The sweet spot in the U.S. beverage market, long dominated by a handful of major brand lines, has shifted to niche products that target a diverse set of consumer needs, occasions, and benefits.  What consumer needs can today’s beverages profitably quench? According to the “Beverage Trends: Culinary Trend Mapping Report” recently released by the Center for Culinary Development (San Francisco, CA) and Packaged Facts (Rockville, MD), two drivers are spurring sales in the beverage market:

  • Better-for-you, the number-one driver in the new beverage landscape, including functional, nutritional boost, and holistic wellness beverages
  • Quality quest, including organic, local, artisan-made, and retro/nostalgic beveragesConsumer Spending logo

These drivers are strong wind in the sails of various new product trends that the Center for Culinary Development situates along its proprietary Trend Map.

Cocktails, for example, are shaking it up again at the earliest stage of the Trend Map.  Fueled in part by the passion of creative bartenders and artisan spirit-makers, cocktails are experiencing a renaissance as they connect to consumer interest in retro experiences.  Having struck such a powerful chord among consumers, the mysteries of mixology will spill over to inspire new versions of non-alcoholic packaged beverages.

At the middle stage of the Trend Map is coconut water, a refreshing and electrolyte-packed tropical treat.  Thanks to recent advances in technology and packaging, coconut water has drifted from beachside to store shelf, where single-serve packages boast an impressive range of health benefits.  Coconut water is a rich source of potassium, calcium, and magnesium, has no fat or cholesterol, is relatively low in sugar, and purportedly can help regulate blood pressure and maintain heart health.

At the final stage of the Trend Map is stevia, which the Food and Drug Administration approved in late 2008 for use in foods and beverages.  Stevia has been called the “holy grail” of sweeteners: it comes from a natural source, and has all of the sweetness of sugar but none of the calories.  The FDA announcement caused immediate commotion in the beverage world; within days, stevia-sweetened drinks that had been waiting in the wings were rushed to market, in part by soft drink manufacturers hoping to reverse the declining fortunes of that category.

Other beverage trends profiled in this report include exotic functional flavors such as acerola and yumberry; kombucha, drinking vinegars, and “Ayurveda in a bottle” drinks redolent of Eastern wisdom, holistic health, and longevity; 21st century sodas made with cane sugar and exotic natural flavors; and functional kids’ beverages that promise a host of benefits for developing bodies.

The market potential for on-trend new beverages remains significant, with diverse segments ranging from Gen Y teens to savvy Gen X parents and sporty Boomers looking for what’s next in healthful and premium new drinks. “Because of this diversity in consumer demographics and psychographics,” emphasizes Kimberly Egan, CEO of the Center for Culinary Development, “the beverage market is an arena with plenty of room for growth and innovation.”

“Beverage Trends: Culinary Trend Mapping Report,’ conducted by Packaged Facts in conjunction with the Center for Culinary Development, October 5, 2009.  Website: www.packagedfacts.com.