Beverage trends in 2018 are expected to be hyper-personalized and even more specialized than what occurred this year, Imbibe marketing director Laura Dembitzer said in Prepared Foods. The next generation of product launches will build on recent health and wellness innovations, resulting in beverages made with less sugar, added functional ingredients and greater sustainability, she added.
Instead of soda, consumers will continue to choose sparkling beverages such as water and juice that they perceive to be healthier, despite the sweeteners, colors and preservatives these products may contain, Dembitzer said. Nitrogen-infused beverages also will expand from coffee and beer into teas, protein waters and juices.
Value-adds like adaptogens and botanicals such as ashwagandha (Indian ginseng), lavender and curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) will also be popular. Dembitzer credited the rise of the adaptogen trend to REBBL Elixirs, which launched last year. "If you keep your finger on the pulse, you know protein shows no signs of slowing," she wrote for Prepared Foods. "In fact, expect more products like high-acid protein waters and protein fortification in hot applications like coffee, tea and hot chocolate."
Beverage makers are responding to demand for more niche and specialized products by adding nutrients, bubbles and Instagram-ready packaging to differentiate themselves from competitors and keep customers coming back. One way to engage with shoppers is through social media, and food and beverage companies are increasingly telling stories in order to humanize their brands — a key hurdle in their effort to build credibility and establish a personal relationship with shoppers.
The Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino piqued consumer interest this spring and quickly went viral, Dembitzer pointed out. Milkshakes also show a strong online allure, she said, with the hashtag #freakshakes attracting more than 89,000 posts on Instagram. "Instagram has become so influential to the food and beverage industry that the Culinary Institute of America is introducing two new electives in food photography and food styling in 2018," Dembitzer noted.
Transparency is another asset in marketing innovative beverages, and the concept is being taken literally. Manufacturers producing beverages that are visually appealing or feature whole, natural ingredients — another fast-growing consumer trend — can especially benefit from clear packaging. Visual impact is increasingly important in the beverage world.
See-through packaging allows manufacturers’ to be more forthcoming about their products— or at least appear to be — so there will be an uptick in see-through plastic, glass, and other clear packaging, according to Packaged Facts. Earlier this year, General Mills introduced a French-style yogurt called Oui that uses simple ingredients such as whole milk, pure cane sugar and real pieces of fruit placed inside a glass jar that has proven to be an early success.
And while presentation is important, the real interest is expected to be on the various value-adds beverage makers can offer. For example, there are multiple applications for the addition of soluble fiber so beverages become more functional. Fibersol, a corn-based soluble fiber, is popular as an addition to health-focused drinks such as juices and meal-replacement beverages.
A prototype of spiced cold brew coffee with Fibersol was introduced at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition in Las Vegas in June. If the added fiber doesn’t affect the taste of the coffee, this combination could be a gold mine for beverage manufacturers.
While beverage makers obviously have a lot to gain by following these trends and introducing new and innovative value-added products to the market, they also run the risk of adding too many SKUs and perhaps getting too personalized with their items. It's one thing to cater to the individual needs of consumers and offer them more choices than ever, but it's another to go overboard and become so niche that the original product idea gets lost in the shuffle. But the company that develops a great concept and strikes just the right balance with marketing outreach and followup has a lot to gain in today's brave new beverage world.