Energy and sports drinks have often been seen as unhealthy among some consumers since traditional versions tend to contain high sugar content, a lack of nutritional value, and a possibility of energy crash and “jitters.” As a result, new products are shifting toward “better-for-you” versions that can attract more health-conscious consumers.
Reducing or Eliminating Sugar Content
According to Packaged Facts’ August 2023 report Energy & Sports Drinks: US Market Trends & Opportunities, sports and energy drinks with reduced or eliminated sugar content are getting more interest among consumers who are concerned about health. Excess sugar consumption has been linked to obesity, and high sugar content provides more calories than consumers tend to need. Sports and energy drinks with lower or no sugar content are appealing to those who are cutting back on sugar for weight loss or weight management.
Middle-aged and older consumers are especially likely to be looking for lower-calorie options as weight control becomes more important for them. Other health concerns necessitate cutting back on sweet beverages, such as diabetes (which affects about 10% of the US population and one in four people over the age of 65).
Additionally, some popular special diets – such as paleo, Atkins, and keto – also prescribe lower carb intake and less or no consumption of added sugars.
A reduction or elimination of sugar content is typically realized with the use of non-sugar alternative sweeteners. Whether synthesized or natural, alternative sweetener use can eliminate added sugars while maintaining a flavor that consumers expect.
However, alternative sweeteners that are synthesized tend to have a negative consumer perception. Consumers tend to be untrusting of such artificial sweeteners and may think that these ingredients are unhealthy and unnatural.
Instead, the use of natural, plant-based alternative sweeteners as a sugar substitute tends to be more appealing to consumers. Ingredients such as monk fruit and stevia can improve upon the taste and health perception of sugar free and lower sugar sports and energy drinks without the negative perception of artificial sweeteners.
Natural, Plant-Based Caffeine
Traditional versions of energy drinks have often been made with synthetic caffeine derived from urea and chloroacetic acid, which has a perception of energy crashes and “jitters” among some consumers. Now, more versions are being made with natural, plant-based caffeine instead.
Overall, consumers tend to have a better perception of natural caffeine than synthetic caffeine. Natural caffeine is derived from plant extracts (often coffee, black or green tea, guayusa, ginseng, yerba mate, and guarana). These versions are perceived as healthier by providing cleaner/jitter-free energy compared to synthetic caffeine.
Natural caffeine is especially appealing to older consumers age 45 and up as well as health-conscious younger consumers. Such consumers might be looking for a coffee alternative if coffee is beginning to bother their digestion or their sleep cycles, or if coffee and traditional energy drinks give them jitters they are looking to avoid.
Additional Functional Features
The COVID-19 pandemic changed many aspects of consumer behavior and daily life, with more people who were looking to improve their health to prevent – or otherwise lessen the severity of – illness. Some consumers bought food and beverage products thought to boost immunity or otherwise improve health because they believe in the concept of “food as medicine.” For others, the pandemic inspired more focus on healthy living in general – regular exercise, more whole foods, better hydration, etc. – and not just susceptibility to illness.
After this renewed focus on health, people increasingly want – and expect – energy and sports drinks to have additional functional benefits. Thus, many newer introductions to the sports and energy drinks market go beyond traditional formulations to address the desire for products that have additional functional features other than improved energy or hydration.
For instance, more energy and sports drinks are cropping up with functions such as weight management/meal replacement, mood improvement, gut health, and immunity. These additional elements have been important to consumers looking to improve their day-to-day lives. Sports and energy beverages with such supplementary claims are appealing to those who hope to make small changes for big results.
Supplementary functional benefits can also target a specific market that has particular health claims. For example, there are opportunities to interest consumers age 65+ with additional ingredients that address age-related health concerns. Ingredients used in supplements for arthritis relief and joint health including glucosamine, cosequin, chondroitin, and collagen could be added to sports and energy drinks to make claims about arthritis and joint health.
Additional analysis of the energy and sports drink market can be found in the August 2023 Packaged Facts report Energy & Sports Drinks: US Market Trends & Opportunities, 2nd Edition.
About the blogger:
Cara Rasch is a food and beverage analyst for Packaged Facts. She studies consumer and industry trends in this space and has a B.A. in economics from Allegheny College.