From immune-boosting juices to gut-loving brews, the demand for healthy drinks on menus has never been greater. Jennie Milsom hears from brands making a splash this year.
Health and wellness drinks are making waves on menus as consumers focus on physical and mental health. Even before Covid, health and wellness was the primary driver for innovation in soft drinks, says Alex Beckett, global food and drink analyst at Mintel.
"Then the pandemic came along and these trends seem to have been accelerated," he says.
But it's more than eliminating the ‘nasties': manufacturers are favouring natural recipes with added functional benefits, including energy boosts for long days and calming effects to ease anxiety. And those that also capture customers' imaginations could be on to a winner. "Consumers in 2021 are very enquiring and curious, especially young consumers seeking out new concepts," Beckett adds.
Beverages with benefits
According to Phil Sanders, out of home commercial director at Britvic, one-third of consumers are interested in premium soft drinks with added functions. "More people are looking for benefits above and beyond their standard diets, such as boosting energy levels, maintaining a healthy heart and encouraging strong brain function," he says. Britvic brand Purdey's combines taste, wellness and energy with its mix of B vitamins, botanicals, fruit juice and naturally occurring sugars.
William Fugard, co-founder of Gusto, agrees that consumers are turning to the healthy drinks category for "healthy pleasure and healthy function". He explains: "Both of these drivers are rooted in customer awareness of wellbeing and the need to protect and support a healthy immune system."
Gusto reports "phenomenal growth" in both its premium soft drinks and functional range. Its Super DC immune support drinks, made with Sicilian blood orange and botanical extracts, are designed to be "served in a premium hotel or restaurant" or as "a logical grab" with a to-go meal deal.
With time to reassess diets and lifestyles, consumers are turning to fruit drinks containing natural goodness, says Christopher Banks, chairman of the Cracker Drinks Co, whose Crafted range, containing no added sugar, sweeteners or preservatives, is "perfect for satisfying this new wave of health-conscious customers".
At James White Drinks, managing director Lawrence Mallinson says consumers have an increased interest in "buying into the benefits of good nutrition", with beetroot juice and turmeric leading the way. "Products like Beet It, our organic beetroot juice, with strong medical and sports performance research backing, have done well," he says, highlighting the Organic Ginger and Turmeric Zinger shot for self-service outlets.
Also digging turmeric is Thomas Robson-Kanu, founder of the Turmeric Co, whose range is for anyone "who wants to be the better and healthier version of themselves". He adds: "We have over 10,000 consumer reviews confirming how drinking our shots regularly has helped them improve their athletic performance, for pain relief, or to solve their fatigue and digestive problems."
No- and low-alcohol drinks
As for alcohol, the no- and low-alcohol drinks category has seen "sustained growth" over recent years, says Carla Bithell of CGA, with sales of no/low wine up 22.4% and no/low spirits up 441.3% in the 12 months to February 2020.
Addressing the trend is Hayman's Small Gin, a "game-changer" with 80% less alcohol and fewer calories, with no compromise on flavour.
For ready-to-drink options, Square Root offers a range of single-serve, non-alcoholic cocktails and sodas made from whole fresh fruit and seasonal ingredients. Co-founder Robyn Simms says sales have soared since March 2020. "We're more conscious than ever of the negative physical and mental effect drinking [alcohol] has on our bodies and it's natural that people will start to reach for healthier alternatives," she says, anticipating demand for healthier drinks to increase "exponentially" this year.
As for wines, Alex Hunt, purchasing director at Berkmann Wine Cellars, suggests stocking a handful of "light and refreshing" styles that achieve naturally lower alcohol, such as White Rabbit, a German riesling at 9.5% ABV.
CGA has found that sales of no/low alcohol beer have risen by 45.4%. These can partner well with food, says Estrella Galicia's UK and Ireland managing director Mark Johnson: "Beer is already high in vitamins, minerals and fibre as it's produced through natural fermentation. Non-alcoholic beer shares the same characteristics, as well as bringing great isotonic factors and a low calorific content."
Peter Gowans, UK country manager of German brewery Erdinger, also highlights health benefits: Erdinger Alkoholfrei contains vitamins B9 and B12 and boasts natural polyphenols (micronutrients), which help support the immune system and promote performance.
Hard seltzers and CBD drinks
Despite their relative niche status, seltzers are gaining traction in health drink circles, too. Berczy offers "light and flavourful" hard seltzers at 4% ABV, containing just 75 calories and 3.5g of sugar per 250ml can. Made from "ultra-pure" distilled spirit from sugar beet and Herefordshire sparkling spring water, they come in three fruit flavours: passionfruit and turmeric; peach and raspberry; and lemon and lime.
Co-founder Nick Graham explains: "It's clear that consumers want new and interesting products that aren't in the typical mould of beers, wines, ciders and mixed drinks."
For the afterwork crowd, Gibson's Goodology's Jenn Hartzler says CBD-infused drinks are "taking up the mantle as a way to relax in the evening without having to deal with any impacts the next day". Last year the brand launched a premium sparkling tea drink infused with a high CBD content, with flavours including shiso tea and blueberry and green tea and passion fruit. "One of the best things about our drinks is their versatility; they can replace your morning coffee, post-workout drink or evening cocktail, so truly work throughout the day." She notes their "excellent on-trade margins" as an added incentive for operators to stock them.
Enjoyed for its smooth, sweet taste and vibrant green hues, matcha's health credentials rival most teas. And with an energy release four to six times longer than coffee, quality versions of this potent powder promise to "relax and calm the nervous system, rather than over-stimulating it", says Katherine Swift, founder of award-winning OMGTea (available in 100g catering formats). "Matcha can be consumed at any time that coffee or tea is and provides a great alternative for people who want a boost without the jitters that coffee and other highly caffeinated drinks often give."
Like matcha, dairy-free alternatives have become menu must-haves, with oat lattes and coconut hot chocolates "a sure reflection of the scale of the move to plant-based drinks within the UK," says Rebecca Rayner, director of Glebe Farm Foods. She adds: "The movement towards health and wellness encompasses many lifestyle areas and one that has been on the up in recent years is the move to plant-based diets, and in particular oat, almond, soy, coconut and other plant drinks."
Responding to the need for plant-based options that perform for baristas, the brand recently extended its range from PureOaty to almond, coconut and soya.
Digestive health is also enjoying a renaissance as consumers make the link between the gut, brain and mood. Fentimans' Premium Soft Drinks and Mixers Market Report 2020 anticipates consumers will increasingly seek no- and low-alcohol drinks with reduced sugar and added health benefits, with gut-health-boosting kombucha leading in mainstream venues.
Riding the kombucha wave is tea-based brand Good Earth, which, says marketing manager Liliana Jauregui, is attracting "younger, health-aware and planet-savvy drinkers". The range includes three organic kombuchas made from Kenyan teas and gut-loving bacterial cultures, resulting in a "refreshing drink which is gentle and smooth".
Jauregui adds: "Kombucha is a massive trend in drinks with credentials brought more into focus recently as attention to self-health and boosting immunity has been heightened."
As kombucha has shown, the demand for complex drinks that parade as "cool and aspirational" is accelerating, says Henry Chevallier Guild of Nonsuch Shrubs, a range of alcohol-free syrups, sodas and mixers, of which blood orange and bitter lemon is a best-seller.
"The beauty of a shrub is its adaptability," he explains. "It can form the basis of a simple yet delicious non-alcoholic drink with a range of mixers or as the beating heart of a mocktail. And yet, it is also a wonderful addition to a vast array of cocktails and a great bedfellow with all spirits."
Shrubs are simple to serve and "super-condensed and concentrated" – a single 500ml bottle forms up to a dozen different serves, yielding decent returns for operators.
Berkmann Wine Cellars
Hayman's Small Gin
The Turmeric Co
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