It might have started with kombucha, but a few years since the probiotic-filled drink craze first hit, the genuinely-good-for-you functional beverage market has come a long way.

It’s probably not all that surprising when you consider the steady, year-on-year growth that traditional functional drinks – think energy and sports drinks – have enjoyed here in Australia. Market research conducted in 2020 also shows Aussies are becoming more and more health conscious.

“Consumers, and particularly Australian consumers, are more savvy and educated than ever about what’s going into the food and beverages they consume,” says Bodie Lazar, founder of BODIE’Z, an Australian functional beverage brand that launched in 2015.

But as well as offering healthy, natural ingredients and low – or no – sugar, functional drinks need to deliver more than that. “The major benefit of functional beverages is that they’re providing something above and beyond, say, the hydration you get when you drink a bottle of water,” says Lazar.

What’s driving customer desire for drinks that tick those boxes? And what lies ahead?

A Combination of Convenience and Value

Lazar says convenience has driven the growth of the entire ready-to-drink (RTD) category. It was certainly one of his motivations to create his brand’s first protein water product.

“Personally, I was sick of lugging tubs of protein powder around and mixing various supplements together before and after exercise,” says Lazar. “It was inconvenient and time consuming. I wanted a solution to that.”

Five years into the brand’s journey, BODIE’Z now has a variety of products, but essentially they’re designed to be four-in-ones – providing protein, vitamins, minerals and amino acids in the one bottle.

“It’s also about delivering value,” says Lazar. “You could spend $15 buying all the things that are in one of our drinks separately, or you could buy our drink for $5.”

Bodiez Functional Drinks

Image: BODIE’Z

For some functional drinks brands, it’s also about providing a healthier alternative to an already popular product. Take energy drinks. Accounting for more than a quarter of sales in the functional beverages category, they’re typically overloaded with both caffeine and sugar. Research shows that’s one of the reasons why, when people get a taste for them, it can be a hard habit to break without help.

Enter ‘smart drinks’ company Shine Drink. Shine’s offering is all about providing ‘better energy’ – so instead of loads of sugar and too much caffeine, the brand’s drinks are formulated using natural nootropics, ingredients and compounds that have research-backed brain benefits.

Co-founder Steve Chapman says the size of the energy drink market has given Shine traction. “People often tell us our drinks have helped them replace or cut down on their traditional energy drink consumption,” says Chapman.

“Shine’s drinks are low in sugar and bring together age-old natural ingredients to help people feel, think and be better – benefits that people perhaps need now more than ever when life’s busy and there are so many demands on our time and mental capacity.”

And while nootropics aren’t new, Chapman says putting them in a drink certainly was when Shine launched in 2016. “Globally we’re still the biggest nootropics drinks brand,” he says. “I’m not big on taking pills or capsules, so developing a drink was always going to be my first choice as that’s my preferred way of ‘taking’ supplements, but it was also simply the case that we saw an opportunity and a consumer demand that no-one else was catering for.”

Shine Functional Drink

Image: Shine Drink

Drinking to the Future

Chapman and Lazar both say that COVID hasn’t put a dent in their brands’ growth.

“In fact,” says Lazar, “we’ve enjoyed significant growth this year. We essentially created the protein water category so it took some time to help consumers understand that they could get the same amount of protein in our drink that they’d been getting from the milky protein product they’ve been using for years. But once we achieved that we’ve gone from strength to strength.”

Likewise, Chapman says that, just like the broader energy drink market, demand for Shine’s products has increased during COVID-19. “Unlike some ‘nice to have’ drinks that might get overlooked when budgets get tighter, ours have cemented a place as a ‘need to have’.”

As for what’s next? As well as new flavours, Shine has plans to expand into other markets. “Since we launched, we’ve been focused on growing the Australian business into a profitable one, but now we’re looking to move into overseas markets including New Zealand, the US and the UK.”

Over at BODIE’Z, new world-first drinks are in the pipeline. “We’re continuing to innovate in this space,” says Lazar. “We recently rebranded, transitioning from BODIE’Z Protein Water to simply BODIE’Z, which means we’re not limited to protein-based drinks.

“We’re a functional beverage brand, and when you start to pair innovation and an increased availability of raw materials with trend forecasts, the sky really is the limit.”

The post In the Drink: Why Healthy, Functional Beverages are Liquid Gold appeared first on Naturally Good.