Soft drinks are expected to see sales growth in Europe over the next five years, supported by rising levels of NPD that feed into consumer concerns around health and wellness. According to data from Statistica, revenue in the European soft drinks segment will amount to US$127,483m in 2020. The market is expected to grow annually by a compound annual growth rate of 5.5% through to 2025.
Ingredient manufacturer Ulrick & Short believes that innovation will focus on meeting consumer demand for ‘convenient, considered and health-conscious’ products in sectors like on-the-go, sports nutrition and vegan beverages.
‘Health is now a mainstream trend’
Growth in beverage is supported by innovation and product development, marketing and communications chief Robert Lambert observed.
The category is ‘having to adapt’ to the ‘explosion’ in plant-based and snacking ‘on-the-go’, while consumer purchasing decisions have shifted towards health.
“This is for a number of reasons,” Lambert told us. “Firstly, from a legislative and governmental level, there is increasing pressure to improve the nutritional profiles of products. Currently this is in the form or sugar and calorie reduction, but has placed more emphasis on health more generally. Secondly, consumers are more knowledgeable about the negative health impacts of high sugar, fat and calorie products than ever before – meaning nutritional profiles and health claims are becoming increasingly important. Finally, COVID has shone a spotlight on just how important health and diet is, only accelerating the first two points.”
The result of these push factors? “Health is now a mainstream trend. All demographic groups are now basing their purchasing decisions far more on health considerations, and the more conventional beverage sector needs to reflect this.”
The potential of protein
“The high protein beverage sector is ripe for NPD. More generally, the beverage market is expanding, but within it there are specific sub-sectors which are young in their development, and rapidly growing - for instance the non-dairy, vegan beverage sector,” Lambert told FoodNavigator.
The consumption of protein enriched products has long been associated with increased muscle mass. But awareness is growing of the other benefits that protein offers, from satiety to a metabolism boost, lowering blood pressure and weight management.
Importantly, Lambert said, this opportunity is moving beyond the niche of sports enthusiasts and increasing its appeal to mainstream consumers.
“Traditionally, high-protein beverages were confined to specialist, sports nutrition applications. However, as health becomes more of a purchasing driver across all demographics, consumers are demanding added value nutritionals like proteins to get more bang for their buck in products.”
Ulrick & Short has developed a new functional protein, complex 23, specifically designed for the beverage sector, meaning it is highly soluble to accommodate all processing methods, as well as a much more neutral flavour profile. This has been achieved by looking to new base crops and developing ‘new processing technologies’, Lambert elaborated.
“By extracting the natural functionality of new and different base crops from which we derive protein and by developing new processing technologies, the taste impact of protein can be largely engineered out - making it more attractive to a range of conventionally positioned beverages,” he said.
Development technologist Emma Walker added that the neutral taste profile is one of the most important developments of complex 23 because it unlocks innovation opportunities. “For many of the public, high protein and performance drinks have a bit of a stigma attached to them because the high protein content nearly always alters the flavour profiles of the finished product, this new protein is really interesting in that respect. Using new crop bases & technologies, we’ve made a protein which has minimal impact on flavour profiles, yet is still soluble enough for all processing methods, and also allows manufacturers to make FOP protein claims."
Lambert said the new ingredient lends itself to a number of suitable beverage applications: “Typically the additional of proteins is most suitable where the beverage already has some viscosity and mouthfeel. For example: shakes, breakfast drinks, meal replacements, sports beverages, ready-to-go drinks and smoothies.”