Hybrid drinks add sparkle to a struggling beverage market

21 Oct 2019

Consumers love to try new beverages, and a recent trend aims to straddle categories with drinks like tea lattes, carbonated juices, and fruit smoothies with plant milk.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Coca-Cola is a leader in the hybrid beverage area. In March 2019, it released a smoothie-kombucha drink in the United States (Smoobucha), and its portfolio also includes more established hybrids, like Vitaminwater and Core Power, a dairy-based range of sports recovery drinks. PepsiCo has released its own hybrid beverages, including an oat-based breakfast drink under its Quaker brand in Latin America, and Tropolis, a squeezable liquid fruit drink/snack for kids in the United States.

Hybrid drinks add sparkle to a struggling beverage market
Hybrid juice drinks account for the biggest share of hybrid beverage sales

According to market research organisation Mintel, about two-thirds of consumers have tried a hybrid beverage, the most popular being nutrient-enriched water and carbonated juice. But beverage companies have been exploring many different options in an effort to add some fizz to a struggling market. Sales of carbonated soft drinks, juice and milk are all stagnating or in decline, so manufacturers are looking to boost these categories with trendy ingredients, including chia seeds, cold brewed coffee, pre- and probiotics and matcha green tea.

Ingredients companies are already poised with portfolios of such ingredients, many of which are used in natural energy drinks that cross categories with various botanicals, electrolytes or other functional ingredients. Naturex, for instance, provides caffeine-free ingredients like maca root, ginger and ginseng for use in energy drinks, and Dutch supplier Berrico is among those providing goji berries in juice form or extracts, another popular ingredient for manufacturers seeking natural options.

Energy drinks represent just 1% of soft drink sales, according to trade association Energy Drinks Europe, but could be an interesting niche for hybrid drinks, especially as consumers increasingly are seeking out natural, ‘clean’ energy-boosting beverages free from synthetic caffeine and sugar. Natural ingredients, juices, coffee and tea could be promising starting points for new hybrid drinks. In a 2015 survey, 41% of German consumers said they would pay more for drinks made with only natural energy boosters, and market research from Mintel suggests that a majority of consumers across Europe would like to see energy drinks made with natural colours and flavours.

Meanwhile, beverage companies have taken note of the trend toward plant-based dairy alternatives, and are looking for ways to capitalise on that trend beyond plain and flavoured milks. Starbucks is among the big names to have created a plant milk hybrid drink, with a coffee-smoothie mash-up launched in the United States in 2018, based on either coconut or almond milk with added plant proteins and cold brew coffee.

With declining juice sales in Europe and elsewhere, hybrid juice drinks could breathe new life into the category. They are the biggest segment of the hybrid beverage sales, accounting for 47% of the market, according to Mintel. Antioxidants, electrolytes, protein and energy-boosting ingredients are among the most popular additions, especially among younger consumers who are seeking healthier options with less sugar and fewer artificial ingredients than traditional soft drinks.

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