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Need states are the “why” behind today’s beverage choices

How and why do consumers choose one beverage among a sea of options? The answer lies in understanding the interconnected beverage need states.

3 min read

Consumer InsightsFood

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City commuters might crave their daily visit to the Starbucks drive-through. LA-area millennials will fork over nearly $20 to experience the viral Hailey Bieber smoothie. And hitting hydration goals is much more fun with the help of an aesthetically pleasing Stanley tumbler, right? 

Beverages are an expression of the modern consumer’s unique identity. And they’re ubiquitous in our lives: new research from The Hartman Group shows that 71% of consumers always have a beverage on hand. But how and why do consumers choose one beverage among a sea of options? The answer lies in understanding the interconnected beverage need states. 

Need states provide a road map to understanding which beverage categories compete for different benefits and occasions. Unlike in years past, no beverage category reliably “owns” any single need state – rather, multiple categories can address specific characteristics of each need state. Three need states in particular are seeing stiff competition across categories. 

Taste is understandably one of the most dominant need states, tapped when consumers want to satisfy a craving or have a specific flavor. While there are occasions where taste takes a back seat to other needs like nutrition (hello, wheatgrass shots), consumers innately gravitate towards beverages that taste good. As such, nearly every beverage category can compete on taste. Soda — which has strong ties to cravings and familiarity — is often chosen here. Conversely, customizing habitual beverages like tea and coffee can also give consumers the taste they crave. 

Hydration is a particularly strong need for consumers today, especially with the heightened focus on health and wellness. When seeking hydration, consumers are looking to quench their thirst, ensure proper hydration for their bodies, or both. Since this need continues throughout the day, convenience often plays a critical role: consumers grab the closest or easiest beverage, whether it be a refreshing glass of water or a cool can of soda. Many consumers enjoy customizing hydration-oriented beverages by adding flavor drops or functional powders.

Nutrition, on the other hand, comes to the forefront when consumers are specifically seeking to add something healthy, like vitamins and minerals, or avoid something unhealthy, like sweeteners or artificial ingredients. Many beverage categories can play here due to the wide range of nutritional needs that consumers prioritize. Shakes are often seen as a more fun and engaging way to get certain macronutrients than taking traditional supplements, and juice has long been sought for an added boost of beneficial vitamins.

Today’s beverage choices are both predictably routine and wildly diverse. The low-stakes commitment of choosing a beverage makes it that much easier for consumers to find new ways to satisfy their needs and express themselves while doing so. New inroads are being paved to previously underrepresented need states, and brands that respond nimbly may be ripe for reward. 

As CEO of The Hartman Group, Laurie Demeritt drives the vision, strategy, operations and results-oriented culture for the company’s associates as The Hartman Group furthers its offerings of tactical thinking, consumer and market intelligence, cultural competency and innovative intellectual capital to a global marketplace.

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