Consumer demands for healthier products are spreading throughout all categories of the food and beverage industry, and manufacturers all over the world are looking for better ways to formulate their existing products as well as create newer and more innovative ones to meet this demand. These have resulted in the proliferation of new trends for ingredients used in these products.
In the soft drink and milk drink sector, there are currently two trends that manufacturers simply cannot ignore, namely, beverages should be made 100 per cent from natural ingredients, and they should contain no added sugar. Ingredients that fit these two may be hard to find, but beverage manufacturers have already begun to exploring ways to create beverages in line with these trends.
For example, some manufacturers have begun reformulating their products and replacing the sugar within them with natural sweeteners such as sucralose, aspartame, stevia, or saccharin, just to name a few.
However, replacing sugar entirely might then pose other challenges for manufacturers, because though the sugar alternative would complete the sweetness profile, it might disrupt other factors of the product. These include the presence of an undesirable aftertaste, the final visual appearance, or the texture and/or mouthfeel of the product that might change once the sugar component is removed.
Rather than replacing the sugar component, other manufacturers have instead ventured into looking for new natural ingredients entirely that they can incorporate into their products for not only sweetness but also functional benefits. For example, fruit and vegetable extracts and flavours are gaining popularity on the beverage market today as enhancers for water and other beverages in terms of taste, colour and the health benefits they can provide because of their nutrients.
Another ingredient that promises plenty of potential but may be overlooked currently is malt. As a natural ingredient that contains sweet properties of its own and eliminating the need for sugar, malt is an ingredient that is in line with both trends that consumers look for in beverages today.
The History Of Malt
Malt is a mixture of sugars produced from starch, which can be found in cereal grains such as barley, wheat, rye or spelt. Through a malting process that involves germinating and drying the cereal grains, the enzyme gibberellin converts starch to malt, which then can be roasted to stop enzyme action, as well as to produce attractive toasted flavours.
Malt has been traditionally used for beer-making through fermentation, which turns it into beer or whiskey, and these alcoholic beverages are present all over the world today.
However, other forms of malt beverages also do exist, such as in breakfast drinks, soft drinks like Horlicks, Ovaltine and Milo, which have been best-sellers in countries where malt beverages have been popular for a long time, such as in parts of Asia.
In fact, it was William Horlick, an English man who emigrated to Chicago in the 1870s who first succeeded in making malt powder through drying malt extract with wheat extract in a vacuum. It was found that a tasty drink could be made when Horlick’s Food (what Mr Horlick’s malt powder was then known as) was mixed with milk, but because of problems associated with diseases spread by milk then, Mr Horlick sought to make a form of malt powder that did not require milk.
He achieved this in 1882, through perfecting the process of drying milk with the wheat and malt, such that he made a product that only needed to be mixed with water. Success of the malt powder and malted milk spread throughout the world as time passed and perceived a healthy ingredient, it moved through several product categories such as drinks, food, and even ice cream.
Across Product Categories
The success of that discovery continues today. Malt beverages are right in line with current consumer trends focusing on naturalness, well-being and indulgence. Seeking healthier food and beverage options that have natural ingredients and even better, functional health benefits, but yet do not compromise on the taste factor is a major consumer trend today that is seen not just in Asia, but all across the world.
With a naturally nutty-sweet and slightly buttery taste, malt is full of vitamins, minerals, starch, protein and trace elements, making it a good energy source. The caffeine-free, sweet alternative allows them to be drunk not only by adults but by children as well. This was the reason why malt beverages were originally positioned as strengthening, restorative products for growing children, as well as for sick people and the elderly.
Today, malt is used in breakfast drinks, and brand names such as Ovaltine, Horlicks and Milo are well-known players in the sector that have made a name for themselves in various parts of the world over many decades. Their products include instant powder that need just water for malt drinks, and the advancement in technology over the years has allowed these branded beverages to also exist as ready-to-drink products.
Beyond children and the elderly, the average adult and athletes can benefit from such beverages as well. As the nutrients can be quickly absorbed and processed by the body, malt beverages make for an ideal source of energy for individuals performing any mental or physical activity, or for athletes, they can serve as a quick recovery drink. Also, due to the high-quality proteins, malt beverages can also alleviate stress.
Kantar Worldpanel has reported that though malt beverages originally belonged to the ‘Tonic Food Drinks’ category in Vietnam, it has since conquered the ‘Hot Category’ there. Since the second quarter of 2014, there has been significant volume growth in the double-digit percentage range, compared to the previous year—an additional 38 percent in volume, for instance, for the third quarter.
Malt beverages are also currently finding their way into countries where malt is largely a newcomer—for example in the Middle East and Africa. Many people in these regions abstain from alcohol for religious reasons, but still like the aromatic beer taste. The malt flavour is therefore extremely popular in these regions.
Manufacturers targeting consumers there have therefore met this demand with malt beverages for different product categories. In Nigeria, for instance, malt beverages are establishing themselves as popular thirst-quenchers.
There is still much potential to be tapped on for malt in the category of food products, and perhaps even more in that of beverages. It seems that in the future, a wealth of further malt beverages might even appear on the market in aseptic carton packs.