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Functional drinks: Add more, add more, added benefit!

Why only quench thirst when you can drink better, stronger, smarter with a few sips? Functional drinks often promise a lot. But some can also deliver. We ask why the trend will continue and take a closer look at two outstanding companies in the field of thirst quenchers with benefits.

Three shot bottles with a sugar-free energy drink that promises mental strength Quenching thirst alone is no longer enough – there are more and more functional drinks that promise to contribute to mental strength or inner balance (Picture: Jeremy Alford, Unsplash)

Functional Drinks: the niche is growing

Beautiful, smart, healthy. Powerful, relaxed, eternally young. That and probably much more is what we all want to be. Oh, if only we could just be it by "getting drunk".
More and more manufacturers of so-called functional drinks promise that you can. Drinks with benefits, so to speak. The soda that wakes you up. The water that strengthens the immune system. The smoothie for pure skin.

But: What is it? What can a drink really do? Where does added benefit end and where does marketing begin? Let's take a look at a lively and constantly growing niche in the beverage market.

a hand holds a bottle of the functional drink of the brand bai to the cameraHardly any calories, but with additional benefits – more and more consumers want drinks with added value (Picture: Kal Visuals, Unsplash)

Less sugar, more added benefit

First: What is the motivation? Why is it apparently no longer sufficient that drinks are liquid and quench thirst? Well, a little push and a little pull: On the one hand, as we all know, the beverage market has always been highly competitive.

Whether mineral water, soft drinks or beer: the shelves are full and colourful. Anyone who wants to stand out must constantly come up with new ideas. On the other hand, consumers want benefits. More and more.

For years now, a greater awareness of good nutrition has been gaining ground among many. Many customers want to know what they are actually eating and, even more importantly, what kind of good they can do for themselves and their bodies. They know exactly what they want less of (sugar, fat, artificial flavours, etc.) and more of. More like added value, an additional functional benefit. Now and again people talk about "mindful drinking" – in keeping with the spirit of the times.

There are market analyses that predict an eight to ten percent growth of the functional drinks sector on a European level.

a well-trained man drinks from a can in a fitness studioAlongside energy drinks, sports drinks were the pioneers in the functional drinks product category (Picture: Andrea Piacquadio, Pexels)

Sports and energy drinks have paved the way

In the non-alcoholic drinks sector, functional drinks are often divided into health or wellness drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks or the opposite of relaxation drinks (e.g. with CBD oil or melatonin). All of these have been around for a long time, the wellness drink with aloe vera or vitamin content increased by acerola, for example.

Rather new here: Kombucha is experiencing an upswing as a probiotic drink. The isotonic drink for athletes, which compensates for fluid loss and at the same time brings back used minerals, is well known, as are the countless energy drinks that reduce fatigue with caffeine, guarana or taurine.

Peter Kowalsky and Luise TremelPeter Kowalsky and Luise Tremel rely on ginseng, turmeric & Co. (Picture: Inju)

Natural energy drinks

Now an entrepreneur duo in Berlin is working on creating a further category: natural energy drinks. An experienced beverage entrepreneur is involved here. Peter Kowalsky from Franconia is not only a food technologist and graduate brewery engineer, but together with his stepfather Dieter Leipold he invented the Bionade at the end of the 1990s and was the first to create the first organic sherbet drink. More than that: Bionade became a cult drink. In 2012 the family sold all its shares to Radeberger.

"When we invented Bionade, the question was a big one: What does a contemporary lemonade actually look like? Now, when everything tastes too sweet, too artificial, when children are getting too fat," recalls the entrepreneur, who founded Inju in 2014 and now runs it together with Luise Tremel.

"At Inju the question was: What does a contemporary energy drink look like – assuming that cola and energy drinks are 2000s and therefore out? What can really give strength to people whose work is not physical, but takes place at the desk?", says Tremel. The answer of the two Inju founders: natural substances that different peoples and tribes have always relied on to keep their strength up. Ginkgo. Propolis. Turmeric. For example. "We want more roots than wings," grins the Bavarian.

Currently in the Inju portfolio: Flash, an invigorating lemonade without caffeine, but with Q10, vitamins and plant extracts, and three kinds of "Natural Cell Tonics", which are drunk diluted with water. “Balance” strengthens the immune system, “Boost” gives the body strength, and “Focus” helps with mental work.

a bottle of the yellow functional drink Flash of the brand Inju in front of a yellow backgroundThe Health Claim Regulation regulates what may appear on the label of functional drinks (Picture: Inju)

Criticism of (health) promises

A major challenge in the field of functional drinks is the question: How do I communicate and market the functional added benefit in a targeted manner? On the one hand, criticism is quickly voiced when promises are made that are not kept. Three sips of this - and you stay young forever? Become smarter? More efficient? Pfff.

When Coca-Cola launched Glacéau vitaminwater on the German market in 2013, it was only a few months and the company was awarded a Golden Windbag by the Food Watch organisation. The reason: "Coca-Cola spices up cheap water with flavours, colourings and vitamin additives and markets it like miracle products.

The German Society for Nutrition has also voiced criticism on several occasions that (health) promises are made for many functional drinks that are not really long-lasting.

On the other hand, Peter Kowalsky knows that food manufacturers' hands are very tied by the existing health claim regulations. In fact, he reports, one is so restricted by what one is allowed to write on the label that the promises of many functional drinks end up sounding almost the same.

Tristan Brümmer (l.) and Erik DimterTristan Brümmer (l.) and Erik Dimter have developed a non-alcoholic beer with benefits – a difficult undertaking when you think of the complex brewing process (Picture: JoyBräu)

Functional beer?

Functionality is rarer in the beer sector. But there are also beers with caffeine, for example. It is well known that beer is a nice, relaxing drink - but you may not always want the soporific effect. So why not add a wake-up effect? Porter or stouts with coffee beans are more classic, while beers with guarana and mate, as brewed by the Berlin start-up Unhyperposed, are more of a novelty.

Other pioneers and trailblazers of a new sub-category of functional drinks are Tristan Brümmer and Erik Dimter, the founders of JoyBräu - the world's first food-tech beer brand, as the Hamburg start-up says about itself.

"JoyBräu develops and markets patented, health-promoting innovations in the non-alcoholic beer segment with a focus on the world's first non-alcoholic protein beer." Or in other words: This is about non-alcoholic beer with benefits.

"As health-conscious athletes, we have consumed many functional products and nutritional supplements. However, the enjoyment and joy of consumption often fell by the wayside," reports Tristan Brümmer. But beer is enjoyment - so they wanted to add functionality.

two young women sitting on the hood of an SUV parked on the beach, holding a bottle of JoyBräuFunctional Drinks bring a new impetus to the beverage market (Picture: JoyBräu)

Proteins are actually not wanted in beer

Not easy, purely technically speaking. "At first glance, beer and health-promoting nutrients such as proteins do not seem to fit together very well. Brewing is a delicate craft, even the smallest changes can lead to flavour defects or the loss of the beer's character," explains the founder.

"Proteins in particular are even undesirable in classic beer. The path to JoyBräu was therefore a long one, which led us from experiments in our own kitchen to a long-standing collaboration with the TU Berlin, Department of Beverage and Brewing Technology. Quite a few brewmasters have classified our project as impossible, but fortunately we did not let ourselves be defeated".

Tristan Brümmer is convinced that Functional Beer is only the continuation of a movement that is already flowing with full momentum: "One product category after the next is being revolutionised by the functional food trend. His plan for 2021 even has a double function: the first non-alcoholic protein beer with CBD will be launched.