Sector News

Beverages category fizzes with AI-generated soda, hemp-based gin, “green” cola & coca leaf infusions

October 17, 2021
Food & Drink

The drinks category is brimming with trend-driven launches including flavorful, energizing and better-for-you beverages. FoodIngredientsFirst speaks to disruptive fizzy beverage brands, whose offerings include a classic cola recipe reimagined with a clean label twist, as well as AI-generated flavor synergies.

Launches across the bar scene are bubbling, with new inclusions of a spirit infused with coca leaves from Peru as well as hemp-based gin. Meanwhile, single-serve packaging is touted as the way forward for wine producers looking to appeal to younger consumers thirsty for low-alcohol options in a convenient format.

Infusing drinks with coca leaves
During a trip to South America, founder and CEO of Koka Mate, Julian Hille, observed that the popular coca leaf-based drink mate de coca has been drunk and revered across many countries in this region for over a millennia. This inspired his idea to bring this unique product into the European market.

The German brand infuses tea made from the coca leaf with black tea, mate tea to create a lightly flavored carbonated drink. “It has a light sweetness and a flavor profile comparable to green tea. The extract from the coca leaf also has a light energizing sensation,” Hille remarks.

In addition, Koka Mate is looking to expand its product range with a new offering for the alcoholic beverage sector.

“We are going to launch a high quality spirit based on coca leaf,” Hille tells FoodIngredientsFirst, from the showfloor of Anuga 2021, in Cologne, Germany. “We use coca leaves from Peru, which are made legal through the decocanizing process, which can be compared to decaffeinating coffee. The drink is comparable to gin, but without juniper.”

The company is initially targeting the bar and club scene and is marking its products toward adventurous mixologists. “Because the unique flavor of the coca leaf is not well-known, we want to bring this new taste to Europe,” says Hille.

“Our leaves are not processed in Europe. We have a partner in Peru that farms the coca leaf and we process it there, because we are not allowed to take the leaf out of the country.”

Koka Mate sources its coca leaves from a farm in a district near Cusco, in Peru, which offers the ideal climate for the coca leaf to grow.

“Most coca farmers are under control by drug traffickers and are treated quite badly,” says Hille. “On the other hand, our coca leaves are grown within the legal scope of the Peruvian economy and we prioritize the fair treatment of our farmers.”

Coca leaf was a core ingredient in the Coca-Cola drink’s original formula, which was originally marketed as a temperance drink during the Prohibition era and intended as a patent medicine.

AI-powered fizzy flavors
Funtola is a newly launched fizzy drink brand developed by AI from Neuro Net, which takes the main internet trends from open sources to monitor the most popular themes in beverages. With this method, the company has created novel varieties of flavors.

“Our product is a full-flavor drink, similar to lemonade. This drink is targeted toward the Gen-Z demographic, who spend a lot of time on social networks monitoring trends and participating in different kinds of TikTok challenges.

“The flavors resulting from our analytics are very unique and unusual,” remarks Alexandra Golubskaya, senior brand manager at Funtola.

“The first drink is bubblegum-flavored, pink in color and full of taste,” she details. “The second is called Mango Trio – because mango is currently trending – a mango-based drink ideal for cocktail mixers, which our AI blended with pineapple aroma and orange extract.”

“Our third offering is called Space Cow, which is flavored with strawberry and marshmallow.”

This algorithm helps Funtola monitor key trends. “There are smaller trends that rise and fall very quickly, which are not worth formulating around. But in the case of our flavors, such as mango and bubble gum, certain trends have been around for more than one year,” says Golubskaya.

The company plans to unveil new flavors every nine to 12 months.

Thirst for greener cola
Naturality is now a buzzword in the cola space, pushing up demand for new iterations of a popular beverage that is conventionally high in sugar and artificial ingredients.

The Green Cola Company was founded with the aim to deliver a new category of soft drinks based on natural ingredients. In 2012, it initially launched Green Cola and has since expanded its product line to include Green Orange, Green Lemon, Green Lemon-Lime and Green Sour Cherry, containing fruit juice.

“All of our products are healthier and more natural than regular cola, made without sugar and aspartame,” Stefania Tsapala, international marketing manager at Green Cola, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

“All are sweetened with stevia and also formulated without preservatives and phosphoric acids. Meanwhile, the caffeine in our products is sourced from green coffee beans.”

Stevia as a key ingredient in zero-sugar formulations has historically been criticized for its off-notes. However, recent launches of next-generation rebaudiosides are addressing this critical organoleptic challenge. In some cases, stevia can even be combined with the newly introduced zero-calorie, high-intensity sweetener brazzein for a more rounded flavor profile.

“We are using a new generation of stevia, which has a very balanced taste and aftertaste,” explains Tsapala. “It’s not the same as the stevia launched ten years ago, which was when these stevia off-notes were much more intense.”

Most recently, Green Cola has introduced its line of Green Mocktails. “The idea behind this launch is to offer consumers sophisticated and innovative flavors that have the sense of a cocktail but without alcohol,” says Tsapala.

“Within this line we offer the flavors of pink grapefruit; mojito; pomegranate, ginger & lime; and green mastic.”

Hemp-based gin
Hemp as an ingredient has been rising in popularity for some time, in line with growing consumer appeal around its relaxing component cannabidiol (CBD). In the beverage category, it has been prominently featured in new functional product launches, such as CBD-infused sparkling waters.

But on its own, hemp’s standout flavor holds significant consumer appeal. 2b Lifestyle Trading was at Anuga 2021 showcasing its hemp-based spirit 2B Double Hemp Gin, characterized by its intense flavor based on the trending ingredient.

“We have infused gin with our signature hemp flavor,” Gunther Draxl, sales manager at 2B Lifestyle Trading, tells FoodIngredientsFirst. “The result is an alcoholic beverage that is not so sharp. It tastes very smooth and mild. The ingredients complement each other very well.

2B Double Hemp Gin was recently chosen as the best Austrian gin by an international jury at the World Gin Awards 2021 in London, UK.

“During the distillation process, all components of the hemp go away and you’re only left with the taste. You have to take care that THC is removed during the process because that is illegal,” Draxl notes.

“Our THC-free hemp grows in Austria. We combine spirulina algae in our beverage to give it a natural green color that is associated with the hemp plant, which would give the product a brown color if used on its own.”

Single-serve alcoholic beverages
New packaging formats for beverages were also on display at Anuga 2021. One particularly noticeable trend was the single-serve alcoholic beverage format.

One Glass Wine specializes in a plastic container for wine in the shape of a glass, for on-the-go consumption.

“Up until our innovation, there was no single-serve solution to wine in this format. We provide our wines for outdoor concerts, stadiums, food to-go, street food, beach parties, pool parties and pretty much any other situations where glass is not our friend,” says Jean Philippe, export manager of One Glass Wine.

“Plastic is fully recyclable and the product can be kept on the shelf for 12 months or longer.”

One Glass Wine is commercializing its product on the Central European market. “However, we are looking to expand in South America and Scandinavia,” says Philippe.

“We can see a heightened need for wine-to-go together with food-to-go since the onset of the pandemic. People like our idea because it allows them to not waste one full wine bottle if they only want to drink one glass.”

One Glass Wine also provides a new clipping format that holds four glasses at the same time for consumers to carry with ease, marketed as an alternative to the classic bottle.

“The packaging is optimized for wine, but we can also do cocktails,” notes Philippe. “It can also be expanded to any type of non-sparkling drink, preferably alcoholic, because the alcohol content helps with preservation. Our packaging format is also applicable for juices, water and milk.

Similarly tapping into the trend for convenience, Schlossbeegkellerei is marketing its new aluminium wine bottle, which is lightweight, easy to open and fully recyclable.

“The target consumer is females above 20 years-old. We offer a flavor range including elderflower, aperol spritz, rhubarb, red berries and non-alcoholic offerings,” Dr. Rald Schnaufer, founder of Schlossbeegkellerei, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

“The demand for small-portion alcoholic beverages is definitely growing. People like having a portion they can take with them, which is easy to drink and not too heavy on the alcohol.”

Givaudan recently published research delving into the trend of “mindful drinking,” which the Swiss flavor house predicts will take off.

By Benjamin Ferrer


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