The anti-energy drinks trend: Who will be the Red Bull of relaxation?

By Olivia Brown

- Last updated on GMT

Getty | Dougal Waters
Getty | Dougal Waters

Related tags functional beverage Market

There has been a rising consumer demand for functional drinks promoting relaxation and wellbeing over boosting energy following the COVID-19 pandemic, but an expert says a ‘hero ingredient’ and ‘hero brand’ are needed to propel the category into the spotlight.

Jonny Forsyth, director at Mintel, tells Nutraingredients of the potential of the relaxation drinks category and its increasing popularity, particularly amongst the younger demographic.

He says that ingredients with significant potential in the category include chamomile, GABA, magnesium, melatonin, lemon balm, CBD, and L-Theanine, yet emphasises the need for research to establish a clear and noticeable benefit to cognition for consumers. He adds that significant consumer education of the science is also needed for the category’s success.

Shifting demand

Forsyth explains that energy became the priority for consumers since the economic boom of the 80s; a trend that has continued through the years with increasing levels of stress and energy depletion.

But he says this demand has been shifting in recent years, adding: “Basically, being tired had become something of a status symbol. But since COVID-19 the pendulum is swinging back the other way, which has been led by Gen Z who are more attuned to mental health.

"Ideas such as the four-day week speak to a growing societal realisation that we need to build in more relaxation and we can be more productive and happier by building in such relaxation...

“So just as the energy drinks market was tiny in the 1980s but grew into a multi-billion-dollar behemoth because it was attuned to the wider trend towards self-actualisation through striving, relaxation drinks have huge potential, even though they are currently a tiny segment."

Forsyth predicts that the identification of a highly efficacious ingredient with proven relaxation effects, along with investment from a large and trusted brand, would enable the category to be a major growth segment.

“They are exactly where energy drinks were in the eighties. What they need is a hero brand, like Red Bull, and hero ingredient, like caffeine, to realise a dormant opportunity,” he asserts.

Growing demographic

Forsyth highlights the existing interest in the category: “A significant minority of consumers, especially Gen Z and Millennials, are already consuming food and drink to help you relax. For example, 29% of Italian and 26% of Spanish 16-34 year-old consumers of functional/fortified food and drink have consumed them to relax.

“This compares to 42% of Italian and 30% of Spanish consumers of functional/fortified food and drink who have consumed such products to boost energy levels. In most cases, there is more demand for energy drinks among consumers, but as this data shows, not in all cases. In France, 22% of Millennials (aged 27-42) say that 'relaxation ingredients' would encourage them to drink/buy a non-alcoholic/alcohol-free beverage,” he explaines.

He emphasises that in the US this market is a bigger and fast-growing market, with one quarter of US adults already consuming products with calming or relaxing claims.

“This consumption rises slightly to around one third of 18-44 year olds. There is greater potential for calming formulations because 44% of US adults have not tried but are interested in the claim,” he asserted.

Challenges and opportunities

Forsyth regarded previous launches in the space, including Chill Out and Endian by Coca-Cola Japan which targets gen Z and millennial consumer groups and their desire for an improved work-life balance.

In addition, PepsiCo’s ‘Driftwell’ launched and was later discontinued, which Forsyth attributed to price, an undesirable flavour, and a lack of brand support as opposed to a lack of consumer demand for such products.

Despite the big players investing in the space, he says the category is scuppered by the lack of clear, scientifically backed ingredients for relaxation.

“Currently, no ingredient exists which has proven relaxation efficacy. So R&D will determine whether this opportunity becomes realised. There are a lot of potential ingredients which brands can, and are, using. The main ones are chamomile, GABA, magnesium, melatonin, lemon balm, CBD, and L-Theanine. Often brands use a combination of these or other ingredients,” he explaines.

He emphasises the need for brands to invest significantly in consumer education of the product’s benefit whilst building brand trust, in addition to R&D teams identifying a ingredient with noticeable effects on cognition and relaxation.

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