Part Two : Antioxidant and "Free-From" Beverage Trends


By Rick Zambrano, Foodable Industry Expert

As a continuation of the mini-series on tapping into functional, healthy non-alcoholic beverage trends to build drink business, we look at some examples of “free-from” beverage trend and antioxidant beverage trends. How can foodservice operators use the trends to build incremental sales for their operations? Let’s explore….

The “free-from” food and drink movement is strong. There’s a clear propensity to avoid certain foods and beverages due to the inclusion of ingredients to which consumers are allergic or wish to remove from their diet. Ingredients, foods and compounds that many consumers include on the “to-avoid” list are fat, sugar, nuts, eggs, pesticides, gluten/wheat, GMOs (genetically-modified organisms), preservatives and salt. There are also consumers who believe avoiding certain ingredients will increase the healthfulness of their diets and even their bodies. Consumers, particularly those with sensitivities to gluten or Celiac disease, are avoiding gluten. The gluten-free market is projected at $973M, according to research firm Packaged Facts, and it could reach $2B by 2019.

“I’ll take it, but hold the GMO and gluten.”

GMOs are an example of something that more consumers are avoiding and upcoming legislative battles may have a wide impact on how much of the population will be avoiding them. The non-GMO food and drink market in the U.S. is projected to reach $264B by 2017, reports Packaged Facts, and perhaps even $340B if mandatory labeling is passed in the U.S. But research firm NPD says that only about 11% of consumers are willing to pay more for food and drinks that are free from genetically-modified organisms despite the fact that over half of consumers express “some level of concern” over GMO products.

As for gluten-free, many beverages produced already contain very little or no gluten. But for those with celiac disease, it is enough to make them wary and cross-contamination is a very good possibility, particularly in a restaurant where gluten-rich products are produced (including baked products). Tea, coffee and many other habitual beverage products might become cross-contaminated. Some consumers will opt for bottled juices, coffee and tea just to identify additional control points and feel safer about what they are having. Foodservice operators that create and identify a gluten-free menu should be aware that some “naturally gluten-free” products can become cross-contaminated, and unless advised by a dietician or expert, should not include or label these beverages as “gluten-free.”

Non-GMO Beverages 

kiwi juice

Beverages that are labeled non-GMO will grow and the demand for such products has spurred lines of products that appeal to consumers. There is a growing variety of non-GMO choices in the beverage category. Whole Food’s 365 line and Apple & Eve are just some of the brands that are independently verified as non-GMO by the Non-GMO Project. Dairy choices include Califia Farms. Coffee and tea brands that are verified include Bravo Tea and Cafe Sabroso, but many other choices can be found on the Non-GMO project website.

 As more consumers look for non-GMO products and costs come down, there will be more demand for these types of options. Restaurant operators that offer packaged juices, milks and other beverages should understand the demand within their markets and make these types of products available, increasing supply based on how well these beverages perform.

Sugar-free, preservative-free and organic beverages are also popular “free from” beverages. Organic is a big category and by definition, is mostly free from pesticides, although some organic pesticides may be used. Leading food companies, including soda-makers Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, continue to experiment with sugar substitutes with mixed results. The race is on to develop the most “natural,” unadulterated sugar-replacement for the consumer. The key for the restaurant or any foodservice operator is to understand the choices available and continue providing that choice to customers. In marketing any of these “free-from” beverages, pay attention to transparency and perform the proper research. In addition to manufacturers, retailers have also gotten into legal trouble with how they market, label or group certain “free-from” products.

Antioxidants: The Quest to Fight Illness

Antioxidants are molecules that inhibit oxidation, which in turn reduces the production of free radicals in the body. Free radicals are associated with cancer and other degenerative diseases. Many beverage producers have successfully marketed their products as “antioxidant” because they contain fruits, fruit juices, extracts and other ingredients that contain these molecules and are thought to help fight disease.

Juices that contain antioxidant-rich fruit, or “superfruits,” are commonly labeled antioxidant for marketing purposes. The Mountain Sun line of juices, owned by Hain Celestial, a leading natural and organic manufacturer, markets its products as having “antioxidant power.” Pom Wonderful is another manufacturer that heavily uses “antioxidant” in its brand messaging. Its 100% juice line is marketed as “100% California Juice—The Antioxidant Power of Pomegranate Juice,” according to a registered trademarked phrase displayed on its website. Fast-growing Bai is an emerging juice company that has a line of “Antioxidant Infusions.” Its Brasilia Blueberry is not only hip and cool, according to the company, but also has “loads of antioxidants.”

Manufacturers in growth mode and also established companies, like V8, are aligning their brands with the antioxidant promise. V8 has “essential antioxidants” in its Vegetable Juice and its V8 Splash has been labeled “Antioxidant Plus.” These types of labels appeal to a set of consumers that are looking for products they can feel good about and may keep them healthy in the long-term. Providing choice to consumers is important for restaurant operators and they’ll want to explore single-serve products, as well as bulk juices, that may have this type of appeal.

Take Tea to the Bank

Green Tea

Tea, explored in part I of this series as part of functionality for relaxation, contains antioxidant properties that have been substantiated in studies. White tea is linked to helping fight off H-29 colon cancer cells, according to research. The compounds in green tea and black tea are also linked to antioxidant activity and are linked to the slowing of certain cancer cells in animal and laboratory testing, according to the National Cancer Institute; but most human studies have been inconclusive. The promise of antioxidant properties in these varieties of teas make tea popular in ready-to-drink beverages and also as part of juice blends that are labeled as antioxidant.

According to scientific literature, it appears that the more processed or adulterated tea becomes, the less antioxidants it may contain; however this hasn’t stopped the marketing of tea’s antioxidant properties in packaged and blended formats. Tea has been favored for inclusion in packaged, bottled, and powder formats, as well as in single-serve packets produced for single-serve hot drink machines, including Keurig and Nespresso. The “better-for-you” aspect of tea has led to strong growth.

Foodservice operators should look at increasing hot tea and cold tea beverages because of the connection consumers see between tea and good health.  Additionally, for those operators with smoothie bars, tea is perfectly aligned with healthy choices. The bottom line is that tea has a wonderful “healthy” message around it and increasing its availability in bulk, packaged, bottled and single-serve formats can only help to provide an increased potential for incremental beverage sales. Try adding refrigerated teas and tea-blended drinks to your cold, non-alcoholic beverage offerings, including on the menu and in refrigerated cases if you offer a grab-and-go space. Also try blending tea with housemade juices and lemonades.

As with any type of labeling, take caution in the type of messages you include in your restaurant, on signs and on menus. Understand that antioxidants offer a promise of good health in the future, but that the science backing any direct links to the actual effects in the human body are still to be determined and are being explored. Be wary of pushing the antioxidant message too hard and fast.