All signs point to growing interest in “naturally functional” beverages among consumers. These are products that incorporate purported health benefits from natural foods into convenient, ready-to-consume drinks. Consumers are increasingly savvy about nutrition, and there’s clear interest in boosting health and longevity by tapping into nature’s toolbox of potentially beneficial and medicinal substances. At the same time, consumers are turning their backs on “traditional” sweetened, high-calorie beverages, such as soft drinks.
A Two-Pronged Approach to Functional Beverage Success
Naturally functional beverages are perceived by consumers as providing more than mere hydration; rather, they are seen as supplying beneficial nutrients or other substances — such as protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, flavonoids, specific amino acids, or exotic, functional phytonutrients — which might otherwise be difficult or inconvenient to obtain. These “natural” ingredients are invariably viewed as supplying health benefits of some sort.
Creating successful new beverages depends upon two factors: adding trendy “natural” components for perceived value-added benefits, and avoiding pariah ingredients such as sugar and artificial dyes, preservatives, flavorings, or other additives. Sugar, especially, is presently viewed — and perhaps, rightly so — as all but toxic by consumers. Removing it from your beverage formulation may be as important as adding an ingredient or ingredients with a “health halo.” It’s also helpful to target a new beverage to a specific demographic. Key audiences include millennials, baby boomers and the female segment.
From the perspective of beverage manufacturers, this wide-open market represents a significant opportunity. Sales of functional and medicinal beverages continue to grow. From green tea polyphenols for alleged help with weight loss, to beetroot juice for the control of hypertension, to whey-fortified drinks for supposed appetite suppression and sports-performance enhancement, to ultrahydrating, mineral-laced coconut water, there is no shortage of examples of functional beverages that are generating consumer interest and boosting the sales trend charts.
Mixing Is Key
Capitalizing on this interest requires the ability to create new beverage formulations that incorporate one or more of the trendiest functional ingredients, whether it’s chia seeds, whey protein or olive oil polyphenols. That means manufacturers require appropriate liquid mixing equipment. Many of the trendiest functional ingredients pose mixing challenges. Some ingredients are immiscible, and require homogenization or emulsification in order to be incorporated into a beverage that does not separate into layers upon storage.
High-pressure homogenization or media milling is usually viewed as the answer, but it’s often feasible to achieve desired mixing results using more economical equipment, such as a wet mill emulsifier. This type of equipment can process submicron emulsions at significantly reduced costs compared to a high-pressure homogenizer or media mill. Additionally, high-pressure processing has been linked to the destruction of some of the very ingredients consumers are most interested in. As a result, minimal processing, using lower-pressure methods, may actually yield beverages more closely aligned with consumers’ expectations regarding minimal processing and natural, functional ingredients.