Energy Drinks Take Aim at Busy Consumers

Consumers are flocking to energy drinks in an attempt to feel better about nutrition while maintaining our 21st Century fast-paced lifestyle.

By Mark Anthony, Ph.D., and David Feder, R.D., Technical Editors

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For many nowadays, it's taking longer hours and two or even three jobs just to make ends meet. And with Newtonian physics decreeing energy balance as a universal fundamental, burning the candle at both ends means stressed consumers are clamoring for new ways to replenish energy. Manufacturers are seizing the opportunity to fill the energy void using a mix of old world ingredients and new world technology.

Nutrient density is the primary goal when creating formulations that get us through those 18-hour days. Pack more nutrients or unique protective ingredients — because everyone wants to feel better about what they eat — per calorie into your bar or drink and it just may catch on as the newest go-to choice to feed the frenzied pace of modern life.

A brief trend in the first decade of the new millennium tried calling sugar "energy" and marketing it as such. Biochemically, it is energy. But informed consumers no longer equate the word "energy" with health, any more than they would make sugar and health synonymous. Protein has replaced sugar as the macronutrient of energy choice, but so have a number of micronutrients and functional ingredients, as our knowledge of metabolism under stress has increased.

Since beverages are keyed to speedy consumption, it was only natural that format became the delivery medium of choice for a fast dose of power for the body. And ingredient makers have been doing their homework.

Animal, vegetable or mineral?
Ingredients for energy generally fall into three categories: chemical stimulants; nonstimulant, non-nutritive compounds, such as B vitamins, certain minerals, probiotics and omega fatty acids; and macronutrients, such as simple carbohydrates and protein.

The most typical of the stimulants are the alkaloid class, specifically caffeine. Sources are usually botanical, such as from coffee beans, tea, guarana and kola nuts.

Among B vitamins, cobalamin (B12) is favored as a proven anti-fatigue compound.

For energy beverages relying on active botanicals, control of the effect is a primary consideration. Most bioactives have a short half-life and are particularly susceptible to extremes of temperature, heat and time, making proper packaging a significant concern.

"We felt great about producing the first certified organic energy shot, but we also noticed similar products on the market were packaged in plastic," says David Karr, co-founder of Guayaki Sustainable Rainforest Products (www.guayaki.com), a Sebastopol, Calif., maker of yerba maté teas, beverages and beverage shots.

"Our ingredients are from whole plants, not synthetics or isolates. When you have valuable ingredients like that you should not package them in plastic. Our beverage shots are packed in amber glass to protect the yerba maté and superfood extracts from UV light and extremes of temperature."

Yerba maté is a stimulant herb from South America. Its active energy ingredients are xanthines, specifically caffeine, theobromine and theophylline. The balance of the three alkaloid stimulants is reported to impart less "jitteryness" than caffeine alone.

Yerba maté also has been shown to be a powerful antioxidant with distinct anti-cancer and anti-cardiovascular disease properties. Guayaki also provides yerba maté as an ingredient for processors, and it collaborates with other makers of yerba maté products.

Food for thought
Among nutrient energy sources, calcium and protein are popular ingredients now being employed for their contribution to energy. An outstanding and versatile choice for providing both is soy.

Calcium has been looked at as an energy nutrient due to its critical role in mitochondrial function. The mitochondria are the powerhouses of cellular energy. Calcium is also vital for nerve conduction and therefore more efficient cognition.

When White Wave Foods Co. (www.silksoymilk.com), Broomfield, Colo., expanded its Silk brand nondairy products to include Pure Almond and Pure Coconut products, it also increased the calcium level in the natural refrigerated products to 50 percent more than typical dairy milk.

Soy often presents challenges due to negative aftertaste in some formulation bases. "The taste issue is a great challenge," says Eran Shani, sales director for Solbar USA (www.solbar.com), St. Paul, Minn. "The answer lies in the many stages of turning the bean into an isolated fine protein powder. In this multistage procedure, we remove ingredients which may have negative impact on the taste.

"Physical parameters such as temperature and pressure are also carefully controlled to minimize exposure of the vegetable protein to harsh conditions. The final product — a 90-percent pure protein — is designed to match sensorial needs such as taste, aroma and mouthfeel in beverage and health bar applications."

Coconut milk fills a different niche than the popular coconut waters marketed as sports drinks due to their low-calorie, high-potassium profile. The milks are low in calories, most of which comes from fat. However, much of the fat in coconut milk is in the form of so-called medium-chain triglycerides, meaning that the fatty acids that make up the triglycerides (stored fat) are relatively short compared to the more common long-chain fatty acids that make up most triglycerides. The shorter fatty acids tend to be more readily used for energy and slightly less likely to be stored as body fat.

Going pro
Probiotics constitute a new entry in the energy ingredient arsenal. Although their benefit is indirect, the evidence connecting digestive health, immunity and metabolism to a healthy stable of beneficial microbes is mounting.

It's compelling to note that people who have invigorated their digestive systems with probiotic bacteria typically mention feeling more energetic as a side benefit. The friendly little critters already are seeing a big uptick in use (see It's Alive! Probiotics Are Growing for Food Processors).

Once available almost exclusively in yogurt, probiotic formulations as drinkable yogurts and cultured milk (kefir) saw a huge increase in popularity in the past decade. Then, along came probiotic products such as the nondairy GoodBelly (www.goodbelly.com) line of juice-based probiotic drinks. Today, cultured coconut milks joins the nondairy cultured drink line-up.

"So Delicious Coconut Milk Beverages are up 45 percent over last year," says Chris Turek, marketing services manager at Turtle Mountain LLC (www.turtlemountain.com), Eugene, Ore. "This fall we're launching So Delicious Coconut Milk Seasonal Beverage with mint chocolate and egg nog flavors. "The non-dairy beverage category is growing in both natural and mainstream channels, and we have benefited from this, especially as consumers pursue alternatives to soy milk," he says.

KeVita Inc. (www.kevita.com), Ventura, Calif., also makes a line of vegan, gluten- and soy-free probiotic beverages. Water or tea is combined with a proprietary blend of probiotics and organic cold-extracted botanical extracts to produce an unusually light and refreshing probiotic drink.

"When incorporating probiotic bacteria into food and beverage formulations, a number of challenges arise," notes Winston Boyd, vice president and chief chemist for Lawrence Foods Inc. (www.lawrencefoods.com), Elk Grove Village, Ill. "The bacteria must survive the processing, handling and storage conditions used in preparation and, in a finished product with long shelf life, the bacteria must not continue to grow and metabolize.

"The more familiar probiotic bacteria found in yogurt and kefir thrive in those products — the cells remain viable, due to availability of water and food, for the shelf life of the product, which is fairly short even under refrigeration," Boyd continues. When consumed, the yogurt or kefir deliver active probiotics to the digestive system, where they must survive low-pH conditions in the stomach before they can enter the lower GI tract. Once in the lower GI, they begin to deliver the promised benefits.

Since the shelf life of yogurt and kefir products are relatively short, and since they are stored under refrigeration which slows bacterial growth and metabolism, the products remain edible while containing live cultures. Should the temperature be too high or the shelf time be too long, continued bacterial growth and metabolism will change the characteristics of the product and lead to fermentation and premature spoilage."

Building on a natural framework
New techniques of dispersion allow manufacturers to extract natural ingredients and rearrange them into an endless variety of applications. "Particle size reduction allows for finer mesh sizes on powder ingredients," says Lisa Drawer, global marketing director for Prinova USA (www.prinovausa.com), Carol Stream, Ill.

"Micronized and instantized products, such as amino acids and vitamins, greatly enhance solubility and suspension, enabling better dispersion in liquids. It creates a more uniform mesh for smoother mixing and blending in the manufacturing process. Overall it helps improve bioavailability of the ingredients due to the fact that they are more easily dispersed and digested."

Gums also come in handy for delivering otherwise tricky energy ingredients. Gum Technology Corp. (www.gumtech.com), Tucson, Ariz., developed multiple lines of natural gums as texture stabilizers and suspension mediums for nutraceutical ingredients.

One such is a line of tara gum-based compounds. Tara is a galactomannan polysaccharide derived from the seeds of the Peruvian Caesalpinia spinosa shrub. In beverages, tara gum adds viscosity, suspension and mouthfeel. Typical usage levels are between 0.10-0.25 percent.

Blends of tara gum and certain other hydrocolloids are synergistic, according to Janelle Litel, marketing director for Gum Technology. For example, tara gum and carrageenan, such as Coyote Brand Stabilizer CT-0109, can help provide a silky mouthfeel — ideal for dairy based beverages. In an acidified beverage, a pectin and tara blend at 0.7 percent helps protect the protein from denaturing in the low pH solution. This blend, called Coyote Brand Stabilizer PT-1110, helps stabilize the proteins while providing a creamy mouthfeel and suspension.

Litel points to Gum Technology's Coyote Brand XC-0508 as a creamy fat mimic that adds viscosity, suspension and texture to beverages such as low-calorie smoothies. It's cold-soluble and protein reactive.

"When creating a vitamin- and antioxidant-rich nutritional drink, a blend of xanthan, gum arabic and carrageenan (Coyote Brand XAC-0810) emulsifies and suspends the ingredients while also adding a creamy mouthfeel," she adds. "And in instant protein drinks, a blend of xanthan and carrageenan (Coyote Brand XC-0409) provides texture and suspension that allows for fast hydration, while creating creaminess."

The eye has it
With a crowded market for energy beverages, eye-appeal is vital. Just think of the impact of an energy drink that was clear instead of, say, vivid red.

"The last 10 years have seen great advances in emulsion and microemulsion technology," says Campbell Barnum, vice president of branding & market development for D.D. Williamson (www.ddwilliamson.com), Louisville, Ky. "This allows for an expansion of the natural color spectrum and an increased potential for use of natural colors in a variety of applications. It's also reduced the cost. And if you're out to build healthier drinks with eye-catching appeal, it's important to make certain the coloring agent is consistent with the quality the natural ingredients convey."

Sometimes the colorant can actually boost the healthy profile of the product. "Many of our natural colorants are rich in healthful phytochemicals," says Glen Dreher, a D.D. Williamson application scientist. "For coloring purposes, however, the concentrations are generally too low to have a functional nutrition impact. The exception to the rule is beta-carotene, which can be in high enough concentrations to have a dual role, providing natural color and a vitamin A health claim in some applications."

The company's beta-carotene is truly natural as opposed to synthetic beta-carotene (although both products fall under the same CFR listing in the U.S.). The natural color pallette spans a complete range of hues from lycopene at the red end of the visible spectrum to anthocyanins at the blue-violet end. Anthocyanins are the dark blue pigments that give concord grapes and many berries their color and personality.

Working with natural colors can present a challenge because some may be affected by temperature, pH or even time. "Not all colors are the same," says Jason Armao, director of application and innovation for the company. "They have different properties in different applications, so it's important for the provider to work closely with customers to determine the appropriate balance for each situation. Blends may be used to achieve exactly the right the color. For example, beta carotene may be modified with annatto, paprika, or turmeric."

Whatever the color of your power beverage, it's clear the expanding varieties of energy ingredients are providing ample opportunity for processors to rev up sales as they rev up their customers.

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