Little over a century ago, Henry Ford famously proclaimed that his customers could have a car painted any colour they wanted—“so long as it is black.” In decades since, consumer choice has spiraled, fueling loyalty and growth for those brands most adept at honoring the needs and wants of shoppers.
Today’s empowered consumers are choosing to engage with brands and issues that resonate most with them. Research shows that 71 percent of consumers choose to buy goods or services based on their trust in the brand, while 82 percent trust brands that develop innovations that have a positive impact on their lives and the world. In response, brands are under growing pressure to be agile, flexible and quick to adapt to consumers’ evolving needs.
Beverage brands are at the center of this evolution. In recent years, the beverage market has experienced a significant shake-up as consumers look for more than just a thirst quencher. Responding, the beverage sector has increased its range of products which help sustain busy, active, health-conscious lifestyles. And in turn, as manufacturers experiment with a plethora of infusions, beverage dispense technologies are rising to the challenge. A one-size-fits-all solution can no longer cater for customers’ insatiable appetite for choice, quality and experience.
Reduced sugar beverage options
Driven by the global proliferation of sugar taxes and levies, together with influencers promoting the benefits of a healthier lifestyle, health conscious consumers are increasingly opting for drinks which contain less sugar.
Fortified flavored waters, iced teas and sparkling waters have gained ground at the expense of sugar-laden sodas. In response to this growing trend for no- and low-sugar drinks, natural sugars and sweeteners, from raw honey and coconut palm to fruit and vegetable extracts, are increasingly added to beverages to aid sweetness while simultaneously adding nutritional value.
Likewise, sour, bitter, spicy, floral, and aromatic flavors are becoming popular as substitutes to sweeter ingredients. The introduction of these taste sensations can put pressure on fountain dispense systems and their compatibility with dispense technology is a key consideration. For example, fluids with particulates and additives often require special pump capabilities to allow retailers to optimize flow rates, shorten dispense times and reduce waste in applications. As a result, beverage companies are now working even more closely with dispense technology manufacturers, to enable the efficient development of customized solutions which help beverage brands quickly adapt to evolving consumer trends.
Added nutritional value
In the last year, more and more new beverages have launched offering enhanced nutritional value, as consumers seek great tasting products with added health benefits. In particular, these have responded to consumers’ pursuit of weight management, nutrient replenishment, enhanced cognitive functioning and cardiovascular, bone and immune health. According to Innova Market Insights, energy continues to be the top benefit promoted by beverage brands, featured amongst 30.7 percent of functional beverages on the market, followed by antioxidants (26.1 percent) and vitamin/mineral fortification (24 percent).
Consumers are choosing to grow their intake of ingredients they consider to be healthy, and drink options that align with their lifestyles. The fortification of drinks has led to exciting innovation, with offerings ranging from ginger, turmeric, basil, fennel and rosemary to ginseng, raw honey, green coffee bean, green tea and maqui berry. According to Innova, floral flavors have grown globally over the past five years with flower extracts and syrups found in all kinds of products such as tonic drinks.
This impressive innovation by the beverage industry has in turn required rapid innovation in beverage dispense technologies to uphold the quality of beverages and ensure equipment and operations perform at their best. For retailers adapting to these trends, the versatility of their fountain system to handle varied viscosities and yields is a key consideration. For instance, fruit-based drinks, such as smoothies, will require particulate-capable pumps which carry fruit-pulp-filled fluids with ease, while sodas will continue to necessitate pumps and methods to infuse CO2 and other gasses for the best refreshment experience.
Dairy options, such as drinkable yoghurt, and dairy alternative drinks have also experienced significant growth in market penetration as convenient sources of calcium and protein. Similarly, a trend for plant-based alternatives to dairy, such as soy, oat and rice, is prevalent amongst vegans and those who are lactose intolerant. The thicker consistency of these drinks demands a pump capable of easily delivering higher viscosity ingredients. As a consequence, retailers are looking at the capability of their equipment to handle dairy based components and ultimately, provide a reliable service.
Although beverages with energy benefits remain popular, consumers are increasingly looking for natural alternatives to coffee and tea, which offer performance without “the crash.” Cold brew coffee has exploded in popularity, accounting for more than half (56 percent) of new ready-to-drink coffee launches in the US in 2017. Likewise, guarana and ginseng fuelled beverages and ketogenesis (which supports burning fat and boosting energy), are all in high demand. Today’s empowered consumers expect retailers to serve up the latest plethora of beverages, in a manner that meets their need for speed and a quality service.
Nitrogen is a recent trend fuelling the cold-brewed coffee craze. Infused with nitrogen gas, the dissolved bubbles produce a thick, velvety mouth feel and a sweeter taste that reduces the need for added milk or sugar. The consistency and quality of the pumping process is vital to the nitro brew dispense process.
An upcoming trend, according to Mintel, is the emergence of ‘super coffees’, boosted by extracts of coconut oil, chia seeds, protein and grass-fed butter and popular amongst among health-obsessed coffee drinkers. And as consumer tastes change, dispense technology has evolved to manage dissolved solids in their choice of beverage, ensuring outlets are well-appointed to deliver the best tasting coffee.
The increasing push of consumers for improved nutrition from beverages has led to impressive solutions in the form of exciting recipes, providing new challenges for fountain dispense and fresh dispense equipment. All things considered, it is apparent that there is no end to the consumer desire for more from their beverages—from offering new experiences, to powering their lifestyle, to fortifying their minds and bodies with nutrient-boosting options. Through innovating and expanding their offer, forward-thinking beverage manufacturers have an opportunity to futureproof their brand as leaders in the market.
Undoubtedly, providers of beverage dispense technologies—the partners behind this thriving industry—will continue to create the solutions required to satisfy the increasingly discerning consumer market, and simultaneously uphold the reliability and lifespan of technologies. The industry’s need to evolve quicker highlights the importance of identifying and working with partners who bring a broad range of innovative solutions, proven reliability in service as well as products and superior value. At Xylem, our focus on offering the best life-cost products means we’re constantly working with our customers to identify trends and to advance our high-performance pumps to best meet their needs.
In offering more choice, together with catering for the commercial—and often spatial—limitations experienced by retailers, tailored beverage applications will allow retailors to flex to the needs of the consumer, rather than restrict their offer based on the technology available. It’s the brands that react quickly to changing trends that will thrive in this fast-evolving and competitive world.
David Webber is Director of Strategy and Marketing for Xylem’s Specialty Flow Control business, which includes the Flojet brand which serves the beverage sector. Since joining Xylem in 2003, David has held various positions including in Product Management, Marketing and Strategy.