Consumer habits and lifestyles are changing, in many cases for the better, but for the drinks industry, change comes with a considerable number of challenges and opportunities.

What does the future of healthy drinks hold?

Photo: Stefan Fageräng, Managing Director of North West Europe, Tetra Pak

Consumer habits and lifestyles are changing, in many cases for the better, but for the drinks industry, change comes with a considerable number of challenges and opportunities.

At a macro level, people are consuming the same, or more, calories than they did previously, yet they are burning off less calories due to their increasingly sedentary lifestyles . As we consume more and exercise less, tackling the UK’s poor health and the obesity issues clearly cannot be tacked by industry alone. Collaboration will be key to avoiding a potentially very serious health crisis in Britain. Industry, government, and health experts must work in partnership to deliver positive change to consumer lifestyles, while encouraging further reformulation in the drinks industry and beyond.

Why now?

In our Future of Healthy Drinks report which we launched recently, we looked at how concerns over obesity levels are starting to influence consumer behaviour and purchasing decisions and what this spells for the future of healthy drinks in the UK. Juice and non-carbonated drinks companies must appeal to consumers and see the new health agenda advocated by the UK government and stakeholders as an opportunity for innovation. Obesity rates are rising, with the disease costing the UK around £10 billion a year and nearly a third of those aged above 16 are concerned about being overweight . This impacts manufacturers and retailers alike, as this creates an urgency to act as well as the chance to be creative in driving industry innovation.

The announcement of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy in March 2016 marked a turning point for the industry, causing a mixed response amongst drinks producers but there is no doubt that innovation and reformulation is accelerating in the UK. The consultation period is now closed, with the outcome expected before the end of the year, but ultimately it calls on drinks manufacturers to be accountable for the effect of the ingredients in their products, particularly sugar. Consumers are already becoming more concerned about sugar and calorie intake with more than half worrying about the volume of sugar in their food , and almost half claiming to have become more health conscious in the past year.

There is already positive innovation in the market, as drinks producers launch new products with low sugar content or natural ingredients, but meeting the demands of both the public and the government’s agenda around health remains a challenge. Consumers may be increasingly health-conscious but they still seek indulgence from their beverages. They don’t want to be restricted in their choices just because they’ve decided to take a healthier approach to their food and drink intake. It’s about striking a balance.

What innovation is already happening?

Consumers are looking for a sense of excitement and adventure, so we are starting to see more exotic flavours like cactus, watermelon and aloe vera hitting the market. Brands such as Simplee Aloe and What A Melon offer functional and nutritional benefits by including natural ingredients such as aloe vera and watermelon water. Just Bee Drinks uses a small amount of honey as an alternative sweetener to refined sugar, providing consumers with a tasty, but low calorie source of hydration. Ultimately, there is an increasing demand for drinks to be packed with as many nutrients as possible whilst providing consumers with new and exciting flavours.

People may be increasingly concerned about healthy consumption, but choice and flexibility remain a must for consumers. Portion control plays a large role in helping consumers make healthy choices and we are starting to see the industry make changes in relation to portion size too. Not only does this avoid over consumption or offer indulgence with less guilt, but producers can help meet the changing needs of consumers as they increasingly eat and drink out of home and on the go and may struggle in accessing healthier solutions.

FUEL10K, one of the UK’s first brands to offer protein-boosted breakfast drinks, realised that eating breakfast on the go is becoming more popular and that customers were craving something that is convenient, protein-fuelled and tasty. To ensure a healthier offering, and still meet consumer needs, they recently launched a new recipe which has 30% less sugar.

What does the future look like?

There’s no ‘silver bullet’ solution to solve the current health issues we’re facing in Britain. The Government’s Obesity plan and the Soft Drinks Industry Levy will continue to cause great debate, but this is an issue that goes beyond industry boundaries. The drinks industry has already shown a willingness to tackle the problem but more still needs to be done.

There are practical ways that drinks producers can address the challenges we’re facing. Discussions must continue between experts in industry, health and nutrition committees, and the government, whilst keeping in mind the needs and desires of consumers. Healthy, sustainable nutrition is clearly here to stay; the successful businesses of the future will be the ones which recognise and act upon this. There are still a lot more innovation opportunities open to drinks producers to encourage healthier consumer choices, and ultimately to create a better future for society.


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