In an episode of Nickelodeon’s “SpongeBob SquarePants,” SpongeBob’s best friend, Patrick Star, tries to help him pass his driving exam, which SpongeBob has failed many times. He explains to Patrick that he simply needs to think straight during the driving portion. The pair formulate a plan in which they place a walkie-talkie in SpongeBob’s head, allowing Patrick to feed him answers while he drives with the instructor. Unfortunately, the plan backfires and SpongeBob must keep trying to get his license.

Because cheating is never the answer, consumers are turning to functional products, like beverages, for cognitive and energy support.

Maria Stanieich, marketing manager at New York-based Kyowa Hakko USA, highlights how beverages have become a go-to solution for consumers.

“According to a recent survey by Kyowa Hakko of U.S. supplement shoppers, more than four out of five said it is important to their quality of life to have mental focus, mental energy and the ability to concentrate,” she says. “And in the past six months, a large number reported seeking an energy boost by purchasing coffee drinks, energy drinks and dietary supplements.”

Stanieich adds that on-the-go lifestyles have contributed to the demand for cognitive- and energy-focused products.

CELSIUS Essentials
CELSIUS ESSENTIALS features a MetaPlus formula and essential amino energy, providing cognitive benefits, the company says. Image courtesy of Celsius Holdings Inc.

“More and more, we see consumers wanting to maintain their desired quality of life above anything else,” she notes. “And for many, being on-the-go and active are two qualities they are not willing to budge on. So, it’s only natural for these consumers to seek out products that fit into their lifestyle — not take away from it.”

Stanieich points outs that safety, purity of ingredients, effectiveness, accessibility and ready-to-drink (RTD) products are what consumers are gravitating toward.

Micah Greenhill, marketing director of beverage at ADM, Chicago, says that demand for beverages that support cognitive and energy have surged thanks to growing consumer awareness of the importance of mental clarity, focus and sustained energy.

“Globally, 79% of consumers believe that supporting their mental health has a positive effect on their overall health and wellness, and for U.S. consumers, 84% state that their mental and emotional well-being is just as important as their physical well-being,” Greenhill states, citing ADM Outside Voice.

He notes that consumers often measure good health by their mental well-being, followed by how fit and active they are.

“Both cognitive and energy support can be highly appealing to health-conscious consumers, as well as for those who want to feel active and reinvigorated,” Greenhill says. “Concurrently, consumers are interested in convenient applications that can provide much-needed energy support at a moment’s notice. As a result, more shoppers are turning to on-the-go functional beverage formats like RTD teas, performance beverages, energy drinks, sparkling waters and more.”

He states that such formats are popular within both the active and personalized nutrition spaces where people of all lifestyles are seeking out beverages that support an array of health and wellness attributes. Hydration is another trend in beverages, with consumers “seeking products with isotonic properties, electrolytes and a variety of vitamins and minerals.”

“Performance beverages with electrolytes are in high demand, while energy drinks and pre-workout offerings with beta-alanine and l-carnitine are captivating consumers for their perceived associations with endurance and muscle building, as well as cognitive function,” Greenhill shares.

Kyowa Hakko USA’s Stanieich adds that numerous findings have marked growth potential in energy-boosting applications. She says that, for supplement consumers, clear memory recall and overall mood are key quality of life factors.

“According to a recent survey by Kyowa Hakko of U.S. supplement shoppers, in the past 12 months, more than one-third reported having purchased a supplement specifically for energy,” Stanieich continues. “Additionally, a large proportion report buying a product to aid focus during the day for work or school (43%), or for physical activity like sports or exercise (36%).”

Formulating successful solutions

When supporting cognitive health and energy needs, beverage-makers are seeking ingredients that hit all markets.

Paula Limena, vice president of global marketing of health and wellness at ADM, explains that more and more modern consumers are scrutinizing their beverage purchases, especially as they look for clean labels and natural sources of caffeine. She says that botanical ingredients can check these boxes.

“Research finds that consumers are drawn to beverages like functional juice/water, carbonated fruit beverages and still soft drinks that feature botanicals,” Limena states. “Plus, approximately 70% of consumers say that the presence of botanicals in a beverage made them perceive it as better for them — whether or not a health claim was actually made.”

Limena goes on to note that botanical extracts are often included in functional beverage applications because of their perceived wellness attributes. Guarana, green coffee, yerba mate and green tea extracts are some examples of ingredients that “deliver on highly sought-after natural sources of caffeine.”

“Consumers may associate these botanical extracts with support in reducing occasional fatigue and improving mental focus, and these ingredients are becoming more prominent in the market,” she says. “For example, energy drink offerings may include botanical ingredients such as guarana and yerba mate paired with mango and finger lime targeting mental acuity while giving a refreshing tropical flavor profile.”

Manufacturers must achieve the right balance of ingredients to deliver the desired cognitive benefits without compromising on taste and overall palatability.”
Micah Greenhill, marketing director of beverage at ADM

Limena also notes that other botanical extracts, like green rooibos, are helping to meet consumer goals.

“Our research shows that U.S. consumers associate it with mood and stress support, as well as fatigue reduction and sleep quality,” she explains. “We’re also in the process of examining the effects of green rooibos tea extract on stress and anxiety in collaboration with the University of Canberra.”

Kyowa Hakko’s Stanieich considers Cognizin Citicoline, a branded form of citicoline, to be crucial to brain health.

“It is a brain nutrient that increases the levels of several important neurotransmitters that help regulate cognitive function,” she says. “The brain, though a small percentage of a person’s body weight, consumes 20% of the body’s energy when at rest. Cognizin aids in supplying the required nutrition the brain needs to stay focused and alert.”

Fortifying beverages with cognitive-enhancing and energy ingredients also comes with challenges.

Stanieich points to the issues of stability, solubility, flavor, smell, texture, compatibility, regulatory compliance and cost considerations. Such problems can affect both product quality and consumer acceptance.

“Cognizin Citicoline is an ideal ingredient for beverages because it overcomes many of these challenges,” she states. “It offers stability and rapid solubility, eliminating issues related to degradation and clumping. Moreover, Cognizin has no taste or odor, addressing flavor and smell concerns.”

ADM’s Greenhill also cautions about sensory issues that can emerge when working with functional ingredients. Certain botanicals, vitamins and minerals may have inherent off-notes that affect a beverage’s color, viscosity, flavor or mouthfeel.

“Manufacturers must achieve the right balance of ingredients to deliver the desired cognitive benefits without compromising on taste and overall palatability,” he notes. “Consumers are likely to reject products that have an unpleasant taste or texture. Consumers are likely to reject products that have an unpleasant taste or texture.”

Additional issues include separation, ringing, flocculation or sedimentation, Greenhill adds. Stability over the course of a beverage’s shelf life is another concern.

“Some cognitive-enhancing and energy-boosting compounds may degrade or lose potency when exposed to light, heat or oxygen,” he explains. “Beverage-makers must invest in research and development and partner with an ingredient supplier with formulation expertise to select stable ingredients and implement proper packaging techniques that preserve the efficacy of these ingredients over time.”

Greenhill notes that ADM helps beverage companies overcome these formulation hurdles.

“Our extraction process enables us to leverage botanicals in various beverage formulation environments, and it helps ensure they interact will with biotics, vitamins, minerals and more,” he says. “Further, our proprietary TasteSpark flavor technology is optimized to help solve taste challenges in better-for-you applications. Our technology can help mask off-notes and build back preferred mouthfeel.”

What’s coming

Although it’s difficult to determine what’s next for the beverage market, experts predict cognitive and energy will be front and center.

Kyowa Hakko’s Stanieich says that consumers are worried that focus and mood-boosting beverages might cause them to lose sleep.

“Because of that, they are searching for beverages that can improve energy, focus and attention, without sacrificing their sleep time,” she states. “Consumers are looking for effectiveness in their functional beverages, but they’re also looking for safety and purity of ingredients.”

Stanieich also suggests that consumers are becoming more cautious about which brands they buy because of increased reports on the negative effects of high-sugar, high-caffeine energy drinks.

“That’s why many functional beverage manufacturers are turning away from caffeine and sugar and instead using nootropics like citicoline, which occurs naturally in the brain,” she says.

ADM’s Greenhill feels that there is “vast opportunity for growth” in the cognitive health and energy beverage market.

“In fact, research shows that 54% of consumers are currently using, or are interested in using, beverages with attributes that support cognitive health/focus,” he says, citing research from The Hartman Group. “Additionally, almost 60% of North American consumers indicate they plan to improve this area of their life, and 54% plan to support their energy levels over the next 12 months.”

Greenhill adds that beverage brands delivering on tailored offerings for such specific consumer segments will find success in the coming year.