Taking a cue from what the industry has been seeing from behind the bar—think infused vodkas with flavors like bacon, cucumber or jalapeno—non-alcohol beverages are becoming more complex by layering flavors commonly seen on a menu at a restaurant and not in the cold case at the convenience store.
“Our latest research findings validate the recent blurring of lines, both within and between categories of beverages and food. In the beverage sector we are increasingly being asked to develop products which straddle the lines between beverages and food,” says Chris Slack, EMEA Marketing Specialist-Beverages, Kerry Ingredients & Flavors. “There has been a lot of discussion on ‘snackifying’ and convergence drinks in the past couple of years, but the trends go beyond this. It isn’t purely about functionality, but more about adding taste complexity and alternative directions for mature, sophisticated consumers.”
Within the past three years, launches with tomato have grown a respectable 40 percent while spicy products have grown by 56 percent, and in particular the chili trend has grown by 260 percent in beverage usage over the period, according to Mintel GNPD and Kerry internal research.
“Flavors in beverages aren’t going to be one dimensional,” says Kathy Hayden, foodservice analyst for Mintel. “Culinary flavors add another layer of flavor and give a beverage a push-pull effect, like a hot chocolate with a cooling mint flavor.”
Paulette Kerner Haber, director of marketing communications and research for Virginia Dare, points out that the New York-based flavor and extract company is seeing sweet and savory flavors in green tea, black tea and waters. “Rosemary, lemongrass and jasmine are the herb/floral flavors combined with berry flavors (blueberry and raspberry) in these types of beverages,” Haber says, adding, “There is interest in herb and spice flavors in tea beverages.”
One tea company, Numi Organic Tea, introduced a line of Savory Teas earlier this year that boast organic vegetables, wild herbs and aromatic spices. Flavors include Tomato Mint, Spinach Chive, Fennel Spice, Carrot Curry, Broccoli Cilantro and Beet Cabbage.
“Savory drinks are all about extending the consumption occasion, whether it be from the use of hot spices for wintery drinks or the use of vegetables such as beetroot, greens etc., to add complementary positioning for a lunchtime meal or healthy on-the-go solution,” says Slack. However, that begs the question: “When does a soft drink become a cold soup or liquid meal on the go?”
Kim Carson, marketing manager-beverages for Givaudan, a global leader in fragrances and flavors, agrees the consumer appeal for culinary-inspired beverages is that they not only offer a complex tasting experience, but can be substituted for meals or be thought of as a healthful snack.
“Savory-type beverages can often aid in meal replacement or as healthy snacks because they provide a sense of satiation and fullness that consumers are looking for in order to lead a healthy and more energetic life,” she says. “Certain functional ingredients including fiber can also be easier to use in savory flavored beverages because they aid in covering off-notes that come from the use of functional ingredients.”
Hayden also points to honey being used more in beverages with combinations like clover honey or buckwheat honey. However formulating honey can be challenging notes Ottens Flavors’ Susan Tracey, marketing manager for the Philadelphia, Pa.-based flavor supplier.
“I think two of the more obvious issues are cost and risk,” she says. “Formulating with honey can leave a company open to price fluctuations and supply chain issues. This is why many formulators choose to use honey in conjunction with a natural honey flavor or a sweetness enhancer to mitigate those risks.”
For developers looking to use honey in their beverages, Ottens Flavors offers its Varietal Honey line, which is designed to boost honey flavor and differentiate it with flavor variants like tupelo, alfalfa, clover, Yucatan and orange blossom.
The company also continues to optimize its existing lines such as its Ottens Plus Sweetness Enhancers, which is designed to enhance sweetness and suppresses off notes sometimes associated with natural sweeteners.
With complex flavors comes the challenge of formulating a beverage with balance. “The majority of the time, the culinary ingredient is not the predominant flavor ingredient, and it can also fight against or bring out certain characteristics in a fruit or sweet flavor,” says Jessica R. Jones-Dille, associate director, marketing, WILD Flavors, Inc. “To develop the best tasting, consumer-accepted product, the right balance of flavors within the product base must be achieved.”
While this culinary trend in the beverage world is still considered new, Mintel’s Hayden sees opportunity for continued growth. “I think it’s just starting,” she says, “and we’ll see more of it.”