Consumers Are Demanding Fewer ‘Nasties’ And More Natural Ingredients

Niche start-ups are stepping up to the challenge of producing healthy alternatives as established multinationals urgently try to shake off their sugar-laden reputation.

While the big players can support NPD with substantial advertising budgets, there are opportunities for smaller players to sneak in and flourish in the healthy drinks arena by reacting quicker to trends.

According to John Band, managing analyst at Datamonitor: “People are looking for healthier, more fulfilling and more exotic drinking experiences.

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Healthy, More Exotic Experiences

“This has driven efforts by manufacturers to produce new drinks and categories to meet these demands.”

However, he adds: “Not all these drinks are equally natural or healthy–there is the little chemical difference between a flavored, carbonated low-calorie mineral water and a Diet Coke–but they allow consumers to feel as though their consumption choices are improving health.”

Ten of the top-selling soft drinks in supermarkets were reported in a newspaper article to contain more than 70 additives.

It’s not just the newspapers that consumers are studying; as awareness grows, more and more shoppers are interrogating the ingredient listings, prompting manufacturers to cut back on artificial additives and add more natural ingredients.

Producing a healthy drink is no longer as simple as replacing the sugar with a sweetener, as scientific studies have suggested artificial sweeteners can trick the brain into thinking all sweet food and drink is low in calories, potentially leading to weight gain.

Pure spring water is undeniably the healthiest option for consumers, led by the two largest water brands, Volvic and Evian.

However, according to a survey by Silver Spring, despite more than half of men and nearly two-thirds of women thinking they drink enough water, only 6% of men and 9% of women regularly consume the specified 2.5 liters a day.

Richard Laming of the British Soft Drinks Association says; “People are not drinking enough fluids and the message needs to be promoted more. The BSDA is working with manufacturers to educate people.”

The pure juice market has benefited the most from health-conscious consumers. Thirsty consumers are moving away from traditional carbonates and concentrated artificial fruit drinks, which Band says “simply do not and will not carry healthy connotations among their consumers.”

The potential of the healthy drinks market is irrefutable given the 3.7% value fall in colas. As still drinks stream ahead of carbonates, growth strategies are being realigned accordingly.

Margarita Vidal, Sunnyland UK’s marketing executive, explains company strategy is now focused on the Sunland juices and juice drinks, due to the decline in carbonated.

She says: “We are still responsible for driving some of the Ben Shaw range of carbonates into specific sectors of the UK market, but we intend to rationalize the existing range as well as add new variants that are more suited to the market.”

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The ultimate Healthy Drink

Sunnyland, in line with the majority of the market, believes there are stronger profit opportunities in its healthier range, such as the Sunland Plus ACE drinks containing ten fruits and fruit drinks flavored with sucralose.

Sugar is high on the hit list for many companies as they attempt to create the ultimate healthy drink. Three years after the launch of the innovative Feel Good Drinks Company, the entire range and Feel Good Spritz drinks has just had a ‘no added sugar’ facelift. MD Dave Wallwork says: “We used to add a bit of sugar to get the perfect sweetness, but consumers want drinks with zero sugar. We don’t want to use artificial sweeteners, so we’ve added more fruit extracts and juice instead.”

The Feel Good Drinks Company is spreading its brand message internationally with expansion into 1,000 outlets in the Republic of Ireland. Wallwork says: “The consumer needs driving the market for health, convenience and indulgence are the same all over the world. We are moving to Holland and France and later plan to expand into Canada, China, and Scandinavia.”

Another route to healthy profits stems from brand extensions, with major players such as Ocean Spray moving into dairy drinks and probiotics. “Consumers are becoming increasingly aware that health is as much about what you add to your diet as it is about what you leave out,” says Sarah Johnson, UK and Ireland general manager at Ocean Spray. “Evidence of the benefits of probiotic yogurt drinks has been increasing in recent years, and consumers stand by the adage that ‘prevention is better than cure.'”

The growth of smoothies highlights the reliance on a credit-and-debit lifestyle. People assume that overindulging one day can be ‘cured’ by drinking a smoothie or fruit juice the next. Chop’d, a London-based salad bar offering a healthy alternative for City workers, thrives on consumer awareness of what constitutes healthy eating.

“On Mondays, our fresh juice sales tend to double, as do our Powerfoods sales, a super-healthy salad option. We quickly twigged that, for a lot of our customers, Monday is instinctively a post-weekend detox day,” says Jasper Wight, Chop’d be a commercial director.

Competition within healthy drinks is predicted to peak, as the marketplace is flooded with new products competing on their natural appeal. Patrick O’Flaherty, MD of RDA Organic, says: “There are too many brands claiming they are natural–but what does that mean? We believe that the only way to know if you are natural is to be organic.”

He added: “We have noticed that a large percentage of our growth is coming from outside the natural, organic and wholefood market. It boils down to consumers wanting more choice and a product that represents value for money”.

Industry insiders agree that taste remains the most important factor for repeat purchasing and flavors are fundamental to the perception of a drink.

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Exotic fruits such as mango portray an extremely healthy image and Suncrest Drinks, which manufactures 500ml virtually fat-free drinks, has just launched a new tropical variant following consumer demand for exotic and healthy drinks.

MD Mahendra Raja points to a massive shift in taste as people seek a healthier alternative with a difference. “People are going for more exotic drinks and not just the usual raspberry, strawberry, and banana. Mango is more popular than it has ever been.”

Another unexpected addition to the ingredients list is pomegranate, touted as the ‘next cranberry.’

Budgens was the first to market POM Wonderful in the UK, now sold in most multiples at 3.29 [pounds sterling] a bottle, and retailers are quickly recognizing what could be the next big thing in juice. Stuart Owens, Waitrose’s juice drinks buyer, says: “Pomegranate juice is receiving a lot of PR because of its natural qualities. It is low in antioxidants and as a result is good for the heart and immune system.”

Pomegreat from RJA Foods is the only juice drink endorsed by the country’s leading cholesterol charity, Heart-UK. A blueberry variant in 2004 followed the original launch and a further flavor is being prepared following the brand’s unprecedented success. The brand has also undergone a packaging revamp in a bid to increase sales further.

Adam Pritchard, founder, and MD says: “Our ethos is to be different from all other healthy drinks companies. We don’t use sugar and never have, but we are not going to make a big thing of it.”

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