Feature: Healthy soft drinks


As the trend for health and wellbeing continues, Laura Gelder asks, do soft drinks onboard now need to do more than just re-hydrate?

If social media is the official barometer for consumer trends then health and wellness is the bandwagon which all drinks companies need to jump on. Instagram, in particular, is awash with images of glowing young people clutching bright green juices and claiming a life changed by clean eating.

While the term soft drink has connotations with sugary fizzy drinks or, if you speak American, sodas, it actually applies to anything non-alcoholic – a vast and ever-expanding stable of products. Gone are the days when simply offering a diet option was enough to satisfy passengers forcused on health or wellbeing, now onboard choices need to signal a commitment to passenger wellness and actually boost health for those on the move.

Plant power

The term ‘plant-based’ is a hashtag currently used over 7.6 million times on Instagram, despite barely being uttered five years ago. Veganism is on the up and the drive to be healthy and live a ‘cleaner’, more natural lifestyle means that even non-vegetarian/vegan passengers are looking for products which contain fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and botanicals. The rise of the ‘flexitarian’ (those mostly, but not completely, vegetarian) means these products are becoming more mainstream.

According to market researcher Mintel’s Global New Products Database there has been a 25% increase in vegetarian claims and a 257% rise in vegan claims in global food and drink launches in the five years to August 2016. Mintel’s 2017 Food and Drinks Trends Report says: “This includes vegetarian and vegan claims that appear on products that are intentionally free from animal ingredients as well as those formulations that have always been vegetarian or vegan, but are adding verifications regarding their plant-based status.” There is now clearly a marketing benefit to carrying these credentials.

Coconut water is one of the biggest successes and shows no signs of going away. It is a particularly good fit for airlines as it is naturally isotonic so can quench thirst and provide energy quickly. While the first brands to enter the market were fairly unknown – such as Vita Coco (vitacoco.com), mainstream brands such Innocent (innocentdrinks.co.uk) with more market recognition have now moved in on the act launching coconut water cartons in 2015.

The challenge for others hoping to join the coconut club will be differentiating themselves. Vegan brand Rebel Kitchen (rebel-kitchen.com) is one of the newest, winning a Great Taste Award in 2016 for its Organic Coconut Water drink. Its USPs include the fact that the company is a vegan specialist and also that it’s made from a single source of organic young, green coconuts in the Philippines. It says its pink colour is proof of the high levels of antioxidants it contains.

Mintel’s report claims technology will also play a part in creating plant-enhanced products that deliver on taste, targeting the flexitarian audience as well as committed vegans. An example of this is Chilean start-up The Not Company (thenotcompany.com), which uses artificial intelligence to develop plant-based alternatives to animal products. The company’s AI algorithm apparently looks at food’s molecular structure as well as human taste and texture preferences, leading to products such as Not Milk, made with almonds, peas, rice, nuts, linseed, coconut and vanilla.

Tapping into trees

‘Scandi-cool’ birch water, a popular drink tapped straight from the northern Europe birch tree, should also tick boxes for onboard service as it also claims ultra hydration powers.

Birch sap is known for its detoxifying, diuretic, cleansing and purifying properties, making it a good choice for clean eaters. It helps eliminate organic wastes such as uric acid and cholesterol and has even been used to treat hair loss, arthritis, and even obesity.

Tapped (tappedtrees.com) is an organic brand which has an original option plus two flavoured birch waters, adding traditional Scandinavian ingredients like bilberry and lingonberry.

Yourtonic’s Buddha Water (buddha-water.co.uk) claims a first for the fact that it offers birch water that is sparkling and comes in six natural flavours including hibiscus, cherry and mango.

Sibberi (sibberi.com) targets the weight-conscious with its birch water and directly competes with the coconut water market, calling its product ‘a diet coconut water’. The brand also sells two other up-and-coming plant-based drinks – maple water and bamboo water.

With 5g of sugar per 250ml, maple water is a lot healthier than its pancake syrup counterpart, although may struggle to gain a healthy image compared to coconut and birch water for its very association with the sweet condiment. It contains the phytonutrients unique to tree waters as well as minerals and amino and organic acids which are said to help boost immune health, aid in the prevention of degenerative diseases and act as a prebiotic to support digestive health.

Bamboo water, meanwhile, is a natural source of silica. It is touted as a healthy boost for skin, hair and nails in beauty circles and has zero calories. According to Sibberi it tastes mature: “It’s the least sweet of all three tree waters and has hints of green tea with a smoky after taste. The texture is more watery than maple or birch water, making it even more refreshing.”

Fast-growing and incredibly sustainable, bamboo water certainly beats the other waters for procurement teams focused on eco credentials.

The essence of infusions

Mintel’s trends report predicts that in 2017, “the priority for plants will drive an acceleration in new products and marketing that casts plants in starring roles.” It uses the example of distilled alcohol-free spirit Seedlip (seedlipdrinks.com). Like gin, it is designed to be drunk with tonic. The botanical-based, sugar-free drink has zero calories but its marketing persona is similar to a premium, boutique alcoholic beverage, including tasting notes and serving suggestions.

The drink comes in two varieties: Spice 94 is described as “aromatic, earthy and woody and contains all spice, cardamom, oak, lemon and grapefruit, while Garden 108 is pitted as “herbal, grassy and floral” and contains peas, hay, spearmint, rosemary and thyme.

The company got its ideas from the herbal apothecaries of 1600s Britain, which used copper stills to make non-alcoholic remedies, and its tag- line, “what to drink when you’re not drinking”, is a registered trade mark.

Even French water brand Evian is getting in on the act with its Fruits & Plants flavoured waters (evianfruitsetplantes.com). The new range includes grape juice and rose flavours.

Enhancing water has long-been a fascination of the drinks industry but recently new brands have been turning away from synthetic flavourings and adding subtle, natural flavours instead – think of the cucumber-infused water you get at a restaurant rather than the cordial-style products like Volvic’s long-standing Touch of Fruit range.

American brand Sway (swaywater.com) simply infuses purified water with organic fruit and herbs and does not add any syrups, chemicals or additives to its drink. With an echo of airline meal trends towards seasonality, Sway’s flavours rotate seasonally too and include grapefruit and basil, lemon and ginger, and cucumber, lime and mint. The brand champions sustainability and commits a portion of its sales to helping Kenyan farmers, claiming each bottle helps irrigate one square foot of land.

Tao Family (taofamily.com) launched its Tao Pure Infusion range last year. Made with a trio of natural ingredients – a tea, a flower and a fruit – the low-calorie drink comes in four forms: green tea, rooibos tea, black tea and white tea.

Enhanced or fortified?

Coca Cola Company’s Vitamin Water is clearly marketed for its health benefits, but many of these are often challenged by science and fitness writers, who criticise the fortified, isotonic drink for high sugar content and artificial enhancements.

But for airlines seeking to support a wellness message, there are now many other options out there. FlyFit has been targeting airlines with its fortified drinks for some time, using a mix of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to help combat de-hydration and other negative effects of flying.
Barracudos Protein Vitamin Water (barracudos.com) is designed to provide natural energy, hydration and recovery with the addition of 10g of protein and B vitamins and comes in three fruity flavours: mango and peach, pineapple and coconut and pomegranate and raspberry.

Press (press-london.com) has launched a new tonic range, with each 60ml drink formulated to target a specific health problem and names like Immunity, Gut Buster, Collagen Booster, Green Energy and Detox.

Zendo Calm + Focus (zendodrinks.be) is a functional drink, designed to reduce stress and aid concentration thanks to active ingredients like passiflora, magnesium and B vitamins. The new products are certified by the Scientific Institute for Intelligent Nutrition and are naturally flavoured with green tea, peach and ginger.

Kefir, a fermented milk product (cow, goat or sheep milk) that tastes like a drinkable yogurt, has other benefits. Low in lactose, so easy to digest, the drink has high levels of calcium, phosphorus, vitamins and minerals to support digestion.

Panacea (panaceadrinks.com) has gone further by creating a vegan-friendly kefir water. Low in sugar, these come in three flavours: Projiyo, Pink Fizz and Ginger.

Rejuvenation Water (rejuvenationwater.co.uk) is a British brand made from Derbyshire spring water enriched with amino acids. According to the company, these organic compounds combine to create proteins essential for body functions such as breaking down food and growing and repairing muscle. The drinks claims to fuel immune systems and support resilience to stress, anxiety and depression.

Juicy gossip

Juices and smoothies remain a classic choice but with sugar consumption becoming an increasing concern, take note of the trend towards vegetable juices.

Roots Collective (rootscollective.co.uk) is the UK’s first range of whole vegetable blends and proclaims: “We’re not a juice. We’re not a smoothie. We’re a blend!” The blends, not so dissimilar from vegetable soup, can be enjoyed hot or cold and include Garden Greens, Carrot Zing and Sweet Beets flavours. Each contains over 80% vegetable.

However, the less fruit, the less sugar and that means less palatable for many consumers. A popular ploy to overcome this is to have the ingredients in a much smaller ‘shot-style’ form. Moju (mojudrinks.com) recently launched its cold-pressed Booster shots, focused on the growing popularity of cleansing ginger and turmeric products.

Radnor, a specialist in 100% fruit juices, has evolved its range to include Fruella Hydrate – 60% juice mixed with 40% spring water – hence boosting its hydrating credentials.

When making your onboard choice remember to focus on the production processes too. Cold-pressed, rather than pasteurised, is a badge of honour for juices wanting to be seen as pure and natural.

Rev up or relax

The drinks industry is always looking at healthier ways to provide energy and new brand Huskara (huskara.com) aims to be an alternative to cold coffee drinks. The sustainably sourced, natural soft drink is made from cascara – the outer layer of the coffee cherry. It is only lightly caffeinated and packed with anti-oxidants and essential fatty acids. The 250ml drinks come in original and cucumber and mint flavours.

Starbucks has a range of Refreshers using green coffee bean extract from raw, unroasted Arabica beans, containing less caffeine than roasted coffee. Made with real fruit juices, the drinks also include energising vitamin B, ginseng and anti-oxidants from vitamin C. They are under 60 calories each.

Scheckter’s Organic Energy (schecktersorganic.com) harnesses ingredients like green tea, gingseng, elderberry, raw green coffee, agave nectar and guarana. New flavours include mint and ginger.

The market is crammed full of energising drinks but perhaps more appropriate for onboard are those that aid sleep. Mintel has identified a trend towards “products that provide comfort or relaxation and help people calm down, sleep better and restore the body”.

US brand Neuro Sleep’s (drinkneuro.com) tagline is ‘drink with a purpose’ and it claims it is ‘a liquid dietary supplement, not a beverage.’ The drink contains 3mg of melatonin, a hormone naturally produced in the body in the absence of sunlight to help regulate the circadian rhythm and prepare the body for rest. Melatonin occurs in plants, grains and some fruits but in some countries is a prescription-only ingredient. The drink also contains L-theanine, an amino acid in green tea and said to have relaxation properties, and extracts of superfruits pomegranate, acai and blueberry.

The disconcertingly named Koma Unwind (komaunwind.com) also contains melatonin, plus milk thistle, B-12 and valerian root.

Whether you want to pare back and provide pure choices made from all natural ingredients, or you want to support passenger wellbeing with drinks that are fortified or tailored for health, the innovations are there for the taking. It seems the soft drinks menu needs to change if you want it to stay on trend.