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Functional beverages show no signs of slowing down

It’s no secret that today’s consumers are increasingly seeking out functional, better-for-you ingredients in basically everything they consume. Indeed, functional attributes in food and drink are on the rise, often lending a health halo to seemingly everyday products.

Functional beverages are an ever-growing product category and all signs point to a beverage industry segment that isn’t slowing down anytime soon. ResearchAndMarkets.com projects the compound annual growth rate of functional beverages through 2026 will be 6.96%, and The Hartman Group found that 56% of adult consumers use functional beverages for general health prevention and solutions to treat or prevent a specific condition.

“I think at the core people are looking for the things in their lives to do more,” said Lopa van der Mersch, founder and CEO of Rasa, which makes herbal coffee alternatives with adaptogens. “It's an ‘if I'm going to eat/drink/wear something, shouldn't it give me the most benefit possible?’ kind of mentality.”

Van der Mersch also believes consumers look to functional beverages to help with specific pain points, especially the inherent stressors of modern life. Rasa’s products are formulated to support a wide range of ailments and issues, said van der Mersch, explaining that the company has “different blends for different functional needs, from immune support to libido to mood to relaxation -- our entire product line showcases a spectrum of what drives people to seek functional products.”

The most popular of these beverages, according to a report from Brightfield Group and Evergi, are energy drinks, followed by sport drinks, vitamin-enhanced water, electrolyte-enhanced water and premium smoothies, respectively. Brightfield Group’s Madeline Scanlon further shared that the trends most popular in the functional beverage space include claims of increased immunity, gut- and heart-health additives, and products promising relaxation.

Trending ingredients in the market run the gamut from vitamin C, elderberry and collagen to matcha, reishi mushrooms and CBD. A bevy of recent product launches support these trends, including the non-alcoholic drink Huzzah probiotic seltzer from Molson Coors, All Market’s post-workout Pwr Lift protein water and REBBL’s plant-based drinks, including soda and Stacked Coffee products

Whole Foods Market foresees people seeking out well-being from vitamins and supplements in food and beverage form, ranging from sauerkraut to kombucha. “Suppliers are incorporating functional ingredients like vitamin C, mushrooms and adaptogens to foster a calm headspace and support the immune system,” the company says. The retailer also predicts the rise of functional fizzy beverages with prebiotics, unexpected flavors and botanicals.

The market is indeed poised for growth, van der Mersch said, concluding that “an increasingly educated consumer base will only drive greater growth in this sector, and I see the likelihood that in a few decades, functionality is going to be akin to organic: it'll be playing stakes for a huge and ever-increasing swath of the market.”

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