Industry News

Energy drinks attract consumers with better-for-you ingredients

Across the ready-to-drink beverage industry, energy drinks are currently one of the highest-performing categories in terms of sales. This data aligns with the growing trend in recent years of consumers seeking out functional products to give more added benefits in their foods and beverages, such as energy, cognitive or immunity assistance. Energy drinks have been long been providing customers with the mental and physical boost they are craving, but they were often considered an unhealthy choice. The recent interest in creating healthier food alternatives that still taste great -- intensified further during the coronavirus pandemic -- has compelled producers to offer energy drinks with better-for-you ingredients.

“The segment has had strong growth during the past year,” Christine Dang, category manager at online grocer Thrive Market, said to Progressive Grocer. “People are now also very conscious about the sugar content within their energy drinks ... Retailers are meeting these needs by rethinking the category and focusing on products that try to gear towards a lower percentage of added sugar and caffeine, while also re-looking at the ingredients and focusing on ones that are plant-based.”

Emerging brands arrive at market

Several companies have heeded the call for lower-sugar energy drinks -- both legacy brands and brand-new businesses. Earlier this year, PepsiCo teamed up with NBA star LeBron James to launch Mtn Dew Rise, a new energy variety of their popular soda brand with no added sugar that also claims to provide a mental boost as well as immune support. All Market, the maker of Vita Coco, redesigned and reformulated its natural energy drink brand Runa last summer. Newcomer Rowdy Energy -- founded by NASCAR driver Kyle Busch and beverage entrepreneur Jeff Church -- released its product lineup in 2020. 

“The mission of Rowdy Energy is to create a smarter, cleaner energy drink that delivers superior functional performance and is backed up by clinical studies,” said Hallie Lorber, vice president of marketing at Rowdy Energy.

The brand’s beverages are made with ingredients derived from fruits and vegetables, four types of natural sweeteners, electrolytes and natural caffeine combined with the nootropic L-theanine, which is designed to prevent the crash that consumers have with typical energy drinks.

Lorber shared that even though the brand debuted during the pandemic, Rowdy saw strong 2020 sales and entered 2,000 retail locations. This year has also started off on a successful note, with January sales being even greater than all of 2020 and the brand is available in 22,000 stores nationwide as of April.

“Rowdy is one of the only brands using clean ingredients that is well-positioned for the mainstream distribution channels,” she added.

Pandemic accelerates healthy energy trend

While both the functional food category and a greater focus on health and wellness were prominent before COVID-19 became a major part of consumers’ lives, the pandemic further heightened these trends and made better-for-you energy drinks even more popular and relevant.

“We are seeing this shift due to the fact that during the pandemic, there were more people at home who needed something to help boost their productivity,” Dang said to Progressive Grocer.

To continue delivering on what customers are seeking from their food and beverage products, Lorber also said the company is adding three new flavors of its existing lineup in the next month and planning a new collection of drinks to address metabolism and calorie-burning to launch next year.

“People are continuing to become more and more aware of what they are ingesting into their bodies,” said Lorber. “Buyers want to know exactly what they’re consuming – they want to know and understand the ingredients in the products they’re purchasing.”

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