It’s no secret that the soft drink category has battled declining sales in recent years amid growing consumer concerns about calorie and sugar content. But that’s not all that’s pulling them away, said Caroline Brons, director of marketing at DSM Nutritional Products.
“Consumer concern regarding sugar intake has driven many shoppers away from soft drinks and juices, to other alternatives; however, sugar reduction is not the only driver here,” Brons said. “Consumers—specifically in the beverage category—are thirsty for innovation and constantly looking for something that’s new, exciting, convenient and good-for-you. The water and functional beverage categories have jumped on this trend and launched many new, innovative hydration concepts and have grown as a result, not just taking share from juices and soda’s but also from other beverage categories such as dairy (milk).”
Indeed, as interest in innovative hydration has grown, the industry has responded with an evolving portfolio of functional beverages and enhanced waters. Beyond vitamin and mineral fortification, manufacturers are moving into yet-untapped areas of beverage innovation, Brons noted, such as:
- customization (with liquid water enhancers, such as Kraft Foods’ MIO);
- ingredient innovation by way of natural energy ingredients and new antioxidants;
- fiber-enhanced beverages (DSM’s recently launched OatWell oat beta-glucan, which delivers fiber into beverages with a smooth mouthfeel);
- healthy aging-focused drinks like cognition and heart health benefits, as roughly a quarter of the US population consists of boomers;
- focus on kids (kids' waters, healthy coloration); and
- focus on Millenials (energy and relaxation).
But with innovation and value-added ingredients come added technical considerations, as Todd Katz, regional manager of technical marketing and applications, F&B, told us.
“Even for a flavored water, one must consider the impurities that are inherent in tap water and spring water including minerals that have an impact on pH and flavor,” he said. “It’s important to note that each ingredient added has a very specific function (i.e. sweetness, nutrition, preservation, mouthfeel, suspension, etc…) and the formulator normally has a choice of ingredients to build the desired attribute.”
Ingredient dispersion remains the primary formulation challenge
Indeed, one of the most common formulation challenges is an ingredient’s ability to dissolve in water, which varies depending on what it’s derived from.
Insoluble ingredients, like certain types of fiber, may cause sedimentation, create a murky appearance, or have an undesirable sandy or gritty mouthfeel. Lipid-based nutritional ingredients may cause creaming or ringing if formulated incorrectly. And soluble ingredients, such as certain types of calcium salts, may react with other ingredients, which could result in sedimentation, off notes, or appearance changes, Katz noted.
“Finding a balance between the desired functionality and the taste, flavor and appearance of the beverages is an iterative process and an ongoing challenge even for seasoned product developers,” he said, adding that DSM’s Nutrition Innovation Center connects the firm’s food scientists directly with manufacturers grappling with formulation challenges.
Regulation: What is the ingredient? How does it function? Is it a supplement?
There are also regulatory challenges to consider when formulating functional beverages for the US market. At the most basic level, that translates to the regulatory status of a given ingredient, Georges Bergen, DSM Nutritional Products’ senior manager of regulatory affairs, told us. “Is it in the CFR or has it otherwise undergone a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) determination for that particular application?”
Other beverages, such as 100% orange juice or bottled water, have standards of identity that limits what can be added to finished product, with milk and cream being even more complicated as they’re overseen collaboratively by the FDA and USDA, he added. “The specific standards for these beverages restricts what ingredients could otherwise be added to impart functionality in order to define the core beverage for the consumer.”
More recently, the FDA has been actively working to separate dietary supplements and beverages via the publication of a pair of guidance documents earlier this year. “Their aim is to help distinguish liquid dietary supplements from beverages,” Bergen said. “Arising in large part due to the explosive growth in the energy drink category, these guidance’s will nonetheless continue to have far-reaching implications for functional beverages going forward.”
New DSM launches, innovations highlighted at IFT
DSM Nutritionals will unveil several beverage innovations at IFT, including Clear Carotenoids, which deliver bright, vibrant and transparent color to drinks without compromising taste; along with a new form of Crystal Clear Vitamin E, and advances in clear Omega-3 beverage delivery formats—as Brons noted that innovation is just as much about delivery forms as nutrition and flavor innovation.
“Our focus is to provide healthy nutrition that meets consumer needs,” she said. “When it comes to beverages, in addition to providing healthy, innovative nutritional solutions, we are focusing on also bringing application and delivery form innovation.”