Protein Ready-to-Drink Beverages
After energy and sports drinks, protein RTDs make up the next largest functional beverage category. The high protein trend and perception of protein as healthy is expanding usage occasions. Consumers have protein RTDs instead of breakfast, after the gym or sports, instead of another meal, and during breaks at work or college.17 Heavy protein RTD users are the most likely to consume them across a wide range of non-exercise occasions, including on a day out and while reading or using the computer.18
Besides messaging that addresses different usage occasions, ingredient choice is another opportunity. Dairy protein is an important ingredient here since 53% of US consumers prefer milk or whey protein as the protein source in their fortified protein products.19 In addition, protein drink users cited the most appealing flavors as chocolate (64%), vanilla (52%), strawberry (44%), cookies & cream (33%), peanut butter chocolate (32%), and mixed berry (31%), with great tasting as the most important attribute in a protein RTD.20
Functional Beverage Trends
Beyond the interest in energy, hydration, and protein, there are some product trends showing up across functional beverage categories. These include an expansion of clean label claims—from “natural” to “free of preservatives” to “clean caffeine.” Sugar claims are also on the rise, with “sugar-free,” “no added sugars,” and “no artificial sweeteners” more prominent than ever.
While fruit flavors such as berry, summer fruit, citrus, melon, punch, orchard fruit, and superfruit are the top flavors in sports, fitness, and energy drinks,21 the fastest growing are strawberry, lemonade, orange, and pineapple.22