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As the nation continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, many proactive consumers are turning to beverages perceived to strengthen the immune system. Typically made with fruits, vegetables, herbs, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and probiotics, immunity boosters belong to the category of functional beverages associated with a variety of health and performance benefits.
More than half of the U.S. population uses functional foods or beverages, according to a report by the Hartman Group, and most non-users say they are open to them. Among consumers who recently purchased a beverage at a foodservice operation, 58 percent indicate they would be more likely to purchase a beverage described as supporting the immune system, according to the Technomic 2020 Beverage Consumer Trend Report.
It is happening in the retail sector, too, where immunity-boosting products and ingredients—which already had been on-trend in recent years—“have been jumping off the shelves as people look to stay healthy amidst the coronavirus pandemic,” notes a Packaged Facts report.
Public interest in functional beverages certainly predates the pandemic. But for many people, the crisis has deepened the commitment to them.
A January 2021 Hartman Group blog post declares that “the issue of immunity has never been more important than it is now” and consumers “are incorporating supplements, functional foods and wellness strategies more and/or for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic occurred."
“People are more aware than ever of what they are consuming,” says Cannon Porter, a partner of Beatrix, a neighborhood coffeehouse and restaurant concept in the Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises restaurant group. “We've definitely seen an uptick in people who want to eat out healthfully, carry out healthful food or cook healthfully at home. All of our packages, including our juice boxes, are intended to make that as simple as possible for our guests.”
Fresh juices made in-house with ingredients associated with wellness and immunity have been signature menu items at Beatrix since it first opened its doors in Chicago’s River North district in 2013. There are now four full-service locations.
Now, with indoor dining banned and restaurants restricted to takeout, delivery and limited outdoor seating, the company has launched Juice Boxes by Beatrix for off-premise customers. The 5-Day Juice Box with five bottles of juice is priced at $30; the 3-Day Juice Box with three bottles is priced at $20.
The five offerings are Carrot Apple Ginger, Mango Orange Pineapple, Blueberry Basil Boost, Power Greens (kale, romaine, celery, pineapple, mint) and Dr. Defense (Granny Smith and Gala apples, cinnamon, peppercorns).
“We’re choosing healthful ingredients that pair well together to create great flavors,” says Porter.
Also promoting carryout and delivery of healthful beverages is the True Food Kitchen chain. Touted under the slogan “Drink Optimistically” are bottled creations such as Andy’s Elixir, made with sea buckthorn, honey and bubbly water; and Sparkling Yerba Mate Tea, with green tea, yerba mate, butterfly pea flower, lime and cane sugar.
At Outpost Kitchen in Costa Mesa, California, the online to-go menu includes bottled beverages such as Let the Beet Drop, a medley of beets, red apples, strawberries, blueberries and algae supplement; and The Defender, made with carrot, orange, lemon, ginger and cayenne.
Components of functional beverages include fruits, vegetables and herbs, staple nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc and on-trend botanical products such as echinacea and elderberry.
Turmeric is “perhaps the hottest” immunity-boosting ingredient, according to Packaged Facts. The gamut of beverage functionality enhancers includes “antioxidants, adaptogens, vitamins, probiotics, coenzyme Q10 and branched-chain amino acids.”
On its watch, research firm Technomic sees vitamin C, citrus, peppers, ginger and greens such as spinach as important factors in beverages. Menu mentions of dragon fruit, which is high in vitamin C and other antioxidants, are up 57.1 percent in beverages in the past year, per Technomic Ignite menu data.
Satisfying the demand for functional beverages is a way for restaurant operators to engage with health-conscious consumers and reap vital revenues. However, not every operation has the facilities, labor or staff skills to create a list of functionals from scratch. A more practical alternative might be to use prepared nutritional products that mix easily into standard sodas, lemonades, sparkling waters and iced teas, and are free of competing flavors, colors and aromas so they blend in well.
No one can predict how long the pandemic will last. But choosing great-tasting beverages that benefit health and wellness promises to be a lasting consumer habit.