In an ongoing trend toward healthier ingredients, consumers continue to demand beverages that deliver on functionality and flavor, along with clean-label preferences. As such, beverage brands and formulators are developing beverages with superfood and antioxidant ingredients that deliver health benefits as well as please the palate.

Nina Riggins, senior marketing manager of beverage strategy at Kerry Taste & Nutrition, Beloit, Wis., says that 68 percent of consumers consider food and beverage to be medicine.

“As consumers seek functionality from their food and beverage choices, they are increasingly adding to their diet new foods and antioxidant sources they believe can help reach their personal goals for wellbeing,” she says.

June Lin, global vice president of marketing, health and wellness at Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Chicago, adds that, influenced by the stressors of the past year, people are taking a more holistic approach to health and wellness.

“Our research finds 35 percent of consumers report being concerned about mental health, and 84 percent see mental health as being just as important as physical well-being,” she says. “As such, people are looking for products with functional ingredients to help sustain energy, improve cognitive function, provide mood-boosting enhancements and more.”


A healthy variety of options

The trend toward a clean label also is influencing the vitamin- and nutrient-fortified beverage space. ADM’s Lin notes that company sees consumer preference for naturally derived plant-based products growing across the food and beverage industry. This is supported by ADM research indicating that 50 percent of consumers prefer foods and beverages that naturally contain beneficial ingredients.

“Botanical ingredients in beverages offer not only functional benefits, but botanicals’ plant-based origins may also signal to consumers that the beverage is both natural and a healthy, beneficial choice,” she says.

Phenolaeis USA, Cambridge, Mass., recognizes the need for plant-based ingredients in the antioxidant space. The company offers a functional chocolate made with palm fruit extract, which provides antioxidants for cognitive and cardiovascular benefits, reduced bitterness and enhanced creaminess for ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages, it says.

“Palm Fruit Extract activates a wide range of antioxidant pathways supporting wellness in immune, cardiovascular and cognitive health,” said the company, in a statement. “Derived from palm fruit oil, Palm Fruit Extract is composed of at least five natural polyphenols, fibers, carbohydrates, and protein, is water-soluble, non-GMO, and a carrier of bioactive compounds.”

Phenolaeis says its new functional chocolate is ideal for formulators who want to launch healthier chocolate products with greater polyphenolic content.


Superfoods’ small challenges

As with many other ingredients, there can be challenges when working with functional ingredients, superfood and beverage additives, Kerry’s Riggins says.

“Formulation expertise is key to the development of a beverage with health halo ingredients. Kerry’s experts have found that there are issues, such as offnotes, associated with these types of ingredients and without taste expertise, the formulations fall short,” she says.

ADM’s Lin notes that masking flavors can help balance the overall flavor profile in fortified beverages. ADM offers range of maskers and modifiers that can be incorporated at low levels and help overcome the challenges that come with the inherent offnotes of many functional ingredients, she adds.

“Functional botanicals also are a way to help elevate the nutritional and functional profile of beverages,” Lin says. “[ADM offers] standardized and proprietary botanical extracts that can contain anthocyanins, beta-carotene, vitamins C and D, and other health-promoting vitamins and phytochemicals, including acerola and green tea and antioxidant blends.”


Recipe for a healthy outlook

ADM’s Lin predicts the heightened interest in health and wellness will continue into 2021 and beyond. Because of this, opportunities will present themselves to incorporate functional ingredients into more beverage formats as consumers want solutions to fit into their current lifestyles.

“This provides developers a great opportunity to focus on developing products that provide energy, vitality and focus with the use of ingredients such as green tea extracts as a natural source of caffeine, along with other functional ingredients including omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA.”

Kerry’s Riggins adds that superfoods, health halos, antioxidants, immunity, digestive health, cognitive health and other functional ingredients will continue to gain traction in the marketplace.

“We are moving into a world where consumers want everything in one beverage,” she says. “The consumer mentality is, ‘not only should my coffee give me energy in the morning, it should have a cognitive health claim … and added protein … and help with my digestion.’”

She concludes that, as such, it takes a deep understanding of both taste and functionality to successfully create beverages within this space.