Judging by all the memes and tweets about COVID-19 weight gain, it would be easy to picture consumers indulging in everything sugary and salty. And while snacking has increased as people work from home, there are some lasting consumer trends that point to a growing new generation of healthy beverage choices.
During our recent virtual national meeting, I had a chance to hear from top analysts in the beverage industry on sales and trends. According to Beverage Digest, consumer trends prioritize health as people look for great tasting products with extras.
These extras, described as functional ingredients, range from recovery after exercise, hydration, energy to better digestion. Sweetener innovations create appealing, tasty products that cut sugar. Super foods like turmeric and elderberry, along with soluble fiber and pea protein pack drinks with the extra’s consumers are demanding.
And all these trends track perfectly with our industry’s progress on a major commitment to trim beverage calories from the American diet.
The American Beverage Association, The Coca-Cola Company, Keurig Dr Pepper and PepsiCo have teamed up with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation on a landmark effort to reduce beverage calories consumed nationally per person by 20%. Launched in 2014, the Balance Calories Initiative (BCI) leverages product innovation, marketing, and calorie awareness education, and working alongside community partners to encourage people to try lower- and zero-calorie options – and it is working.
A new report from independent evaluator Keybridge LLC has found that since the launch of BCI, Americans are reducing the calories they get from beverages by shifting to lower-calorie options or smaller portion sizes. Billions of calories are being removed from the American diet in what is the single-largest voluntary effort by an industry to tackle obesity.
From mini-cans to sparkling water, more than two-thirds of all new beverages introduced in 2018 were either no-, low- or mid-calorie. Today, more than 50% of beverages purchased nationally have no sugar. We are also seeing a 19% increase in growth of water sales nationwide because of new sparkling waters being introduced.
You will find more options in your beverage aisle, including flavored waters, zero-calorie sports drinks, unsweetened teas, and sodas and juices with less sugar or no sugar. These options are increasingly found in a variety of smaller package sizes to help people make the choices that are right for their families.
What this all means is that the beverage industry is supporting families in their efforts to reduce sugar in their diets through market-based solutions that offer more choices with less sugar or no sugar at all, as well as smaller portion sizes. And despite COVID-19 challenges, our members continue marketing these innovations, so people know about them and try them. Grocery store displays and end caps no longer just feature full calorie soft drinks. We now see that coveted space dedicated to sparkling waters and zero sugar products.
And we are supporting community groups in their efforts to emphasize the importance of moderating calories to get fact-based information into the hands of consumers. New labeling where beverages are purchased, including on vending machines and retail coolers, provide reminders to consumers about how many calories are in their drink before they even make a purchase.
Our industrywide goals are ambitious, and there is more to be done, but looking at grocery shelves brimming with options and consumer interest in “what’s next?” heralds a new generation of healthy beverage choices.