A quantitative survey conducted by the firm found that consumers are looking for more than just nutritional and hydrating benefits when they take sports drinks. They are also looking for an equal amount of immune support through intake of these beverages.
The age group of the respondents — 40s to 50s — account for about 40% of sports drink users in Japan.
Recognising the demand, Kirin has applied its proprietary functional ingredient Lactococcus lactis strain plasma (LC-Plasma) in a new sports nutrition drink called Kirin Plasma Sports.
It is the company’s first sports nutrition drink registered under the Food with Function Claims (FFC) system, which will be launched nationwide in Japan from April 18.
The LC-Plasma is the world’s first-confirmed lactic acid bacteria strain that is able to activate plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) in the immune system.
These cells are particularly efficient at detecting viruses in the body, and secrete interferon alpha, a signal molecule that activates other immune cells like natural killer cells, T-cells and B-cells to provide comprehensive immune support.
The firm expects the citrusy flavour of Kirin Plasma Sports to be a hit during the summer months, when the demand of sports drinks typically spikes.
“With the release of Kirin Plasma Sports, we fulfil the hydration needs of consumers in daily life and during sporting activities, and at the same time, support the maintenance of their immune function throughout the year,” Yuta Konishi, Senior Brand Manager in the Marketing Department at Kirin, told NutraIngredients-Asia.
Speaking on the functional sports drinks landscape in Japan, Konishi said that the current prevalence of such products is “still limited”, although a sports beverage containing Kirin’s LC-Plasma was released by Coca-Cola Japan in March this year.
“We think that sports nutrition functional drinks are consumed not only during physical activities but also in a wide range of other situations, and consumers expect health and well-being benefits from these products,” he reiterated.
According to the company, Kirin Plasma Sports will be sold only in the country and in 555ml PET bottle packaging at the moment.
More applications under way
Going forward, Kirin looks to further expand its portfolio of beverages containing LC-Plasma so that its “immune care” properties can benefit more consumers.
An example is the upcoming limited-edition release of a beverage named “Kirin Sekai no Kitchen Kara Salty Lychee Plus” in May.
The original “Kirin Sekai no Kitchen Kara Salty Lychee” is a unique combination of sweet and savoury — from lychee, grapefruit and sea salt — that has gained fans from all over the world.
Flavours from the ingredients provide a balanced taste that is not overly sweet nor salty.
“Kirin Sekai no Kitchen Kara Salty Lychee Plus offers yet another option for Japanese consumers to adopt an 'immune care' habit with LC-Plasma, which helps maintain the body’s immune system,” said the firm.