Functional ingredients

With health and wellness under a global spotlight like never before, housebound consumers are seeking out functional elixirs to target everything from sleeplessness to anxiety.

There’s no doubt about it, Covid-19 and the resulting limitations placed on everyday life have fundamentally changed not just drinking trends, but culture as a whole. From the way we receive entertainment to education, lockdowns have limited how we interact with each other, and the way we consume news and information from the world. However, much more fundamentally, Covid-19 has en-masse shifted consumer mindsets.

It’s no surprise then, that such a climate has notably accelerated a growing consumer trend towards wellness, with increasing numbers of consumers seeking out better-for-you products, with functional benefits.

According to Bacardi’s 2021 Cocktail Trends Report, released in January: “The pandemic has ushered in a new focus on mindfulness and wellbeing, with anti-viral diets being favoured by many who prioritize a minimum five-a-day fruit and vegetable intake alongside plant and botanical ingredients and superfoods. Immune-system boosting ingredients have come to the fore, providing a way for consumers to feel reassured they are doing their best to maintain their health.”

An increased focus on functional ingredients has been boosted by the pandemic which, combined with the continued growth of the low and no alcohol movement, is spurring demand for functional drinks. Whether its ingredients to relax, boost sports performance, aid concentration, sleep, digestion, or boost the immune system, there’s a drink to target it.

Growing momentum

Pernod Ricard too has identified functionality as a key emerging trend, specifically in the alcohol-alternative space, as consumers seek out better-for-you alcohol alternatives, that crucially now claim to offer a sensory or functional experience. Mark Makin, head of new ventures for Pernod Ricard UK, said: “I think brands will increasingly focus on functionality. This category attracts a very informed conscious consumer who will be quite interested in natural pick me ups and wind me downs. That area in particular is very exciting, and I think we’ll see lots of innovation emerge through that.”

And according to Alex Massumoto, marketing associate at Synergy Flavours: “Immunity is one of the hottest topics out there right now, and flavours that consumers recognize as immunity-boosting, such as turmeric, elderberry, echinacea, citrus and berry flavours, will perform well with people who are looking for a quick fix in their diet.”

What are functional ingredients?

Other functional ingredients include antioxidants and vitamin rich substances such as blueberry, pecans and dark chocolate, minerals such as zinc, selenium and fulvic to boost immunity. Anti-inflammatories such as turmeric, sleep-aiding herbs such as valerian root and hormones such as melatonin. Magnesium for brain function and heart health. Nootropics, that stimulate and improve alertness and focus include caffeine, adaptogen for stress and hormone balance such as ashwagandha, goji berry, and liquorice root. And of course, CBD.

CBD or cannabidiol – predominantly found in the buds and flowers of the hemp plant – has been hailed as the wonder ingredient – said to relieve stress, help balance the body and mind, regulating everything from anxiety and mood, help to boost concentration, reduce inflammation, and aid sleep through relaxation. In fact, there has been a flurry of CBD seltzer brands, teas, cold brew coffees,

and even CBD-enhanced coconut waters launched in the last 12 months, targeting a growing market for wellness drinks. And though it cannot and does not get you high, its use in drinks – specifically drinks containing alcohol – is still proving problematic.

The problem with CBD

A key area of focus for drinks makers working with functional ingredients is the low and no category, where receptive consumers are seeking out better-for-you alternatives, and producers don’t have to worry about the complications alcohol brings to the mix; for no product containing alcohol can truly claim to be healthy.

However, one ingredient that has so far crossed this divide is CBD. From CBD and hemp gins, to beers containing the substance, CBD has proved to be a popular ingredient for those looking to take advantage of the hype surrounding the ingredient. But trouble is brewing, even for non-alcoholic products.

With CBD products being so new, the Food Standards Agency in the UK is currently having a consultation on the sector asking CBD brands to apply for novel food authorisation by March 2021 in order to remain on the market. And a new ruling by the Portman Group – the UK alcohol industry’s independent complaints panel, ruled against Silent Pool’s CBD gin, Colorado High, finding it in breach of the group’s code, specifically for its functional claims.

It found that though cannabis was an illicit drug in the UK but that CBD was not, the panel considered the product’s packaging which used the word ‘high’, and references Colorado, one of the first US states to decriminalise recreational cannabis, to be an indirect association with illicit drugs.

The description of the label bottle that states it is: “A sensory infusion of wellness-enhancing CBD and refreshingly complex gin” and that it “supports your body’s natural balance and tastes great doing so” were also deemed concerning due to the “clear and explicit claims that the product had therapeutic qualities”.

Drinks makers using alcohol need to be exceptionally careful going forward with how they promote and discuss the use of functional ingredients within their products, as one thing is for certain, functional ingredients will continue to move beyond the low and no category, as momentum among, and demand from consumers grows.

Growing momentum

But how are both the small and the major players using these ingredients at the moment? When the Three Spirit brand first launched in 2018 it promised to offer a functional booze alternative, with its blend of functional ingredients providing not only the taste, but the experience of drinking alcohol. Today the three-strong range targets three different mood states. Livener includes guayusa, guava leaf and green tea, schisandra berries, ginseng and apple cider vinegar, said to be energising. Nightcap with lemon balm, valerian, white willow bark, and hops, and adaptogenic ashwagandha, is said to be calming. And the original Social Elixir, is made with damiana, tulsi and cacao “to lift spirits and reduce inhibitions”.

Kin Euphorics is an alcohol-alternative sleep aid that uses melatonin, reishi mushroom and L-theanine to regulate the circadian rhythms. Atlanta’s craft brewery SweetWater, has created a range of functional hard seltzers, called Oasis Premium. Available in flavours such as Raspberry-Lemon, Strawberry-Kiwi, Mango-Passionfruit and Black Cherry-Lime, it contains electrolytes from potassium salt, vitamin C from superfruits, and antioxidants.

Where next?

There are numerous more ‘craft’ examples. But one of the surest signs of the growing momentum behind functional ingredients, is the buy in by the major players. Just this month, PepsiCo announced it was to join the functional drinks category with the launch of Bubly Bounce in the US, a sparkling water line, said to offer caffeine, without the calories or sweeteners often paired with caffeine. Zach Harris, vice president of the water portfolio at PepsiCo, said: “Consumers are increasingly looking to their water beyond hydration. We know they are looking for more, and we know that outside of flavour and taste, which are the most important drivers, function is next.” In September, Molson Coors launched a non-alcoholic probiotic seltzer, called Huzzah, described as a ‘pumped-up, full-flavoured seltzer with added probiotics to help support a healthy gut’.

With the consumer group for functional drinks expansive – indeed, as expansive as the claims and functions these beverages claim to tackle – consumer behaviour evolving quickly, and the wellness drinks category still in its infancy, expect a continued flurry of innovation to follow. Wellness-aid soft drinks, from enhanced waters to beauty drinks, will continue to diversify offering ever-more specific functionality from sports recovery to sleep-enhancement. The low and no-category will continue to pursue not only wellness-enhancing ingredients that offer a functional benefit, but a sensory experience. And alcoholic drinks makers will continue to look for ways to benefit from the health-halo of functional ingredients, without falling foul of regulations that prevent wellness claims.