As consumers continue to focus on improving their health and wellness, the ready-to-drink beverage category has experienced significant change over the past few years. Better-for-you beverage offerings have exploded in popularity, and several brands have entered the market to fulfill the needs of customers in search of drinks that can address their own health issues.
Lowering sugar content has often been a simple way for consumers to work on health and wellness. Swoon is among the brands that are providing delicious sugar-free alternatives with their lemonade and iced teas.
“I founded Swoon in response to my search for a better option, with the mission to provide a zero-sugar beverage for consumers that also tastes great,” said co-founder Jennifer Ross, who is a type-1 diabetic.
Another significant area of health that many consumers are currently focused on is improving gut health, especially through functional beverages. One of the category leaders is Olipop, which offers both classic and unique flavors of prebiotic sodas designed to address digestive issues.
“The nutritional profile, combined with the taste — is truly the catalyst for changing consumer behavior,” said Ben Goodwin, the company’s CEO, founder and formulator, about why these types of better-for-you beverages are catching shoppers’ attention.
Sugar reduction is key in better-for-you beverages
While healthier drink options are a priority for customers, the taste of sugar is so often one of the primary ways brands can ensure that customers enjoy their drink, according to Ross. This is one of the hurdles to creating a beverage that addresses consumer health concerns as well as is enjoyable to drink.
“Ensuring you’re prioritizing taste has to be a key factor when it comes to creating a better-for-you product; that’s what’s going to get people excited,” she added.
When Swoon began developing its first better-for-you beverage – the Classic Lemonade – Ross said the company focused on finding natural plant-based sweeteners that recreated the sweet, familiar flavor of lemonade with healthier ingredients.
“Swoon is a healthy take on previously indulgent classics,” said Ross. “While most drinks on the shelf either lack exciting, taste-bud-catching flavor or derive their taste from massive amounts of sugar, Swoon offers delicious, coveted zero-sugar takes on drinks like lemonade and iced tea.”
While the brand does want to emphasize its position as new and improved versions of familiar drinks, Swoon is also looking for ways to stand apart from the other better-for-you beverage options. The zero-sugar content of Swoon’s lemonades and iced teas is important to display and communicate to consumers, but the company isn’t aiming for the entire portfolio to be labeled as a diet- or diabetic-only drink, Ross shared. To accomplish that, Swoon has designed its packaging to appear “fun and celebratory” while addressing its sugar-free status. As the better-for-you beverage brand continues to introduce new products – such as the limited-edition Barbie x Swoon Pink Lemonade – Ross added it is committed to entering new markets and retail locations with the goal of removing 1 billion grams of sugar from the supply chain.
“As a type-1 diabetic, I’ve tried every better-for-you and sugar-free beverage under the sun,” said Ross. “In recent years, it’s been incredible to watch the growth of the category and marked improvement upon it, as consumers become increasingly aware of the health implications of products with high-sugar content,” said Ross.
Prebiotic sodas are disrupting the category
While sales of typical sodas were slightly decreasing, the pandemic caused many shoppers to look for familiar products at groceries that helped provide comfort and normalcy during a stressful and uncertain time, such as sodas. As customers adjusted to the new normal, they were in search of alternatives to classic sodas that would be a better-for-you beverage product.
“Soda is a $42 billion industry – but consumers in the past decade have become acutely aware of the health implications of the notoriously high-in-sugar drinks,” said Goodwin.
Olipop’s 2018 launch made the brand primed for the needs of these consumers; the clinically backed tonic targets the microbiome in order to support digestive health via plant-based fiber, prebiotics and other botanical ingredients while being low in sugar and having 35 to 50 calories in each can.
The prebiotic drinks “provided the first better-for-you soda option that not only aligned with consumers’ health goals but actually provided the nostalgic taste they craved,” Goodwin added.
In fact, Olipop’s Classic Root Beer flavor has overtaken Keurig Dr Pepper’s A&W brand as the best-selling single-serve root beer brand in the US, according to SPINS data. While legacy brands have a specific advantage in the market, startups and emerging brands are clearly capturing this category by offering better-for-you beverage alternatives.
Goodwin also echoed Ross’ sentiment that it is vital for brands to communicate better-for-you beverage benefits while maintaining eye-catching packaging and a quality taste.
“It was integral that the design be light, colorful and playful to illustrate that the soda tastes unquestionably delicious,” he said. “The juxtaposition of the lighthearted graphics with the detailing of ingredients sends a powerful message that Olipop is the future of healthy soda, that you’ll truly enjoy.”
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