Friday, July 11, 2014

Beverages Innovations…for the Lazy Days of Summer

Non-carbonated beverages, such as ready-to-drink (RTD) iced tea, flavored water and juice, provide fluid milk processors incremental sales. These beverages can be processed and packaged on the same equipment as fluid milk and distributed and merchandised alongside the white and brown stuff.

As with all food and beverage categories, innovation is paramount. Today’s blog reviews some recently introduced beverages as well as beverage formulating trends.
I recently wrote a number of trending articles for Food Business News on formulating beverages.

To learn more about protein-fortified beverages, there’s “Raise your glass to protein,” which can be accessed HERE.

If you are Interested in coloring beverages, you may want to read “A clean-label approach to coloring beverages,” which can be accessed HERE.;109824580;t

If you market beverages to schools, you may want to read “Lighter back-to-school beverages,” to learn about the new calorie restrictions that went into effect July 1 in the U.S. public school system. The article focuses on innovative sweetening solutions to keep calorie counts compliant with the new regulations. You can access the article HERE.

The regulations dictate what foods and beverages can be sold in elementary and high school across the country. They apply to products sold in vending machines, school stores, snack carts and a la carte lines. All schools may sell plain water (with or without carbonation), unflavored low-fat milk, unflavored or flavored fat-free milk and milk alternatives (as permitted by the national school breakfast and lunch programs), 100% fruit or vegetable juice and 100% fruit or vegetable juice diluted with water (with or without carbonation) and no added sweeteners.

Photo source: Aramark

There are no sugar or calorie restrictions on these products; however, portion size is regulated. Elementary schools may sell up to 8-ounce portions, while middle schools and high schools may sell up to 12-ounce portions of milk and juice. There is no portion size limit for plain water.

Beyond this, the standards allow additional “no-calorie” and “lower-calorie” beverage options for high school students. This is where sugar reduction ingredient technology comes into play, as the only way to reduce calories in sweet flavored beverages is to replace sugar and other nutritive sweeteners with high-intensity sweeteners, which can be nutritive or not. There are also no restrictions on type of sweetener, so both those considered artificial and natural are fair game.

For more formulating information, link HERE.

On the retail side of the beverage business, formulators are exploring reduced-sugar formulations, as well as innovative flavors and product positioning.

For example, Target Corp., markets private-label RTD tea under its recently relaunched Simply Balanced brand. Sold in 16-ounce shelf-stable bottles, calories and sugar contents are kept low through the sweetening power of stevia extract combined with real sugar. An 8-ounce serving contains 25 calories and 6 grams of sugar. Flavors include: Hibiscus Green Tea, Lemon Back Tea and Orange Blossom White Tea.

There’s also a line of Simply Balanced flavored waters in flavors such as Black Cherry, Blood Orange, Coconut Pineapple, Peach Lemonade and Strawberry Watermelon. These rely on the same sweetener combination, along with all-natural sweetness from some added fruit juice. An 8-ounce serving contains a mere 10 calories.

For more information on Target’s Simply Balanced initiative, link HERE. This private-label brand follows strict formulating guidelines, maintaining a list of unacceptable ingredients, much like Whole Foods Market.

Ito En also combines sugar with stevia extract and real fruit juice to keep calories at 50 per 8-ounce serving of its Tea’s Tea Plus line. These RTD green tea-based beverages come in plastic 16.9-ounce bottles in six different flavor profiles: Acerola Cherry, Coconut, Grape, Green Apple, Lemonade and Peach.

 The company recently introduced a limited-edition specialty RTD shincha: Ito En Oi Ocha. Craft brewers have their young summer ales. France has its Beaujolais Nouveau. For centuries, Japan has had its shincha: the year’s very first harvest of green tea, celebrated for its fresh and lively flavor, naturally sweet finish and smooth umami character.

Accessible for only a few months, the much anticipated first harvest is being introduced to Americans for the very first time in convenient RTD bottles, capturing the season’s most refined flavors.

In Japanese, “shin” means new and “cha” means tea. Shincha’s singular character derives from its harvest starting in early April, when young green tea leaves contain naturally higher concentrations of nutrients and vibrant flavors, the result of wintertime dormancy. Fresh shincha leaves are distinct from latter-harvested green teas, with a subtle sweetness attributed to a higher content of the amino acid L-theanine and a lower caffeine content. The rich and vividly green tea leaves are not only fragrant and fresh in taste, but higher in vitamin C and catechin antioxidants than regular green tea.

“Americans’ evolved palates are appreciating the flavor nuances among green teas, making this the optimal time to introduce shincha in a modern and convenient way,” according to Rona Tison, senior vice president of corporate relations of Ito En (North America) Inc. “Authentically brewed and bottled to preserve the young green tea’s essence, Oi Ocha’s Shincha is an experience like no other.”

Available in limited quantities, the RTD tea comes in sold in 16.9-ounce recyclable bottles at select retailers and at via the company’s website.

Turkey Hill Dairy continues to grow its RTD single-serve tea line with Turkey Hill Organic Tea. The four iced tea flavors—Mint Organic Green Tea, Organic Green Tea, Peach Organic Black Tea and Organic Sweet Tea--are free of synthetic additives and dyes and processed according to USDA organic standards. The tea leaves used to brew the drinks are certified as grown and processed without artificial fertilizers and pesticides. The flavors are sweetened with organic cane sugar and organic honey.

“Many of our products and flavors have started based on ideas and input from our fans, and this one is no different,” says John Cox, president at Turkey Hill Dairy. “Organic iced tea was a request we’ve heard many times over the years, and we felt the time was right for our first organic product.”

Turkey Hill Organic Teas are available in 16-ounce bottles and distributed throughout central Pennsylvania and northeastern Pennsylvania.

Real Brands Inc., owner of the worldwide license for HillBilly Brand non-alcoholic beverages, beer and malt beverages, recently launched an extensive line of namesake RTD beverages, including a variety of iced teas and lemonades. The bottles feature the same unique camouflage design characteristic of the brand.

“We are very excited about the launch of the HillBilly drink line,” according to Mike Abbaticchio, president and co-founder of HillBilly Brand. “We have created some great-tasting classic country flavors that will appeal to everyone that has a little hillbilly in them.” The “Born Country - Raised Outdoors” positioning of the HillBilly Brand has helped grow the local South Florida clothing line into an internationally licensed brand with a rapidly expanding lineup of consumer products.

HillBilly Brand is a Shark Tank success story. You can read more about this HERE.

The Karoo Red Tea company markets RTD rooibos tea under the Karoo Red Tea brand. Rooibos, commonly known as red tea, is a full-flavored tea grown in South Africa that has been consumed for generations. Through in depth research on the RTD category, Karoo Red Tea Founder and President Tom Bonaventura was astounded by the amount of calories many of his personal favorite beverages contained. In evaluating diet drinks, the artificial sweeteners and chemicals created a deeper concern. Others in the category that professed a “healthy” low-sugar option were equally disappointing for their lack of flavor. As a consequence, Tom’s resolution was to create his own beverage company that could deliver a product that produces taste without compromise.

“I know consumers will love the quality of our original Karoo Red Tea and our blended flavor options as well. Our flavored blends use real fruit with just a touch of organic cane sugar. People will be amazed just how good all natural and nothing artificial can really taste,” says Bonaventura.

The line includes 80-calorie Original and three 90-calorie flavors: Peach-Mango, Plum and Raspberry. The teas come in 14-ounce bottles and are labeled in a very distinct color pattern inspired by its South African roots. The teas are currently in distribution in convenience stores throughout Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York.

Third Street, makers of the first Fair Trade Certified chai, are now also in the RTD iced tea and lemonade business. Sold in 14-ounce bottles exclusively at Whole Foods Market, the nine organic, gluten-free, non-GMO and fair trade varieties include unsweetened black and green teas, slightly sweetened black and green teas, peach and raspberry black teas, mint & honey green tea, lemonade and half and half lemonade. The teas are micro-brewed from tea leaves hand-picked from the lush region of Nilgiri, India, according to the company.
Califia Farms kicked off summer with the launch of three refreshing flavors of Aguas Frescas: Kiwi Cactus, Strawberry Basil and Watermelon Ginger Lime. Sold exclusively at Whole Foods Market, and only for the summer months, the beverages are based on a traditional Mexican recipe combining fresh fruits or flowers with sugar and water. Califia’s take on the classic beverage uses less sugar, containing 90 or fewer calories per serving. The Kiwi Cactus Agua Fresca includes antioxidant-rich green tea, highlighting the more traditional aguas flavor notes.

“Whole Foods Market asked us for a new kind of juice for their dairy sets because they knew that Califia’s version of an agua fresca would be something really special,” said Greg Steltenpohl, CEO of Califia Farms. “We’ve consistently broken the status quo and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to change the game in the grocery industry again with another one-of-a-kind product line. Califia Farms is the leading beverage company when it comes to flavor innovation, so creating a premium version of the Mexican classic was right up our alley.”

All three flavors are Non-GMO Project Verified, an important stamp the bright, festive labels bear proudly. Inspired by Mexican mural art and DĂ­a de los Muertos designs, the eye-catching packaging invites Whole Foods Market shoppers across the country to experience the sweet, refreshing drinks inspired by South of the Border, but made with a California twist at Califia’s eco-friendly juice plant in the San Joaquin Valley.

Earlier this year, Califia Farms introduced single-serve citrus juices and beverages. Sold in 10.5-ounce bottles, the line includes: Lemonade, Lemon Limeade, Orange Juice and Tangerine. Locally grown, juiced and bottled in the groves of California, every bottle is packed with the freshest, tastiest and truest flavor of oranges, tangerines lemons and limes, according to the company.

“This California citrus line extension is really exciting for juice fans,” says Steltenpohl. “The juice business has become crowded with lots of me-too products that all look the same, which is why we’re confident that our straight-from-the-farm California Citrus flavors will stand out in the crowd. The convenience of single serve is a sweet spot for the ultra-premium category, and with the only tangerine single serve on the market, these offerings are attracting new consumers to retailers’ and foodservice’s grab-n-go coolers.”

And, finally, if you have not heard, Starbucks is shaking up its beverage portfolio with sodas, smoothies and shaken iced teas. The coffee chain just unveiled its Fizzio line of handcrafted carbonated beverages in select markets. Made without artificial flavors, preservatives or high-fructose corn syrup, each Fizzio soda contains 100 calories or fewer per 16-ounce serving. Flavors include Spiced Root Beer, which blends cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and star anise; Golden Ginger Ale, made with real ginger, citrus and brown sugar; and Lemon Ale, featuring lemon juice with hints of apricot and ginger. With the new carbonation machine, customers may add fizz to other beverages on the menu for an extra fee.

“We have heard from our customers that they’re looking for more refreshing, cold beverages, especially during the warm summer months,” says Cliff Burrows, group president, U.S., Americas and Teavana. “Fizzio Handcrafted Soda is unlike any soda in the marketplace because it’s handcrafted and made-to-order each time. The addition of Fizzio and Teavana Iced Teas gives our customers more refreshing beverage choices made with the premium ingredients they expect from Starbucks.”

From its Teavana brand, Starbucks also is introducing a line of iced teas that are slightly sweetened and vigorously hand shaken with ice 10 times to ensure ingredients are mixed and cooled quickly. Varieties include Blackberry Mojito Tea Lemonade, featuring blackberry, mint, green tea and a splash of lemonade; Iced Peach Green Tea Lemonade, with sweet peach and ginger notes and lemonade; and Iced Black Tea Lemonade, made with a combination of three Teavana black teas and lemonade.
Starbucks also has begun testing in select markets new made-to-order Greek yogurt smoothies under the name Evolution Fresh Cold-Pressed Juice Smoothies Inspired by Dannon. The product line is part of a partnership with Paris-based Danone, which will eventually include items for the grocery channel.

Made with Evolution Fresh cold-pressed juice and Dannon Greek yogurt, the smoothies are available in three varieties: Sweet Greens, a fruit and vegetable-based smoothie with mango and banana; Strawberry, a fruit smoothie with apple and banana; and Mango Carrot, a fruit and vegetable smoothie with pineapple. A 16-ounce smoothie has 170 to 230 calories.

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