Are beverages ready for ingredients such as potatoes and rapeseed oil, microalgae and tumeric? Lucy Britner finds that in the era of well-being, functional drinks are moving far beyond just a snack in a bottle.

In this age of holistic wellness, functional and nutritional drinks are moving beyond basic meal replacements. Today, this emerging sub-category of soft drinks caters to evermore-demanding dietary requirements as well as both physical and mental health needs. Whether a consumer is a flexitarian, a coeliac or wants to improve their cognitive health, a wave of recent launches offer a solution to just about every demand.  

In July, Swedish company Veg of Lund launched its My Foodie organic drinks range in the UK market. The range, which includes Blueberry, Raspberry and Seabuckthorn flavours, uses potato and rapeseed oil as two of its base ingredients. 

“Given their consistency, they’re more a drinkable snack than a drink,” says Thomas Olander, co-founder & CEO of Veg of Lund. The drinks are also vegan, nut- and gluten-free, with no added sugar. 

“Perfect for these increasingly flexitarian times, they contain half your daily omega-3 needs, are free from anything that’s not needed and feature a remarkably underused superfood, the humble potato.”

When it comes to flexitarianism, interest in vegan and vegetarian products continues to grow among non-vegetarian consumers. According to Zion Market Research, the global plant-based beverages market was valued at approximately US$11.16bn in 2018 and is expected to generate $20.25bn by 2025, at a CAGR of around 12% between 2019 and 2025.

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By GlobalData

Back on the launch trail and in the US, New York-based Choopoons released Simply Free Wellness Drinks in March. The range of functional drinks “can even be used as a meal replacement”, the company says. The line up, which comes in Banana Cinnamon, Strawberry, Mango and Cold Brew, also capitalises on the trend towards digestive wellness.

The range is “free of all major food allergens”. This means the drinks contain no dairy, no tree nuts, no peanuts, no soy, no wheat, no eggs, no fish and no shellfish.

According to Chris Lee, marketing director at Choopoons, the creation of Simply Free was spurred on by the notion that “so many Americans are on low-carb diets”, missing out on important nutrients. 

“Fewer than 3% get the minimum recommended daily fibre intake,” he says. “Our products offer up to 50% of daily fibre intake and are super easy and enjoyable to consume.”

With regards to digestive health, Lee says that while most companies add only probiotics to their products, Choopoons has developed a line “with a unique and much more effective combination of fibre, omega-3s, probiotics, prebiotics and antioxidants, which work much more effectively together”. 

Also based in New York, Remedy Organics in June added Golden Mind to its roll call of functional wellness beverages. The drink contains DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) omega-3 derived from microalgae. 

The “nutrient-dense formulation” also includes MCT oil (medium-chain triglycerides – a type of fat commonly extracted from coconut oil), adaptogenic herbs and turmeric. 

“Studies have shown that DHA omega-3 is a valuable nutrient that may support brain, heart and eye health,” the company says. One 35.5cl bottle also contains 10g of protein. 

Interestingly, Remedy Organics was last November selected to join PepsiCo’s Nutrition Greenhouse incubator programme in North America, suggesting big drinks companies, too, are looking to make moves in this area.

Over at The Coca-Cola Co., the group recently rolled out its NutriBoost product to Australia, following the brand’s success in Vietnam. The milk-based drink, designed for “snacking on the go” contains protein, calcium, fibre, vitamin D and no added sugar.

During Coca-Cola’s second-quarter earnings call last month, CEO James Quincey told analysts the “consumer-centric” release was “designed for busy families looking for a mid-morning or afternoon energising snack”. 

While the product is dairy-based, Coca-Cola already has plant-based drinks, such as AdeZ (acquired from Unilever in 2017), which it could look to soup up to functional, snack-replacement status. Or, Coca-Cola could go down the tried and tested route of snapping up one of the many start-ups in the arena. 

The timing is right for intelligent nutritional, functional products. In a round-up of consumers trends earlier this year, GlobalData pointed to negative attitudes towards carbs, the rise of plant-based drinks and 360-degree wellness as consumers are “connecting the dots between the products they purchase and use, and personal wellness”. It’s worth noting then, that Veg of Lund, for example, not only talks about organic ingredients, but also about sustainable packaging – and for them that means no plastic. 

As convenience continues to be important to busy consumers, having a snack in a bottle certainly appeals. But not just any snack. Functional, nutritional drinks have to contain the right balance of added nutrition and vitamins for individual consumer needs, they need to be made – at least partly – from organic ingredients, and they also need to come in packages that won’t harm the planet.