Functional drinks flex their muscles as 'ultra-performance' takes hold - comment

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This month, soft drinks commentator Lucy Britner takes a closer look at the changing nature of functional drinks as big soda moves further into the performance space.

So-called 'functional drinks' can aid just about every need-state. From energy boosters or CBD-infused relaxants to drinks for brain health or gut health, there is a drink for everything.

The gym has long been the natural home of functional drinks and the latest wave of innovations has seen companies take aim at our growing love affair with working out. To get an idea of how much that love affair is growing, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA)'s 2019 Global Report, revenue from the health club industry worldwide totalled US$94bn in 2018, as around 210,000 clubs served 183m members.

"The IHRSA Global Report details performance indicators for 65 markets worldwide," said Jay Ablondi, IHRSA's executive VP for global products. "Around the globe, the fitness industry continues to help consumers lead healthier lives as steady growth was recorded in key markets. The industry is on pace ... to reach 230m health club members worldwide by 2030."

The top ten markets around the world account for more than two of every three health club members and 71% of total industry revenue, the report said. While the US led all markets in memberships and revenue - at 62.5m and $32.3bn, respectively - Germany was second in both metrics while the UK was third.

Taking advantage of the US's thirst for fitness, in January, the Coca-Cola Co announced plans to launch a variant of Powerade containing creatine in the country. Powerade Ultra also contains BCAAs - or branched-chain amino acids - and both creatine and BCAAs are commonly used in fitness products to help build muscle.

Moreover, Coca-Cola said that zero-sugar Powerade Ultra is the first ready-to-drink sports beverage to include shelf-stabilised creatine - a technology that is new to the soft drinks giant. 

The group's senior manager for active hydration product development, Nilesh Karava, said at the time of the launch: "Other beverage companies have been trying to crack the code on creatine shelf-stabilisation for years, so this work is a clear demonstration of our team's agility and curiosity."

Later that month, on a conference call with analysts following the company's 2019 results, CEO James Quincey described Powerade Ultra as "a breakthrough innovation for the sports drink category with cutting-edge ingredients, including creatine and more electrolytes than original Powerade". Meanwhile, Shane Grant, president of Coca-Cola North America's stills business unit, said the innovation forms part of the company's initiative to deliver on all "sweat occasions".

"The definitions of sports and athletes are constantly evolving," said Grant. "Hydration needs are no longer limited to traditional sports - and we are moving with this consumer trend."

Indeed, at last month's CAGNY analysts conference, Coca-Cola outlined ten consumer-centric innovation spaces, with 'performance and ultra energy' listed as a separate opportunity to 'functional' drinks. CEO James Quincey said at the event that the innovation spaces are part of Coca-Cola "really trying to understand where the consumer is going and what's driving the trends". 

"As we learn," he added, "we'll update and change, but [we are] trying to get focused on what needs we're trying to address."

Elsewhere, at Monster Beverage Corp, the term 'advanced hydration' came up on the company's post-results conference call last week. The group's recently-launched Monster HydroSport joins Reign Total Body Fuel - and both brands contain BCAAs. 

Monster HydroSport, which was launched to Germany, the UK and Ireland towards the end of last year has now also rolled out to France, with plans to launch in Norway and Sweden by the end of March. Reign also launched in the UK and Ireland in the fourth quarter of 2019, with plans to launch in Germany by the end of this month. Monster also said it wants to add seven more markets to Reign's roster throughout this year.

"We are launching ... HydroSport - and that is sort of an advanced hydration," said CEO Rodney Sacks as he outlined the drink's BCAAs and higher caffeine content. He said "a lot of products" are starting to play in the performance arena.

"It's just really dividing up the attributes that consumers are looking for. Some consumers are looking for higher caffeine or BCAAs and we think that that will help the whole category grow, as well as these specific products within the category."

And, while beverage companies are moving into the performance space, there is also traffic coming back the other way. Last month, US protein powder producer Ascent made its entry into the drinks market with the launch of a protein-laden bottled water. Ascent Recovery Water contains 20g of whey protein and 2.5 grams of Leucine, which is said to "trigger muscle protein synthesis".

"Recovery is an essential part of the training process, and we believe this product has all the ingredients that matter - taste and form, 100 calories and high protein - and none that don't," said Ascent general manager Paul Vraciu. 

The company even gained an endorsement from USA Weightlifting. The organisation's CEO Phil Andrews said the product will "be a great help to us for quick, on-the-go protein during our national team events and camps, and it will be a significant help to our team as we prepare for competition this year, including for Tokyo 2020".

Forget the local gym, it seems the new wave of ultra-performance drinks is good enough for Olympians. 

Sectors: Soft drinks, Water

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