According to Merriam-Webster, a botanical is a substance derived from a plant used as “medicinal preparation or a flavoring agent,” especially common in skin and hair products. However, as consumers increasingly become in tune with their health, botanical ingredients are straying beyond the beauty industry and moving into the beverage market.
As a result, beverage-makers are incorporating a plethora of different herbs and spices into their formulations. “There are many types of herbs, flowers, and spices being incorporated into beverages,” says Holly McHugh, marketing associate at Niles, Ill.-based Imbibe. “Herbs like mint and basil, floral ingredients like lavender and rose, and spices like turmeric and ginger are being used in beverages. These ingredients are used because of their inherent health benefits and to add subtle nuance to traditional flavor profiles like true-to-fruit.”
The upswing of botanical ingredients can be attributed to consumers’ continuous focus on health and wellness, McHugh says. “Consumers are taking a more holistic approach to their well-being and some are even looking to botanicals deep rooted in ancient traditions for their intrinsic health benefits,” she adds.
Tara Kastury, director of marketing at Martin Bauer Inc., Secaucus, N.J., also highlights the wellness attributes of botanical ingredients. “More than ever before, consumers are pouring over labels, seeking wellness-related products that not only quench thirst, but also proactively improve well-being,” she says. “They seek words like real, natural, organic and low sugar. “In fact, wellness and functional beverages make up over 50 percent share of the non-alcoholic beverage market, according to Beverage Marketing Corp.”
Similarly, Pam Everett, senior director of innovation and product strategy at S&D Coffee & Tea, Concord, N.C., notes how functional ingredients have increased the use of botanicals in beverage formulations. “The demand for better-for-you beverages has led to a surge in functional ingredients like botanicals,” she says. “As more people discover the benefits of botanicals, such as energy and immune boosts, healthy skin and improvements in memory and focus, demand for beverages featuring these ingredients has grown and will continue to grow.
“Botanical agents — including lemongrass, ginger, lavender, elderflower and hibiscus — are being infused in everything from cocktails to coffees and teas for their flavor and healthful attributes,” Everett adds.
Functionality across the board
New consumer preferences have enabled botanical ingredients to rise up and shine in the beverage market. In recent years, generational shifts and an increased interest in transparency and authenticity have reshaped the marketplace, S&D’s Everett explains.
“Consumers are checking labels and doing their research to find products with natural flavors and simple, real ingredients,” she says. “Go-to staples like iced tea and coffee will always drive beverage sales, but these days, [consumers] demand more options — better-for-you options like fresh juices, infused waters, smoothies, lemonades and craft-made sodas. Functional ingredients, also referred to as botanicals, superfoods and adaptogens, easily compliment these on-trend beverages, satisfy consumer demand and drive profitability for manufacturers and operations.”
The options for incorporating botanicals into beverages nearly are endless, Everett notes. Options like fresh turmeric lemonade, carrot juice with ginger, hibiscus iced tea, spicy lemongrass Margarita, lavender kombucha and rose lattes to name a few, she adds.
Not only do botanicals offer new flavor combinations, but they also offer a multitude of functional health benefits. “Consumers are driving the healthy trend in beverages as they demand healthier products that benefit their overall wellness,” Martin Bauer’s Kastury says. “They expect their beverages to provide additional benefits such as relaxation and energy, while maintaining great taste.”
For example, botanic ingredients like guarana, tea and yerba mate all are excellent sources of caffeine that can provide a boost of energy, Kastury notes. Lavender and chamomile are known to calm and relax; hibiscus, green tea, rosehips and elderberry are a few herbals that contain vitamin C and antioxidants that are good for beauty products, she adds.
Kastury specifically mentions hibiscus and its rising popularity in beverage formulations. “Hibiscus has become popular for its fresh, subtle tart flavor and its vibrant red hue,” she says.
Juliane Guevel, vice president of sales at Martin Bauer, also highlights hibiscus’ increasing popularity. “Hibiscus is a top-performing botanical because it is a versatile ingredient that provides great flavor — fruity and floral — and great color to products,” she says. “We see it being used across a variety of beverages including hot teas, iced teas, carbonated waters and cocktails.”
The beauty-beverage category also has begun to take advantage of botanical’s wellness attributes. “Rose and rose water increasingly are being used in beauty-enhancing beverages because they contain vitamins A, B, C and E, and are high in antioxidants including flavonoids and anthocyanins that protect against free radical damage that speeds along skin aging,” Imbibe’s McHugh explains.
“Drinking [those types of beverages] is suggested to improve skin hydration, reduce wrinkles, lighten dark spots and even tighten pores,” McHugh adds.
In addition to the beauty-beverage category, the coffee category also can benefit from botanical ingredients. “Coffee is a daily ritual for most Americans and is often the first thing they consume every morning, so it makes sense that it would be the perfect delivery system for healthy, functional ingredients,” S&D’s Everett says. “Even though we know vitamins are good for us, many of us might not remember to take them every day. Coffee, on the other hand, is a daily habit and [an] essential part of our morning routine, so it serves as the perfect vehicle for functional botanicals.”
Seeking its full potential
Before formulating with botanical ingredients, there are a few things beverage-makers should take into consideration, experts note. “Botanical ingredients are native from different parts of the world and many of them are only available for part of the year,” Martin Bauer's Guevel says. “This impacts cost, sourcing and supply to the manufacturing plant. Other challenges may include stability, solubility and sedimentation, [all] organoleptic properties of botanicals that can impact the end product.”
Beverage manufacturers also should request full documentation from suppliers to ensure they are getting the best product possible, Guevel adds.
Regardless of the associated challenges, the market for botanical ingredients is expected to remain in high demand. “We see great potential for botanical ingredients in beverages as the market adds more and more better-for-you and clean-label options,” Martin Bauer’s Kastury says. “The full potential of botanical ingredients for use in the beverage industry has not been realized yet. While many botanicals currently available have been around for a long time in other applications, many are being discovered only now for beverages.
“New technologies will keep facilitating the use of botanicals in various categories —– teas, water, [ready-to-drinks] RTDs, juices and dairy — as consumers continue to explore products that combine bright flavors and health properties,” Kastury adds.
S&D’s Everett echoes similar sentiments on the future of botanical ingredients. “More and more manufacturers are experimenting with functional ingredients, creating botanical-infused RTD drinks that are on-trend and feature bright colors and better-for-you claims for on-shelf appeal,” she says.
“We can expect to see more combinations of [ingredients] to deliver benefits,” she continues. “We’ve seen one or two botanicals blended together like Ginger Elderberry Tea, however, as the demand increases, the usage will likely proliferate to four or five botanical components that almost act as the ‘natural multivitamin’ in a glass.” BI