Sugar’s bad reputation is showing no sign of shifting over the next few years. One sector feeling the effects is non-alcoholic beverages, particularly juices and smoothies, which, while seemingly healthy options due to their vitamin content, often mask very high levels of naturally occurring sugars.

GlobalData’s consumer research shows that in the UK, juices, squashes, carbonates and sports drinks are all showing declining growth, while plain and flavoured waters are booming – with packaged water swelling by 10.5% and enhanced waters by a massive 78.3%. This is echoed in the US, where packaged water grew by 6% and flavoured water is anticipated to reach 43% over 2016 levels by 2022. Added to this, diet and low-calorie options are also losing their appeal due to fears over artificial sweeteners.

But juice manufacturers are not about to lose out entirely. Shifts in the markets are due to consumer interest in health, which is opening up a space for a new breed of functional, low-calorie beverages. Dumping sugar means turning to drinks with vegetable, herb or entirely new formulations. Here’s where savouries come in.

Back to the roots

Luxury UK brand Plenish offers a range of juices packed with nutrition, but not sugar. Founder, Kara Rosen, calls them “smart products for smart people, which are designed by nutrition experts,” saying that with no fillers in sight “everything that’s in there is there for a reason.” Inspired by her own journey from poor health to wellness through juicing, Rosen decided to create a product that would go beyond a vitamin topper to provide long-term benefits by focusing on the gut as the basis of the entire immune system.

Rejecting the then-popular pasteurised fruit juice craze, Rosen says: “For me, there was a better way to make juice, which was keeping it raw and using vegetables which were higher in nutrient density and lower in sugar.” This focus on vegetables, such as romaine, kale, spinach and broccoli, made the Plenish range akin to a drinkable salad bowl, with the bonus of being blended with herbs and spices, like turmeric, renowned for their goodness. Plus, Rosen says that reducing all that produce down to a drink ensured she was able to get in a kilo of organic green veg before even leaving the house in the morning.

While a beverage tasting of salad vegetables may not entice those who enjoy sweet juices, the fresh flavours are reassuringly clean and wholesome for people driven by wellbeing – and that’s a significant number of people, for which Plenish now provides a large selection of juices, flavoured waters and even non-dairy nut milks via retailers. “I think where the consumer mindset is moving is that people want to put things in their body that they know are going to do well or make them feel good,” Rosen says, explaining that, “That’s really the consumer that we’re talking to. It may not be for everybody…but we’re there to make sure that people are proactively fuelling up on good stuff.

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Unlike radical new products and ingredients with almost medical-grade health claims, broths evoke nostalgia; old-fashioned remedies using simple, recognisable ingredients. It’s as traditional as Brits drinking Bovril for nourishment during wartimes, and Americans saving the water from boiled vegetables on the advice of 1950s nutritionist Adelle Davis.

So, what’s new? Bone broth has re-emerged to become a hit in the health community over the past two years as modern day liquors provide a rich array of amino acids, vitamins and minerals, as well as collagen, glucosamine, and other natural nutrients that support heart, bone and joint repair. Propelled by the interest in organic health foods, broths are expanding into the mainstream. In the UK, a country famed for its love of a cuppa even if it means beef tea, pouches of fresh or frozen cooking broths have been available for mail order purchase for some time, and certain sandwich shops are embracing the trend with Pret a Manger now offering take-out, and the new Bone Tea BROTH BAR in London centres around comforting beef, chicken or mushroom bone broths to compete with tea and coffee shops.

Yet, despite being a recent commercial success, bone broth is already evolving with a move into the ready-to-drink (RTD) format. Unlike cooking pouches or hot take-outs, RTD bone broths are served chilled for on-the-go refreshment. Two US companies, BRU Broth and Pressery, are offering premium bottled broths as functional beverages, using organic, USDA-approved bones which are slow cooked over a long time to ensure the goodness is retained within the liquor.

The companies offer a range of meat and vegetarian flavours; Pressery provides classic combinations such as beef and rosemary and chicken and herb, while BRU Broth takes the functional further with beef, coffee and cocoa, and chicken and turmeric.

Feeling the benefit

While the majority of functional beverages address weight management or muscle building, GlobalData says that “consumers are interested in a far broader range of health concerns which are not being addressed” by manufacturers. “There are few products marketed towards long-term health,” the report states, “and even fewer that are marketed to deal with the specific issues associated with ageing or stress on one’s body, such as cardiovascular, bone and joint health.”

In addition to bone broths, Pressery also offers a range of drinking vinegars; another age-old practice which had fallen out of favour until recently. Drinking small quantities of vinegar has been claimed to help balance stomach pH levels and act as an anti-inflammatory, therefore supporting better digestion for all-round wellness, as well as being full of enzymes and potassium to naturally energise. Pressery uses coconut vinegar with a blend of water, fruit juices and spices to refresh and invigorate whilst providing a tasty, low-calorie beverage.

People are living longer and, according to the UN, 21% of the population will consist of seniors by 2050, representing a huge market for functional drinks with broader, but specific, health benefits. It may seem unconventional, or even unrealistic, that people would choose with almost half (48%) of global consumers interested in products that promise long-term health, clearly they are willing to switch if the benefits are worth their while.