From flavors to formats, here are some of the trends driving discussion in the probiotic beverages space. Probiotic beverages are seeing some unconventional products come to market. These beverages, which have typically been focused around gut health, are also developing a variety of other functional angles by incorporation additional natural ingredients aimed at promoting overall wellness. Here are just a few examples of how probiotic drinks are changing and how brands will have to adapt in order to stay competitive in the future.
Trend #1: Single Shots and RTDs Gain Popularity
The probiotic drinks industry is rapidly expanding its use of single-shot and RTD formats, with a variety of new brands investing in these delivery systems.
Probiotic drinks manufacturer Hälsa, which specializes in a non-dairy oat-based probiotic beverage line, recently released an RTD oat-based yogurt drink to the American market.1 And last year, Farmhouse Culture’s innovative probiotic Gut Shots garnered the brand $6.5 million in Series D investment funding from the General Mills business development and venturing unit 301 INC.2
Chris Glab, cofounder of Wildbrine (Santa Rosa, CA), says that his company recently added two brand new probiotic shots to its product line. “We’re adding a beet dill shot and a smoky kale shot,” Glab says. “There’s definitely a push for ready-to-drink and one-shot products in the market. Probiotic drinks started off in natural food stores, but it’s now evolved into an industry with more products.”
Jim Tonkin, president and owner of consultancy Healthy Brand Builders (Scottsdale, AZ), agrees. Ready-to-drink probiotics are gaining shelf space in both specialty and general retail outlets, he says, and companies are creating new SKUs for the space.
“Most specialty stores have full reach-in refrigerators with five of the top-selling brands in them. This category has arrived, and it is a category,” he says. “People are getting into it, whether their whole brand is built around it or they just have three SKUs in play.”
Tonkin notes that while probiotic shots have traditionally done very well in Europe and Asia, the United States has been slow to the party. Now, though, shots and RTDs are gaining in market share.
Trend #2: A Multifunctional Approach
Probiotic drinks, while typically seen as gut health supplements, are now incorporating other functional claims to meet changing market demands. Bella Tumini, brand manager for Suja Wellness (Oceanside, CA), says that Suja’s probiotic line includes not only pressed waters and vinegar juices, but also kombuchas that offer additional functional benefits beyond simple gut health support.
“It’s no secret that the probiotic beverage industry is having its moment,” Tumini says, “and a lot of beverage brands want to get in on the gut-health trend. Our kombuchas provide an added functional benefit by introducing adaptogenic herbs, which have been shown to help the body adapt to stress and restore balance.”
Tumini says that probiotic drinks often combine multiple functional ingredients, and that this push toward multifunctional formulations is driving category expansion in the kombucha and drinkable vinegar spaces.
Trend #3: Appealing to Boomers and Millennials Alike
Probiotic beverages are generating appeal across generational lines, with both Baby Boomers and Millennial consumers adopting the drinks, albeit for different reasons.
Tonkin says that Millennial consumers are adopting probiotics in droves thanks to the power of word-of-mouth marketing. “The experimental Millennials love this stuff,” Tonkin says. “They’re a big portion of the buying population—brands simply have to pay attention to them. When they opt in, they tell their friends, and then their friends opt in, and suddenly you have a trend.”
Glab agrees. However, he also notes that it’s not just the power of the trend that’s driving Millennial consumers toward probiotics. “Millennials are among the chief consumers of these products,” Glab says, “and they’re very concerned about what they’re putting in their bodies. [My cofounder Rick Goldberg] and I are both close to 60, and when we were in our twenties we weren’t anywhere near as worried about our health as today’s 20-somethings are. It’s refreshing to see that people are worrying about what they’re putting into their bodies early on.”
Glab notes that aging Baby Boomers are also picking up probiotic drinks as a means of supporting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. These older consumers may be adopting probiotics due to worries about staying healthy in old age, or simply as a lifestyle enhancer.
The common thread between the generations seems to be a concern around functionality. “A lot of consumers like the idea of balancing gut health,” Glab says. “We’ve heard people tell us, ‘We went out last night, we had a little too much wine, and one or two of those [Wildbrine] Live Shots kind of helped balance things.’”
Trend #4: New Avenues for Flavor Companies
Tonkin says that the probiotic drinks space presents a great opportunity for flavor developers, one that will only grow as the probiotic market continues to thrive. Says Tonkin: “The more people open their minds to a specific kind of functional ingredient, the more the scientists get into the ball game. The folks that are responsible for flavor development and formulations have been asked to get into the probiotic space, because probiotics by themselves don’t taste very good. And if you can’t make something taste good, you’ll never win the game.”
Farmhouse Culture’s Director of Marketing Marc McCullagh says that his company strives to stay on the cutting edge of probiotics, with new flavors and product formats like sparkling punches opening up new flavor experience avenues.
“Sparkling fermented drinks are a great way to experiment for people who are just getting into probiotic-rich foods,” McCullagh says. “We recently added a sparkling fermented beet drink to our lineup to make it easier to get a dose of probiotics. It’s not a kombucha; it’s a drink made from a fermented beet base.”
McCullagh says that the company has also introduced a new snack food line as a means of adding other superfood benefits to probiotic products. Farmhouse Culture’s Kraut Krisps offer consumers a probiotic-rich tortilla chip style product made from sauerkraut.
For probiotic drinks, flavoring will be an essential future development, which means flavor companies will find a variety of new opportunities in probiotic drinks.