The Asian beverage market has become a hotbed of innovation, experiencing unprecedented levels of growth in recent years, reported Transparency Market Research. In fact, according to Canadean, by 2021, Asia is predicted to contribute two-thirds of global incremental beverage consumption, with China alone responsible for one-third of the additional volume.
And with an emergent urban lifestyle in many Asian communities, the role of beverages is evolving, with approximately 21 percent of consumers saying beverages play a crucial part when picking which restaurants they visit.
No longer only a means of hydration, beverages are perceived as a premium consumption experience. However, the challenge for manufacturers is harnessing the many growth opportunities in the Asia Pacific region and differentiating their offering in an increasingly crowded market. As a result, manufacturers are required to evolve constantly and ensure their products are aligned with the latest consumer trends.
Flavour innovation has always been, and continues to be, a significant trend in new product development across the entire food and beverage industry. In the beverage market in particular, flavours can be added to a range of product types to create unique and mouth-watering tastes that capture and maintain the interest of Asia’s most discerning consumers. Identifying new and novel flavour trends is therefore vital for manufacturers looking to differentiate their products from the competition.
Currently, orange is the top flavour in the juice and juice drinks category in Asia, accounting for 10 percent of the new product launches in the 12 months to December 2015, reported Mintel. However, in today’s beverage market, consumer experiences stretch beyond enjoying a glass of orange juice at the breakfast table.
Rather, many are looking for new taste experiences and breaking away from their comfort zones. As a result, creative beverages are on the rise, particularly in the packaged juice market, as manufacturers look to differentiate themselves from their competitors and target a wider audience. Recent examples of flavour innovation in the packaged juice market, in particular, include a peach nectar with honey beverage in Japan, a blueberry yoghurt flavoured drink in South Korea and a green tea flavoured pear juice drink with rock sugar in China. These innovations give packaged juices a clear advantage over traditional fruit juices, which although many consumers perceive to be natural and healthy, are also considered limited in variety.
Tropical fruit flavours are an emerging trend in the Asian soft drinks market, with mango, pineapple and passion fruit becoming more popular due to their exotic characteristics. This marks a significant shift away from more traditional flavour profiles, such as orange, apple and blackcurrant.
Meanwhile, beverage brands are also increasingly looking to incorporate upmarket exotic flavours, such as guava, longan and jujube in their products, as they look to engage new demographics.
Authentic Asian Flavours
Thanks in part to millennials’ evolving and adventurous taste buds, new and exotic beverage flavours which offer a twist on traditional Asian beverages are also coming to the fore. Some of the most widespread innovations include citrus varieties, such as lime, grapefruit, and Asian citrus, as well as variations of popular hot drinks.
Tea continues to be the go-to drink in Asia and the application of tea extracts has soared recently, as the local beverage industry has evolved to include ready-to-drink (RTD) and iced formats. RTD tea, for instance, is most popular in countries like Japan. It is no surprise, therefore, that Asia is the world’s largest global RTD and coffee market.
The huge growth in this market has stimulated a rise in flavour innovation, with more and more authentically Asian flavoured RTD teas hitting the shelves—recent launches include Kyoho grape, watermelon and lychee flavoured green teas. These kinds of RTD beverages represent an opportunity for beverage manufacturers to appeal to more adventurous tea drinkers, developed to cater for the specific taste profiles the target market enjoys.
In line with the overall trend toward healthfulness, consumers are seeking natural beverages containing clean labels which are easy to understand and explain the origin of ingredients. In essence, they want their drink to taste and look like the natural ingredients. In addition, they are also looking for simple, authentic ingredients which are derived from raw materials and offer tangible health benefits.
As a result, plant-derived flavours have become increasingly popular as manufacturers look to incorporate more naturally-derived ingredients into their beverages, avoiding artificial colours and flavours. In 2015, there were 151 percent more launches making an ‘all natural’ ingredient claim than there were in 2011, according to Mintel.
Ginger is another ingredient which is making major headway within the Asian beverage arena. Known for relieving digestive problems such as nausea, loss of appetite, motion sickness and pain, ginger is becoming prevalent across a wider range of beverage formats. Inspired by the trend for juicing fruits and vegetables, ginger is now a common flavour in juice drinks, as well as being increasingly popular in hot drinks, iced teas and flavoured waters.In keeping with this trend, a South Korean brand has recently launched its premium flavoured Aloe Vera drink in Vietnam, available in original, mango and pomegranate varieties. Positioned as a convenient health-orientated solution, these drinks are free from artificial colours, preservatives, fat and gluten, as well as being rich in antioxidants. For these reasons, its packaging claims it can beautify and moisturise skin, thus providing the purity and healthfulness many of today’s consumers desire.
Similarly, coconut flavours are experiencing significant popularity and growth thanks to its strong consumer appeal among those seeking ‘natural’ ingredients. Coconut water has been instrumental in differentiating the overall juice category, resulting in an explosion in the coconut water market in recent years.
Technavio forecasts the global coconut water market to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 25.2 percent in terms of revenue over the period 2014-2019. Such is the universal popularity of coconut water, which is commonly sold by street vendors in countries such as India, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
While coconut water remains one of the most active segments in the juice market, maple, banana, aloe, watermelon and artichoke waters have been tipped to follow its success, due to the richness of minerals and associated health benefits. The prevalence of such beverages reflects the increase in the number of consumers looking for ’natural’ ingredients. Working closely with a flavour expert can provide formulators with the insight they need to create true-tonature and delicious beverages with wide consumer appeal, without sacrificing taste or quality.
To further differentiate themselves and meet the demand for health and wellness products, manufacturers are adding functionality to their beverages. One way in which they are doing this is through creating value-added benefits by fortifying a wide variety of applications with vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, vitamin D and proteins.
Notably, four in ten consumers in China who drink juice say they would be willing to pay more for juices fortified with such ingredients. In line with this growing demand, new product launches in this arena include apple-flavoured beverages, enriched with electrolytes and vitamin C.
However, these types of products are notoriously difficult to perfect. With each functional ingredient comes a specific flavour challenge—nutrients often possess unappealing taste characteristics and therefore require flavour masking to disguise off-notes.
Protein beverages, for instance, are becoming a hit in Asia Pacific’s evolving beverage industry. Historically, health has taken precedence over taste, but as protein beverages become ever more mainstream, that compromise is no longer acceptable. Understanding protein’s flavour compounds is therefore essential.
Thanks to its trusted source and nutritional profile, whey remains a popular choice in drinks for the Asian market. Although vanilla, chocolate and strawberry are prevalent flavours in this category, partly because they are tried and tested with whey, today’s consumers are eager for new tastes and experiences. As a result, more exotic and indulgent flavours, such as mango, coffee and chocolate and hazelnut are rising in popularity.
Flavours offer a crucial point of difference in the competitive and increasingly saturated Asian beverage market. Through monitoring and tracking flavour trends, manufacturers satisfy the discerning palettes’ of today’s consumers and make their product offering stand out.
At the same time, beverages must maintain authenticity and functionality, as these are often the deciding factors in the success of any product launch. Working with a flavour expert provides formulators with the insight and expertise they need to strike the balance between, health, functionality and taste to create unique, flavourful and authentic products with real consumer appeal.