One of the largest growing beverage categories across the globe is hydration drinks. At first sight, it might appear to be the least complicated one. However, from another point of view, this category has the biggest potential for innovation.
Water can be fortified with numerous functional ingredients to create beverage sub-categories, such as isotonic drinks, which are water-based products with added electrolytes to increase the hydration function. Furthermore, vitamin waters and even plant-based water products are vital hydration sub-categories that have been noticed in various markets over the past few decades as well.
An Evolution Of The Past
An interesting and relatively ‘new’ sub-category to note today is that of water or liquid enhancers. I believe that the idea of these types of products is much older than expected. From years before, products such as syrups—concentrated, sweetened flavoured bases—were used to prepare soft drinks at home. Back then, such products did not aim for a premium category status. On the contrary, they were a way to enjoy soft drinks at a cheaper price.
As the beverage industry became more innovative, syrups were one of the first targets, and manufacturers did this by adding functional ingredients or reformulating to make them healthier. For example, the rising obesity epidemic established a niche market for products with less sugar.
As liquid concentrates became more functional, there was a need to innovate the packaging as well; this needed to be more convenient and comfortable for the consumer to use. Packaging sizes became much smaller and therefore more appealing to consumers, and led to this category leaving the ‘economy’ level to become a trend among premium beverages.
Functions Of Liquid And Water Enhancers
Water enhancers first appeared in grocery stores in 2011, and according to a report by Zenith International, the category produced US$412 million in sales in the US alone in 2013. This is additional proof that there is no need to create something unique from scratch; sometimes a thoughtful upgrade to a well-known and already tested product is all that is needed.
Consumers on average do show a preference for water over carbonated beverages or juice products, but even so, these consumers might still want some flavour in their water but without any extra ingredients or calories. This is where liquid enhancers can come in handy. With such a product, one might keep one of these little bottles tucked away in a drawer at the office, in the glove compartment of a car, or in the kitchen cabinet, such that flavoured water can be consumed on-the-go, at any time.
The innovation of liquid enhancers began with a simple idea to create a multi-purpose soft drink to serve various functions. One of the first of these was an energy drink. A concentrated enhancer containing vitamins and caffeine along with sweeteners and flavouring substances was produced for this purpose. This solution was somewhere in between an energy shot and energy drink.
Another innovative function worth mentioning is vitamin water, which is used to substitute how consumers intake their daily vitamin pills. Various vitamin combinations have created a wide assortment of products to match consumer’s needs with trendy and comfortable packaging. These give consumers an opportunity to not only take vitamins or caffeine in an innovative way, but also to refresh during the day.
Enhancing Soft Drinks Naturally
One of the biggest differences between syrups and water enhancers is the sweetener. Previously, most syrups were sweetened with sugar. Packing more portions into smaller packaging needed a solution, which conveniently matched the fight against obesity. First, water enhancers were sweetened with high-intensity sweeteners such as sucralose, aspartame, or acesulfame K.
However over time, artificial sweeteners started to receive negative attention from consumers desiring to live healthier lifestyles. These sweeteners were no longer good enough, despite providing zero calories and a wide range of functional and attractive flavours. Soft drink lovers began to demand for even healthier solutions.
The appearance of natural soft drinks on the retail shelves dictated a clear need for a natural liquid enhancer. This was where stevia stepped into the market. As a natural high-intensity sweetener with zero calories, stevia was one of the first major steps for a healthier solution. It was soon accompanied with natural colorants coming from fruits, such as black carrot juice concentrate or grape skin extract, as well as natural flavourings that had masking properties to cover the undesirable aftertaste that comes from stevia.
Another solution used by many liquid enhancer brands today is to combine stevia with another natural sweetener (like agave syrup or deionised grape juice concentrate) to retain a great taste, mask the aftertaste of stevia, manufacture a less watery beverage, and still produce a healthier drink than most soft drinks sweetened with only sugar or artificial sweeteners.
Eventually, water enhancers started to focus on clean labels as well, using natural caffeine from green coffee beans, natural herbal extracts, and fruit juices, and removing the need for preservatives. Resultant products needed to have special production processes, like pasteurisation, in order to maintain a decent shelf-life.
This has led to an even more complicated packaging solution. Dosing caps needed to let liquid out, yet intercept the airflow back into the bottle after squeezing in order to protect the liquid inside the bottle from potential microorganisms or a mould attack. With no preservatives, the packaging should also enable the liquid enhancer to be kept at room temperature and have a shelf-life of about 30 days.
Innovative Applications For Enhancers
Over time, more interesting functions of enhancers have appeared among liquid enhancer brands. Alkaline water enhancers, for example, can boost tap water up to a pH level of 9.4 and help the body retain a neutral pH level of 7.4. This might be a helpful solution for consumers who eat a lot of acidic food. Iced tea type liquid enhancers that use natural herbal extracts or are even based on tea made from tea leaves are also available today. Major brands such as Nestea, Arizona, and Lipton have entered this market with their liquid enhancer solutions.
Tea and coffee are beverages that are most likely to be consumed daily, and liquid enhancer brand owners offer a solution for coffee concentrates as well. Arabica and Robusta natural coffee concentrates, which are created with a hint of vanilla, hazelnut, or even caramel, are packed into pocketsized bottles and can be used with at least 16 servings of cold or hot coffee.
Juice-based concentrates also present a healthier alternative among the liquid water enhancers. Using these in the form of a syrup provide an opportunity for consumers to create their own juice drinks. The usage of apple, black currant, and pomegranate juice concentrates allow the aftertaste of natural sweeteners like stevia to be masked, and at the same time attain a nicely coloured product without the need for any artificial colours. Furthermore, water enhancers containing juices have an enhanced rounded flavour and a better mouthfeel.
One more interesting liquid enhancer variation is protein enhancers. This type of liquid enhancer accompanies the healthy lifestyle trend and the need for protein consumption for athletic consumers who are focused on bodybuilding. The source of protein can be hydrolysed collagen, whey protein isolate, or even vegan-friendly soy protein isolate.
Such liquid enhancers have a sufficient amount of protein per dosage. Generally, the maximum is 20 g, however one bottle typically contains only two servings; other functional liquid enhancers vary from 20 to 30 servings per bottle, depending on their formulations and the size of the container. Such protein enhancers are extremely comfortable to use at the gym as the protein can be squeezed directly into a water bottle. In addition, there is no need for a special shaker to be used, nor a need to carry a big bulk of protein powder on-the-go.
Some of the liquid enhancer brands have expanded their portfolio from water enhancers to milk enhancers. Special concentrates have been produced to flavour milk to taste like caramel, cotton candy, chocolate, or strawberries. These enhancers are mainly created with children in mind, but they have not become as successful as others to date.
One of the most surprising liquid enhancers on the market now is liquid beer enhancers, which are produced free of calories, carbs, gluten, and alcohol. The taste comes from natural and artificial flavourings. They can be used to enhance water or a glass of beer. But while it is always nice to witness something innovative and new being created, there remains the question of who the direct consumer for this is: beer lovers or beer haters? Beer lovers would prefer to drink beer without any additional alterations, and those who hate beer would simply choose a different drink.
Tastefully Achieve Your Daily Hydration Intake
Water enhancers in miniature bottles can be a real treat as they offer a vast array of flavours to choose from together with numerous functions. These innovative products deliver a delicious taste, and make drinking the recommended 2-3 litres of water per day a little more palatable. Many liquid enhancers on the market also provide additional benefits like no calories, and have natural ingredients, added vitamins, minerals, or even protein.
Furthermore, one can easily adapt the amount of flavouring to attain a desirable taste by counting the number of drops added to the drink.
Being well hydrated is key to functionality. As long as they are used in moderation, liquid water enhancers are a great option for anyone looking for a motivation to drink more water.