Part of the reason is because functional beverages are usually consumed at one go and are more affordable.
Some of the most common ingredients used in functional beverages are fibre and probiotics, with protein drinks for sports nutrition gaining popularity as well, Kenneth Keh, president nutrition, Asia Pacific told NutraIngredients-Asia at the Vitafoods Asia tradeshow held in Bangkok.
A reduction in disposable income is one reason why functional beverages, that usually come in a one-time consumption unit, are becoming an attractive and cheaper alternative to health supplements.
“Because of the current microeconomic situation, a lot of middle-class consumers' disposable income is affected. They are more conscious of how they spend their money, and so you might see them cut back on expensive supplements.
“But they still are health conscious, and so when brands have functional beverages that contain probiotics or come with fibre benefits, the consumers will tend to gravitate to this.
The lower spend cost of functional beverages also makes it more likely for consumers to try the products and convert them into long-term users, he added.
“If you think about beverages, it’s usually one consumption per unit. This makes it easier from a price standpoint for consumers to experience and because more people are experimenting, it’s easier for some of them to be converted [into long-term users] or change their choices overtime. Eventually, the category gets more established.”
Aside from consumer demand, the growing number of brands that are working on cost optimisation projects are also driving the expansion of the functional beverage category.
“I think brands are also aware of it, and so we do see a lot of brands that continue to have interest to develop these kinds of products, even though the general market demand is soft right now,” he said, adding that functional beverage was a “good vehicle” for functional products to be introduced.
“That’s why in general, you see that the beverage segment is being the most innovative.”
At the show, Brenntag showcased new functional beverage concepts such as protein and probiotic drinks in non-traditional flavours, with citrus as an example, instead of the usual chocolate or vanilla flavours.
Other examples showcased were high fibre cookies, which Keh said were formats that could fit into consumers’ lifestyle of today.
Long history of use in Asia
Functional probiotics beverages such as Yakult, Vitagen and Betagen are household names in Asia, and this could have contributed to consumers’ willingness to try new functional beverages.
“Actually, functional beverage has a long tradition in Asia, because things like Vitagen, Betagen, probiotics in a drink have been there since we were kids.
“And so, perhaps from that standpoint, consumers are already pre-conditioned that it's normal to see new innovations coming from beverages,” he said.