particularly in beverages perceived as better-for-you like coffee, tea and enhanced waters as well as indulgent options such as spirits.

“[Botanicals] are being used in spirits like Kettle One Grapefruit & Rose Vodka and Blossom Bros White Peach & Jasmine Flower because the health halo around botanicals offers ‘permissible indulgence’ as well as a more complex flavor profile,” McHugh says.

Botanicals can contain functional health benefits that might aid with digestive disorders, promote heart health and even prevent disease, experts note.

“Ginger can be found in products from nearly every category because it’s a versatile ingredient and aids with stomach upset,” McHugh explains. “Turmeric-based beverages, which are high in antioxidants and are suggested to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects, are also being developed at a rapid pace. MarketsAndMarkets expects the turmeric-based beverage market to grow at a [compound annual growth rate] (CAGR) of 20.53 percent.”

Although products for gut health traditionally have been more popular in Europe than North America, Nexira’s Impérato suggests that trend is changing. “North Americans are embracing the idea of boosting digestive health through food and beverages,” she says.

BI’s Kreienbrink affirms that today’s culturally diverse consumers and the onslaught of digital media’s food and lifestyle bloggers tweeting and chatting about better-for-you beverages are paving the way for botanicals to jump center stage.

“Today’s consumer is very culturally diverse from many nations and requires new flavors especially in response to an increased immigrant population in the USA,” he says. “Consumers are looking at flavors that were not as common as in the past. Exotic flavor types and mixes with mango, papaya, green tea, turmeric, ginger, acai and cranberry provide sharp, unique alternatives to your basic cola or orange fruit juice profiles.”


Blossoming potential

Experts note that flavors with healthy attributes are attracting consumers in droves. As a result, beverage-makers are ramping up their production of new products containing natural botanical ingredients.

For instance, Atlanta-based Nadi launched Nadi Wild Rosehip made from rose hip, the red berries of wild rose plants that grow in forests around Georgia’s Caucasus Mountains, the company says. Chicago-based Petal recently released Petal Sparkling Botanical Blends, a RTD sparkling botanical drink that is available in three flavors: Original Rose, Mint Rose and Lychee Rose.

Despite consumers’ familiarity with the bases of fruit flavors, Nexira’s Impérato suggests that flavor inspirations from fruits, vegetables and herbal extracts still are relatively underutilized in the beverage industry.

“Forty-two percent of U.S. consumers prefer to have vegetables in their beverages and 48 percent would try vegetable flavors (spinach, avocado, greens, eggplant) when choosing a juice drink,” she says.

Within the past year, more energy drinks containing caffeine-based botanical ingredients like guayusa, ginseng and guarana are hitting store shelves, BI’s Kreienbrink says.

Superfood lattes that utilize botanicals as the primary ingredient also are surfacing within on-premise at coffee shops like Limitless, Oromo Café and Werewolf Coffee, notes Imbibe’s McHugh. “These lattes include ingredients like turmeric, ginger, matcha and rose mixed with steamed milk. … Brands are also developing superfood latte mixes that you can make at home, such as The Ginger People Turmeric Ginger Latte Mix that debuted at Expo West this year,” she says.


Clean-label product development

As consumers continue to move toward clean-label ingredients, superfruits like acerola and guarana are gaining popularity as natural sources of vitamin C and caffeine, respectively, Nexira’s Impérato says. “We can expect to see these items move beyond soft drinks and supplements and into the food sector,” she says. “The number of new products launched with acerola or guarana has doubled in the last four years.”

Impérato also notes the global market growth potential for cranberry in various forms: fresh, dried, juices, cereals, bars, powders and supplements. “Supported by scientific literature, cranberries are considered to be beneficial to urinary tract health,” she says.

Healthy, versatile botanical ingredients also can bolster functional beverages by adding protein, fiber, antioxidants, energy and calming properties, BI’s Kreienbrink says.

Furthermore, the ascension of “healthy-lifestyle” beverages is leading beverage-makers to focus on innovation in health and well-being, Nexira’s Impérato says.

“Reformulation of sugar content and the broader idea of ‘lighter beverages’ are leading the way to product development,” she explains. “Products like functional beverages, plant-based drinks and sports drinks are now a measurable part of the healthy-lifestyle attitude adopted by consumers, paving the way for other beverages in the general marketplace.”

Kreienbrink foresees a “very bright future” for botanicals, particularly as clean-label attributes remain highly sought after.

“Trends of clean label are here to stay. These incorporate the use of botanicals over chemicals for flavor and functionality,” he says. “Botanicals have been a trusted and mainstay food and beverage source providing health and nutrition for consumers since the very beginning.” BI