Needless to say, 2020 has been an unpredictable year for tracking consumer insights. With the Covid-19 pandemic nowhere near over, and elections just around the corner, the year is bound to still have a few surprises up its sleeve. As the pollsters warn early on election night, “it’s still too close to call,” and that’s exactly how we feel about some of the trends we’re tracking right now.
However…there are some trends that aren’t a close call at all, and where we’d put our money even in this volatile market. These trends are centered squarely within the camps of two major macro-trends: ORGANIC and FUNCTIONAL WELLNESS. Oftentimes, they even overlap (aka cross-indexing; something you definitely want in a fast-moving, competitive industry such as beverages). These sub-trends were building steam before the onset of the pandemic and are continuing to perform strongly given renewed consumer interest in health and immunity. To put it bluntly, no one wants to get sick and die. If consumer psychology has taught us anything it’s that fear is the biggest driver for lasting behavioral change – and 2020 has stoked consumer health fear in spades.
We may not have a crystal ball to predict the next 18 months but what Blue Pacific does have is data, insights, and solid intuition based on over 25 years of experience. We’d like to share with you our snapshot of 5 Key Organic & Functional Wellness Trends we’re closely following in today’s beverage market, and how you can best approach these opportunities with products that resonate with the consumers of tomorrow – today.
5 Key Organic & Functional Wellness Trends
Immune Power is self-empowerment of the health kind. Consumers were already becoming increasingly skeptical of medical advice, seeking second and third opinions regularly from online health forums and web-based practitioners. The deluge of contradictory and sometimes inaccurate information regarding the transmission of Covid-19 further deepened this skepticism. That’s why consumers are now returning to trusted and true methods for supporting their immunity, including the classic cold season solution: Orange juice.
In the 4 week period from mid-March to mid-April 2020, retail orange juice sales rose 46% – a huge jump fueled by consumer desire for a convenient and natural way to maintain their immune health. While we can’t control Covid, we can control what we put in our bodies (and for parents, the bodies of our little ones). Health is wealth and immune power is the consumer’s way of building and investing in their personal wellness account.
While 80% of consumers are focusing on food for self-care, over a third (35%) prefer beverages as their functional ingredient delivery system. Beverages offer convenience, portability, shelf stability, and a cost-effective entry point into the Organic and Functional Wellness space for new or occasional consumers. Beverages have the advantage of quick formulation and scale-up, enabling them to capitalize on the Immune Power opportunity more quickly than food products can. Blue Pacific recognized this opportunity early and now offers several exclusive immune support ingredient solutions ideally suited for beverage applications. With none-to-negligible sensory impact and high solubility and dispersion, these ingredients can elevate your existing formulas or be a vital part of a new product platform.
Remember how STRESSFUL those first few months of 2020 were? Frustrating? Depressing? Lonely? While many of us have come a long way from our initial response to sudden and permanent change, and some have been able to adjust to new normals and grasp emerging opportunities, a majority of consumers are not as happy as they’d like to be. Mood & Mind is the trend towards alternative, natural ways of treating and boosting mental health, such as beverages that incorporate nootropics, CBD, caffeine, or provide transcendent sensory experiences.
U.S. consumers were already in a mental state of emergency – and then Covid came. In a June 2020 survey administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a whopping 40% of U.S. adults reported that they were struggling with mental health or substance use. Another 13% started or increased their substance use to cope with lockdown stress, while a disheartening 11% seriously considered suicide. Imagine: 1 in 10 Americans contemplated taking their own lives. Some did. That’s one of the most heartbreaking statistics we’ve seen in a very long time.
On their own, beverages can’t treat serious mental health problems or mood disorders. But what beverages can do is deliver functional ingredients that relax, rejuvenate, nourish, and elevate. Think botanical infusions of organic lavender and chamomile in a sparkling mineral water, or an oatmilk with plant-based omegas and the decadent flavor profile of Bananas Foster. Or perhaps an elderberry electrolyte drink with Vitamin C and beta glucan. We have organic flavor and exclusive immune support ingredient solutions that can be used on their own or in concert with other functional ingredients. The national mental health crisis is far from over, providing a longterm opportunity to address consumer emotional and cognitive needs – one drink at a time.
Speaking of one drink at a time…what about alcohol? While it’s true that some consumers have turned to inebriating beverages to manage their anxiety and depression during the pandemic (the aforementioned statistics affirm this), does that also mean that the burgeoning No/Low Alcohol trend of 2019 is dead in the water? Well…not really.
The Sober Switch trend is one that continues to drive consumer drinking behavior in new directions. It’s not an abstention from alcohol per say, but a “switching” from alcohol to a non-alcoholic “sensorially sophisticated” beverage alternative. We’re not talking iced tea or diet soda here, but complex sensory experiences built on unexpected flavor combinations, characteristic alcohol-like notes, food friendly sugar-acid balances, and innovative approaches to mouthfeel and aesthetics. Alcohol may have more fun, but alcohol alternatives give drinkers the option to, quite literally, get more done.
Now on to the burning question: Did Covid kill the Sober Switch trend? Deflected, yes…but killed? Not even close. Alcohol sales did significantly rise throughout the first months of Covid lockdown, but much of that growth is attributed to an increase in off-premise vs. on-premise sales. Consumers who could normally drink at a bar or restaurant were now purchasing alcohol for home consumption. If we only look at beer, it’s interesting to note that the non-alcohol beer sales are projected to increase by 34%, while conventional (read: boozy) beer sales are projected to decrease by 4%. Swirl that stat around in your snifter a second.
Addressing the Sober Switch is relatively simple: Provide a sophisticated, adult beverage experience from label to liquid, but without the buzz. Whether that’s using a rose wine flavor in a sparkling seltzer or creating a botanically inspired kombucha with gin nuances, there’s many ways beverage developers can take part in the trend. Alcohol free is DEFINITELY a sustainable opportunity for the beverage industry. If you don’t have a project in the pipeline, our Product Innovation Team can help you build one – and quickly.
Sugar Savvy is one health-centric trend that has been around a hot minute. Since its link with Type II diabetes and obesity (among other adverse health conditions), sugar has become anathema to organic and functional wellness products. For the last 20 years we have seen cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup slowly, then rapidly, be pulled from many food and beverage products, but perhaps nowhere as conspicuous as in the juice and carbonated soft drink category. The current keto diet movement has pushed sugar reduction to new lows and with it comes a consumer base that, quite simply, is un-developing its sweet tooth.
We can reliably predict, based on its longevity before Covid and a litany of defensible, scientifically backed dietary research, that the Sugar Savvy trend will outlast the pandemic. But who exactly is this consumer, and what exactly are they looking for? The Sugar Savvy consumer is looking for sugar reduction as well as natural sugar replacement in innovative ways that (spoiler alert) taste just like real sugar. Whether that’s a keto protein shake formulated with stevia, an organic strawberry spritzer blended with beet juice, or a craft root beer sweetened with date sugar and chicory, beverage developers have plenty of creative options for switching their sugar game up.
Although around 80% of consumers say they are trying to limit their sugar intake, that doesn’t exactly mean they’ve sworn it off. Sugar Savvy consumers still want sweet: the key to their taste preference is targeting sweeteners that are less, different, or disguised.
Getting non-nutritive sweeteners and sugar alternatives to mimic a table sugar sweetness profile is the quest of ages. Managing bitter and metallic off tastes, time-intensity release, and body and viscosity takes a holistic approach – one Blue Pacific’s beverage engineers are highly experienced in. We offer many natural flavor enhancers for masking bitterness and optimizing mouthfeel to create the clean sweetness consumers love.
A leading beverage trend that has not just survived, but thrived throughout Covid-19 is Plant-Based. Without a doubt, this is one category that has bridged market segments to the point where drinking an oatmilk pumpkin spice latte is pretty much democratized. Plant-based beverages are no longer dominated by vegetarians, vegans, or lactose intolerants. A wave of new, non-traditional consumers have flooded the category. The longer shelf stability of plant milk (compared to cow’s milk) made them a go-to milk replacement during Covid’s food-hoarding phase, but likely it was their versatility and approachable taste that kept first time consumers coming back for more.
Oatmilk in particular has become the darling among plant-based beverages. Maybe it’s the comforting memory of a steaming bowl of oatmeal on a cold winter morning, or the creamy rich mouthfeel of milked oats that so closely resembles whole milk…whatever it is, consumers love it, resulting in $3.9 billion dollars in sales in 2019. With an estimated +9.3% CAGR from 2020-2027, there is little doubt that oatmilk is a category leader. Blue Pacific has grain-based ingredient solutions, including a high fiber and protein oat paste, that can deliver the results you want, with the nutrition your consumers need.
Plant-Based has already become a crowded trend. How can a beverage developer innovate within the space? Think outside the box and incorporate any of the aforementioned trends – Immune Power, Mood & Mind, Sober Switch, and Sugar Savvy – into Plant-Based products for additional consumer relevancy. A pea protein shake with beta glucan and stevia is a good bet for keto-friendly palates, and an eggnog-and-rum-flavored oatmilk might lift emotional spirits over the holidays while staying alcohol spirit free. There’s room to grow in Plant-Based, with the greatest wins waiting for those brands prepared to take a few risks and truly, bravely, and audaciously innovate.
Jessica Morton is Sensory and Consumer Insights Manager with Blue Pacific Flavors. She has over 15 years of experience conducting consumer research, championing product quality, building better brands, and providing expert sensory analysis in the beverage and flavor industries. Jessica has a passion for understanding consumer behavior and balances an analytical approach to data mining with a creative approach to communicating insights. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Orange Juice Prices Soar with Americans Seeking Immunity Boost (Bloomberg, 2020)
- Changing Consumer Beverage Trends (Goldschmidt, Progressive Grocer, 2020)
- Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020 (CDC, 2020)
- Drinks Market Analysis (IWSR 2020)
- Alcohol during the pandemic: Study breaks down who’s drinking more, and how much (Lukpat, 2020, The Seattle Times)
- Innova Market Insights’ Top Ten Trends for 2020 (Innova, 2019)
- KETOGENIC DIET FOOD MARKET – GROWTH, TRENDS AND FORECAST 2020-2025 (Mordor Intelligence, 2020)
- Oat Milk Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report 2020-2027 (Grand View Research 2020)
- 10 Key Trends in Food, Nutrition & Health 2019 (Mellentin, 2018, New Nutrition Business)