The performance drink market has seen the significant impact low-calorie beverages have had in sales with the rise of clean-label and protein trends. Consumers are increasingly asking food and beverage manufacturers for lower calorie options. With these trends continually rising, experts expect great growth and evolution in this market.

“People are looking for all-natural, low-calorie, low-sugar beverages that are functional. They look at the ingredients on every label very closely. They, especially millennials, do more research on functional ingredients to make sure they are safe and proven to be effective. They don’t just believe the claims on the labels,” said Penny Portner, director of marketing for Bioenergy Life Sciences Inc.

While consumers still look for flavourful drinks, they prefer products that offer great taste without high amounts of sugar. “Of course performance beverages still need to provide carbohydrates and taste good, but sugar is undesirable for many consumers now, even in this [performance beverage] category,” said Ardie van Lankveld, global market manager of sweet for Corbion.

“We are also seeing a lot of emphasis on reducing sugar. Specific to performance beverages is that it is all about emphasising the protein message,” said Vicky Fligel, senior product manager of functional systems at Glanbia Nutritionals.

Even though sugar reduction initiatives have reached the performance drink market, ingredient suppliers note when choosing a drink, it is not always about eliminating sugar entirely but also considering which ones support sports nutrition requirements best.

“Beverage makers – from international brands to start-ups – are continuing to investigate new ways to deliver on consumer expectations. In the past, most popular sports nutrition beverages have been aimed at a highly athletic market focused on carb burning and creating energy during exercise,” said Jon Peters, president of BENEO Inc.

With the growing market for casual fitness consumers, sports drink brands are turning changing their marketing strategy and adjusting ingredients to cater to the needs of both high-intensity athletes and those interested in casual fitness.

“Analysts from GlobalData recently commented that next to elite athletes and bodybuilders, there has been an increase in casual fitness users looking to supplement an active, healthy lifestyle with sports nutrition products. At present, despite the forecasted rise in obesity, there are few products targeting obese or overweight consumers. However, GlobalData predicts this will change, and we will see more product launches aimed at the overweight, as well as women and older consumers,” said Peters.

As millennials are increasingly seeking beverages that not only are convenient and taste good but that offer a range of health benefits as well, this creates room for performance ingredients to become mainstream in drink products. More than just basic vitamins and minerals, there is a growing demand for multi-functionality, more energy, mental clarity, antioxidants and workout recovery.

There has also been a notable move towards natural and clean-label ingredients, the less complicated and foreign ingredients in a product, the more appealing it becomes to the consumer.

“The rise in health and nutrition awareness as well as the mainstreaming of the performance nutrition sector, have led to the introduction of various functional ingredients for the body and mind. That’s also the reason why we see so many herbs, botanicals and superfoods such as spirulina, ginger, turmeric, entering the beverage market and slowly making their way into more and more beverages,” said Georgia Dina Konstantopoulos, communications manager, FrieslandCampina Ingredients North America Inc.