Wellness Foods: Healthy Beverages offer Health in a Can

Jan. 27, 2010
Consumers are guzzling antioxidants, fruits and vegetables and other good-for-you ingredients – but formulation hurdles remain.

Building healthier beverages once was a matter of swapping sugar for cyclamates or saccharine and then developing a new marketing campaign. For decades the only thing that changed in that paradigm was the name of the substitute sweeteners — cyclamates were banned, saccharine had its troubles, so aspartame – with or without acesulfame K – and to some extent sucralose took over as the zero-cal options.

Then the idea of energy drinks hit with a jolt. Jolt Cola, that is. And the idea that a cold beverage could do more than slake thirst flung open the doors to using liquid refreshment as a vehicle to more energy or a “trimmer, slimmer, better you.”

On the heels of energy — first from ginseng and caffeine, then from such exotic botanicals as yerba maté and guarana — came concoctions with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutraceuticals.

Today’s healthy beverage is built with any of several different ingredient aspects in mind — sweeteners, vitamins/minerals, natural ingredients (i.e., naturally derived flavors and colors), antioxidants and other bioactive compounds — and more often than not a combination of several of these. The goals have expanded too, to target not just weight control and energy needs but any number of different conditions, including cognition, mental health, digestive health and even social and ecological health.

Neuro Drinks “quench the modern consumer’s need for optimal living by providing nutritional, healthy benefits and Hollywood chic, in a sporty, sexy package.”

“We anticipate continued double-digit growth in most segments of the beverage industry with the greatest increases coming from cognitive, anti-stress, digestive health and the kids nutrition segments,” says Chris Noonan, health coordinator for NeuroBrands Beverages (, Santa Monica, Calif.

“More and more ingredients are being successfully adapted for beverages, providing consumers convenient ways of maintaining healthy lifestyles,” adds Noonan. “Consumers no longer have to sacrifice taste for nutrition, and the next decade will see even greater improvements in the sensory characteristics of healthy beverages as growers, suppliers and manufacturers all focus on the beverage category.”

Despite being primarily a maker of carbonated soft drinks, Christopher Reed thinks “the future of healthy is in probiotic drinks,” says the owner and CEO of Reed’s Inc. (, Los Angeles. Reed’s was using a stevia extract even before the December 2008 FDA approval.

Note to Marketing

There are definite marketing advantages in using real fruit extracts so a consumer can get, for example, the full nutraceutical benefits of blueberries in a blueberry soda or a serving of fruit from a juice-based energy drink.

“Manufacturers are racing to meet consumer demands for convenient options for increased fruit and vegetable consumption,” says Jeannie Curry-Swedberg of Tree Top Inc. “A young-at-heart attitude among a growing older population plus more sophisticated palates have caused a movement towards more consumption of good-for-you products containing the healing power of antioxidants found in many fruit and vegetable products.”

“But I also see the fad of heavily caffeinated, so-called energy drinks eventually proven to be detrimental, replaced by more herbally rich drinks with (specific) flavors,” he continues. “And calming or rejuvenating beverages will take off, too.”

Reed also sees health-related growth for products and ingredients that target specific conditions, such as antioxidants that reduce risk of cancer, heart disease and “numerous other conditions,” citing the company’s own line of natural sodas, which contain powerful antioxidants derived from ginger.

“The hot categories for beverages — energy and antioxidant/tea drinks — will continue to be popular,” says Jocelyn Mathern, technical specialist-health unit for Frutarom North America (, North Bergen, N.J. “And we’ve also seen increased demand for ingredients that can promote ‘beauty from within,’ as this category is just starting to take off in beverages. But ingredients for cognitive function, such as mental fitness, concentration, and stress, have also been sought after for beverage applications.”

Frutarom offers nutraceuticals in combination with an extensive portfolio of flavors. She calls it a novel, higher level of customer support. An example of a non-antioxidant based “beauty” ingredient is Frutarom’s Collactive, a marine collagen and elastin ingredient shown to reduce wrinkles, while the company’s Neuravena, wild green oat extract, has been shown in clinical studies to promote mental fitness and alertness while relieving stress via affecting brain activity patterns.

Fruit flavors

We devote plenty of discussion to the sweetener stevia and its extract rebaudioside-A in our cover story this month. The same key attribute of stevia – a natural, plant-derived sweetener – applies to fruit extracts and flavors.

“Obesity concerns have led consumers to pursue alternative sweeteners with a perceived health benefit -- such as fruit juices as a replacement for more traditional sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup,” says Jeannie Curry-Swedberg, director of business development for Tree Top Inc. (, Selah, Wash.

Jones Soda in early 2009 launched Jones GABA, claiming it’s the first widely distributed drink with gamma-aminobutyric acid, popular in Japan for mental focus, balance, clarity and reducing stress.

But not just any fruit flavors. While the sudden explosion in all things pomegranate and açai was indicative of interest in exotic fruits that carried a cachet of health, it also paved the way for beverages relying on updates of favorite flavors of old. Orange opened up to include cara-cara, mandarin, blood orange, kumquat and tangelo; lime expanded to kaffir and key lime, and lemon gave way to Meyer lemons and natural pink lemons.

According to Robert Schueller, director of communications at Los Angeles-based Melissa’s World Variety Produce (, those and other citrus fruits are trending up, along with such fruits (and fruit flavors) as red papaya, melon, Muscat grapes, guava and rose apples.

It’s no coincidence a number of the fruits Schueller names are tropical. The association of fruits from the rainforests with antioxidants and other health components was sealed with the unexpected success of açai. Four years after the tart, purple berry from the Amazon became a household word, such fruits are still crowding the beverage releases.

The latest exotic Amazonian on the scene is the maqui berry, another tart, South American purple fruit being promoted as “the highest antioxidant superfruit in the world.” Maqui claims antioxidant levels two to three times higher than açai, pomegranate, goji berry or mangosteen.

“Maqui is traditionally used to promote strength, endurance and overall health, and may also provide valuable benefits for the immune system,” says Andrew Carter, director of marketing for NP Nutra Corp. (, Rancho Dominguez, Calif. “More recently, Maqui has garnered interest for its potential in promoting a healthy body weight. Not only that, Maqui berries help support bone and joint health, and aid the cardiovascular system by encouraging blood flow.”

Note to Regulatory

“Theregulatory challenges nutraceutical product manufacturers are facing arise when you use cutting-edge ingredients — even when they are organic and have been used by indigenous cultures for centuries,” says Jeremy Black, vice president of Sambazon Inc. (, San Clemente, Calif. He ought to know: Sambazon is widely credited with bringing the acai berry to the U.S. in 2000. Suppliers of stevia extracts no doubt are nodding in agreement.

Often really-new ingredients haven't gotten official approvals from regulatory bodies, whether it be the USDA or NOP (National Organic Program). In these cases you might have a product that's 99 percent organic but you can't label it organic because the ingredient hasn't been processed through the system, Black says.

But stay the course, persevere and don’t break any rules in the meantime.

Maqui is a good source of vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and iron, and its antioxidants include anthocyanins, delphinidin, malvidin, petunidin, cumarins, triterpenes, flavonoids, and cyanidin.
On the retail side, maqui is available as “Maqui Superberry” liquid concentrate from Bradenton, Fla.-based Novelle International Inc. (, which also promotes the ingredient for anti-aging.

Within the push to go “all natural,” is a drive to derive all aspects of flavor and health from as close to the source as possible. But that can get tricky when dealing with extracts and concentrates necessary for beverage applications.

“Flavors that are FTNF [from the named fruit], ‘natural’ and ‘all natural’ are regarded as must-haves when trying to keep a product's label clean,” acknowledges Aaron Dow, beverage scientist at FONA International Inc. (, Geneva, Ill.

He also notes that, in addition to adding a healthy halo to a product, nutraceutical compounds can alter flavors. “It’s important to understand which, if any, off-notes are being contributed by nutraceutical compounds. For instance, the ‘bitter’ notes some vitamins contribute are not going to present the same challenge as chalky notes contributed by a calcium salt. In much the same way, herbal additives — such as ginseng, guarana, yerba mate, etc. — will contribute ‘dirty’ or ‘earthy’ notes undesirable to many consumers.”

Making it work

Novelle International markets a maqui concentrate for consumers, touting the superfruit’s antioxidants for, among other things, “age-defying beautiful skin.”

Due to this range of challenges, Dow notes it is important first to isolate exactly what off-notes your formula is up against. “From there, use flavors that will assist in covering up negatives or enhancing positives through their own flavor profile. Plus, it is always advisable to test whatever room you have within the base of a product. By adjusting acidity, flavor dosage and sweetness levels within the realm of what is permissible for a particular product, many of the common challenges presented by nutraceutical ingredients can be either completely overcome or greatly minimized.”

He adds that masking or enhancing flavors can assist, provided their regulatory status does not detract from the desired product label. “This can be determined by working closely with a flavor supplier,” he adds.

“The biggest challenge will be to add value through flavors that mask off-notes, modulate taste and flavor profiles, while rendering authentic, natural flavor profiles,” says Mark Dewis, vice president of flavors R&D for International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. (, Hazlet, N.J.

Ed Nappen, the global technical director for IFF’s beverage category concurs. “Many nutraceuticals carry off flavors which require masking systems to improve consumer liking, identification of complementary flavors to assist in the masking efforts and an understanding of the interaction possibilities with the beverage ingredients.

“Often times, a trendy flavor is associated with this new, healthful offering,” he continues. “But there is a need for beverage processors to manage their consumers’ expectations as they increase general awareness of the cutting-edge exotic flavor.”

“To be functional, a beverage must include ingredients at an effective dosage level, which is usually significant,” cautions Noonan of NeuroBrands Beverages. “The primary challenges include fortifying the beverage with ingredients at the proper dosage level and stability. At this high dosage, ingredients must be soluble, stable in solution, and not negatively affect the flavor.”

Noting the big jump in incorporating dietary fibers and the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA into beverage formulations, Noonan cites advances in ingredient manufacturing that kept the trend from stalling in its tracks.

“There are many fibers, such as LuraLean used in NeuroTrim, that are highly soluble, do not affect taste, and retain all of their functionality,” Noonan says. “Many new forms of fiber can now be added to cold filled beverages and not just dairy products. Omega-3 fatty acids used to leave a fishy residue in both foods and beverages. Today, many forms of omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, can be added to beverages with no off-notes and no affect on taste or flavor.”

But as all these challenges are met, beverages for health will continue to play a key role in bringing “grab-and-go” health to consumers.