Today’s non-dairy beverage processors are in position to deliver functional drinks, with better-for-you ingredients, exotic flavors and earth-friendly packaging.

It’s not every day that shoppers can browse through the beverage aisle and uncover a bottled water brand or a juice option that delivers a multitude of healthy benefits.

But these days it’s very likely that consumers can find just that and more thanks to a selection of new juices, teas, sports drinks and bottled water that deliver a range of antioxidants, vitamins and fruits, among other better-for-you ingredients.

Jazzing up the juice aisle

Without a doubt, consumers are migrating toward functional foods and their inherent health benefits, says Kevin Miller, vice president of marketing for Old Orchard Brands. That’s why its line of Very Cherre tart cherry juice was designed to offer four times the antioxidant power of pomegranate juice.

“The juice category has really led that trend where it transcends ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ labeling and gets down to how this naturally-occurring antioxidant is going to impact my overall health and well being, and how much of it does this product contain,” Miller adds.

The Sparta, Mich.-based processor has introduced more than 30 new products and flavor extensions over the last five years, Miller notes, but all of its Old Orchard brands fit the functional beverage mold. “We were the first to introduce a lower-sugar variety of pomegranate juice; it appears under our Healthy Balance line and provides the functional benefits of the juice without the added calories associated with traditional varieties,” he says.

The Healthy Balance line, for instance, targets healthy moms and their families by offering on-trend flavors such as pomegranate, acai, blueberry and more and contains less than 30 calories, fewer than 5 grams of carbohydrates and a full serving of vitamin C, all in a 64-ounce bottle.

“I believe we’ll continue to see new juice blends and exotic fruits come to the forefront, but the truth is, fruit juice has always played a role at the kitchen table and it’ll continue to play a key role in family nutrition,” Miller says.

For its part, White Hat Brands, the makers of Dog On It! fortified juices, expanded its all-natural product line to include Kiwi Watermelon, Strawberry Lemonade and Tropical Tangerine varieties. Made with all-natural ingredients, these juice products are filled with calcium, vitamins A, B, C, D and E along with other essential nutrients. They come in six-packs of 8-ounce recyclable plastic bottles.

Meanwhile, Minute Maid, owned by Coca-Cola, debuted a team of Minute Maid Enhanced Chilled Juices and Juice Drinks in new 12-ounce single-serve bottles. The Minute Maid Pomegranate Blueberry-flavored 100% fruit juice blend of five juices contains omega-3s and four other nourishing nutrients. In addition, the Minute Maid Pomegranate Lemonade option contains vitamins C and E, while the Minute Maid Strawberry Kiwi is made with Yerba Mate extract and real fruit juice.

Many consumers also are looking to reduce their sugar and calorie intake without the use of artificial sweeteners, says Andrew Hartshorn, senior marketing manager for Chicago-based Tropicana Inc.

To target these consumers, Tropicana’s Trop50 delivers the goodness of juice with 50% less sugar and calories, Hartshorn says. Made with real juice, each 8-ounce serving fulfills a full day’s supply of vitamin C and is a good source of vitamin E. It comes in Pomegranate Blueberry and Pineapple Mango varieties.

While some processors are introducing a new assortment of juice options, others like Tropicana are revamping their packaging to also deliver better-for-the-earth products. For instance, Tropicana launched a groundbreaking pilot program in March aimed at reducing its carbon footprint, Hartshorn says.

“A little more than a year ago, we worked with the Carbon Trust to measure the carbon footprint of our Pure Premium product’s lifecycle and discovered that the largest single source of carbon emissions was fertilizer use in the orange-growing process. To tackle this issue head-on, we are working with one of our growers – SMR Farms in Bradenton, Fla. – to experiment with and test multiple creative approaches using reduced-carbon fertilizers,” he says. “If the pilot is successful, we could reduce the total carbon footprint of Tropicana Pure Premium by 15 to 17%. In addition, our findings could have a dramatic impact on the broader agricultural landscape for orange growers and producers of other agricultural products.”

Other companies, like Uncle Matt’s Organic, are giving its packaging a makeover to appeal to the portion-controlled consumer. For example, the Clermont, Fla., company debuted its new 6-ounce version of organic pulp-free orange juice.

“It’s Florida organic orange juice, not from concentrate and 100% juice. It’s the first high-quality organic orange juice for kids and busy adults, with 90% [recommended daily amount] of Vitamin C and only 90 calories, plus B vitamins, folate and magnesium,” says Matt McLean, chief executive officer. “We are differentiating our product line to be more diverse and to satisfy consumer needs. Also by introducing a much smaller size, it gives new consumers a more affordable price point to try our products without having to buy 59 ounces as their first purchase.”

For its part, Ocean Spray Cranberries has launched a line of fruit and vegetable juice and juice drinks that contain no sugars and zero artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, according to the Lakeville-Middleboro, Mass., company. 

For instance, the 100% Juice Fruit & Veggie Cranberry Strawberry Banana-flavored Blend of eight juices variety offers a refreshing blend of fresh cranberries, sweet strawberries and bananas, whereas the 100% Fruit & Veggie Tropical Citrus-flavored Blend of seven juices option is a fusion of grapefruit, fresh mango and pineapple.

Both of these offerings also come in Light formats with 50% fewer calories and each 8-ounce glass contains two full servings of fruits and vegetables along with vitamins A, C and E.

Tea continues to be very popular, says Marideth Post, director of communications for the Republic of Tea. That’s why this Novato, Calif.-based tea maker launched a line of Hibiscus Superflower Teas that come in Natural, Blueberry, Vanilla Apple, Key Lime and Pineapple Lychee varieties. This tea line also is made using premium African hibiscus and comes in recyclable tins.

“Consumers continue to be more health conscious and more informed,” Post says. “They still want teas that taste delicious, but look for teas that are certified gluten free, aid in the management of high blood pressure – like The Republic of Tea’s line of Hibiscus Superflower Teas – and are made from premium ingredients.”

Meanwhile, under the Celestial Seasonings umbrella, the Hain Celestial Group introduced Green Tea infused with Bai Mu Dan White Tea. The Melville, N.Y.-based company also created a raw, organic Kombucha line that is naturally enhanced with functional ingredients. For instance, the Digestion option is made of Meyer Lemon Ginger mixed with prebiotics while the Antioxidant variety contains “superfruits” such as acai, goji and pomegranate. The Metabolism one is a fusion of Berry Guava with green tea extract and B-vitamins; Energy is Pomelo Citrus with B-vitamins and ginseng; and Super Green consists of a Tropical Blend that includes spirulina for concentrated green food nutrients.

Aside from functional teas, some beverage processors are creating teas that can be served either hot or cold.

Take Orrville, Ohio-based Smith Dairy Products’ new Peach Tea. This ready-to-drink tea is said to deliver a ripened peach flavor whether it’s served hot or cold. Plus, it contains zero preservatives and offers 100 calories per 8-ounce serving. 

Other tea makers are joining forces to bring its customer base a variety of health- and wellness-enhanced options.

For example, Tata Tea Ltd., the largest tea manufacturer in India, signed a preliminary agreement with PepsiCo to enter a joint venture, according to several press releases. The proposed venture will increase exposure to Pepsi’s Lipton brand, among others.

Drinks that energize

From an energy drink category perspective, demand for energy drink products is expected to continue to trend upwards with a higher demand for “healthier” or “all-natural” varieties, says Jeffrey Cheatham, corporate communications director for Wave Energy Drink, Mooresville, N.C. In response, Wave Energy Drink continues to target moms by marketing its products as a healthier energy drink option, he says.

“Our company understands that women make most of the food and beverage purchasing decisions and [we] want them to feel comfortable in choosing our brand, if they are interested in an energy drink,” Cheatham says. “Wave Energy Drink is also red in color to appeal to the sophistication of female consumers.”

Both its regular and sugar-free drinks are made with all-natural ingredients, pasteurized for longer shelf life and loaded with vitamin B, and deliver lower levels of caffeine and carbonation than other energy drinks.

On the other hand, drinks like PepsiCo’s Gatorade are developed for the athletic consumer. That’s why it created the G Series, a three-part regimen of drink offerings designed to fuel every step of the performance, the brand’s Web site says.

For example, Gatorade Prime 01 is filled with vitamin B, carbohydrates and electrolytes to jump-start any workout. Gatorade Perform 02 is the original Gatorade, which is followed up by Gatorade Recover 03, a rehydrated protein drink that rebuilds fatigued muscles, according to the Web site.

In addition, Gatorade is strengthening its position in the sports performance beverage category by introducing kosher-certified Gatorade Thirst Quencher and G2 products, which are set to roll out in stores this summer.

Likewise, Coca-Cola’s Powerade division developed ION4, a sports drink that contains an advanced electrolyte system. Each 22-ounce bottle delivers 100 milligrams of sodium, 24.2 grams of potassium, 2.5 milligrams of calcium and 1.2 milligrams of magnesium to help replenish lost electrolytes.

The bottled water battle

For years, bottled water has been the in-trend product. Now an array of new product offerings combined with earth-friendly packaging are keeping this trend alive.

“In terms of trends, people are looking for natural alternatives to hydrate, making coconut water increasingly mainstream,” says Brad Armistead, director of marketing for the Naked Juice Co. That’s why this Monrovia, Calif.-based company recently introduced Naked Coconut Water, an all-natural, 100% coconut water that doesn’t contain any sugars or preservatives. In addition, it’s free of fat and cholesterol and offers 60 calories per container.

Naked Juice also transitioned to 100% post-consumer recycled PET bottles, known as the Naked reNEWabottle, and moved its headquarters and production into a state-of-the-art LEED-certified facility. “We have been working to deliver a more environmentally friendly juice for years, and it brings us great joy that all of those efforts are coming to fruition,” Armistead says.

Meanwhile, Fiji Water revamped its original 330-milliliter container to offer convenience for on-the-go consumers. That’s why it created Fiji Water Mini & Mobile Six Packs, a mini version designed to be carried in lunchboxes and handbags.

Also new to store shelves is Glacéau Vitamin-water Zero, a naturally sweetened, nutrient-enhanced water beverage that purports to be an excellent source of vitamin C and zinc. This lineup comes in Mixed Berry, Acai-Blueberry-Pomegranate, Grape-Raspberry, Peach-Mandarin, Orange, Green Tea and Lemonade varieties.

In addition, the Coca-Cola-owned brand also launched Vitaminwater Connect, which comes in a black cherry-lime flavor. Made with caffeine and eight key nutrients, this new product was designed and chosen by Vitaminwater’s Facebook fans.

On the other hand, critics have branded bottled water as wasteful and harmful to the environment.

“We are challenged by anti-bottled water activists who believe the presence of bottled water impedes their ability to get the federal government to make more significant investments in our nation’s municipal water infrastructure,” says Tom Lauria, vice president for the International Bottled Water Association, Alexandria, Va.

But he says bottled water naysayers couldn’t be farther from the truth. “Bottled water containers in PET resin have undergone a serious lightweighting in the past eight years, reducing their weight by 32%. This is the equivalent to eliminating one out of three bottles,” Lauria says. “Caps, labels and even shipping cartons have been reduced. In recycling, bottled water containers now sit on top of the recycling charts at 30.9%.”

Companies like New York-based Move Collective LLC are responding by creating a patented water bottle that filters water as consumers drink, mimicking the functionality of a Brita water filter, according to a company press release. The Bobble removes chlorine and organic contaminants, is reusable and replaces at least 300 water bottles per year. They come in green, red, blue, magenta, black and yellow colors and can be found at multiple retail outlets.

Whether it’s an exotic fiber-filled juice drink or coconut-tasting water, today’s non-dairy beverage processors keep pouring on the better-for-you ingredients to help nearly every consumer feel good about what they drink.

For more on packaging trends from some of the companies mentioned in this article, make sure to see the 2010 Packaging Outlook in Dairy Foods' June 2010 issue.