Beverage consumers want low-fat, low-sugar and high-protein products made with natural ingredients, according to a new survey of dairy processors. And dairies plan to increase their production of beverages in single-serve formats (16 ounces or less). Beverage makers are using a wide variety of flavors, branching out from the traditional chocolate, strawberry and vanilla.

BNP Media’s Market Research Division, the research arm of Dairy Foods, conducted a beverage study among the subscribers to the magazine and newsletter in order to identify the types of beverages being produced; the current and future use of ingredients, packaging and equipment; and the production of organic and natural beverages.

Most respondents do process natural or organic beverages. Of those surveyed, 30% said their companies produce both natural and organic beverages; 30% said natural; 11% said organic and the remaining 30% said their companies produce neither natural nor organic. According to a similar survey in 2012, 43% of respondents reported processing natural beverages; 10% did organic; and 20% produced both.

According to this year’s survey, 59% of processors expect their production of natural beverages to increase and 53% expect their organic production to increase. Very few expect a decrease in either natural or organic beverages.

Sweetening systems are on the minds of dairy processors, especially in light of the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed rule to print the amount of added sugars on food and beverage packaging. By far, sugar/sucrose is the leading sweetener used by survey participants, who say they plan to continue to use those ingredients. Processors are, however, looking at alternatives. Sucralose is in the plans of 59% of those surveyed and 48% plan to use stevia/rebaudioside A (reb-A). Sweeteners showing a drop-off in planned usage include high-fructose corn syrup, acesulfame-potassium (ace-K) and aspartame.

Chocolate, vanilla and strawberry are the top flavors used in beverages. The up-and-coming flavors include citrus fruit, tropical fruits and tree fruits.  Apple (66%), orange (64%) and peach (57%) are the most frequently cited fruit flavors beverage processors plan to use this year. Others include mango and banana (each 55%), blueberry, pineapple and lemon (each 52%) and raspberry (50%).

On the packaging side of beverages, there is no change in processors’ plans to use plastic. Eighty percent use plastic now and 80% plan to in the future. The survey does show slight increases in the use of paperboard (from 68% currently using to 70% plan to use), bag-in-box (45% to 50%) and foil pouch (30% to 34%). Compared to the 2012 survey, however, plastic use has increased (from 73% in 2012 to 80% in 2014), as has paperboard (33% to 68%), bag-in-box (32% to 45%) and foil pouch (11% to 30%). Thirty-six percent of those surveyed use plastic containers that they have blow-molded on-site. (The question was not asked in 2012 so no comparison can be made.)

Beverage processors are jumping on the grab-and-go trend. They plan to increase their use of single-serve formats (16-ounces or less, in paper or plastic bottles). A greater use of quart and half-gallon formats also is planned.

 BNP Media’s Market Research Division conducted the web-based survey from Feb. 20 to March 6. For more on functional ingredients, see “Cheers! To better health”. Also read “Navigating the world of flavors”.