As Will Daynes examines, changes in consumer behaviour and lifestyles, public perception and government-backed initiatives have come together to create an environment where health drinks sales have begun to overtake the traditional market leaders

In the year to July 15, 2017, something unique occurred that sent ripples, if not quite shockwaves, through the drinks industry. It was in those preceding 12 months that sales of bottled water exceeded those of cola for the first time, with UK consumers purchasing 1.77 billion litres of water compared to 1.72 billion litres of cola. These statistics are symbolic of a time when water, health and energy drinks have emerged as the profitable, and fastest growing, soft drinks industry segment in the UK, with total sales of water alone expected to reach around 4.7 billion litres by 2021.

A large number of industry watchers and experts have examined this trend in great detail, and most if not all come to same conclusions, and that is that it is a direct result of rising health concerns, changing consumer behaviour and other factors, such as the introduction of the so-called ‘sugar tax’ on sugary drinks.

“The introduction of the ‘sugar tax’ in 2017 helped instigate several key developments within the food and drink industry,” states Rafael Rozenson, Founder of Vieve, a water-based protein drink that also happens to be the first sports nutrition product in the UK to be certified sugar free by Sugarwise. “First there was the almost immediate increase in media exposure surrounding sugar and its contribution to obesity and poor health. This is turn helped to force a number of companies to reformulate their products in a very public manner.”

Natural ingredients
The ‘sugar tax’ in of itself, however, represents just one of a number of events and changes that have helped shape the rapid rise of the health food and drink market. “The trends that we are seeing today reflect a greater lifestyle change that has been building over the past decade, one where consumers are striving to become healthier and more mentally balanced,” says Marina Diaz, Founder of PYPR Drinks, a brand of ‘mood enhancement’ beverages made using natural phytonutrients.

As a part of this movement, consumers are making better informed decisions about what they are putting into the bodies, something which Marina accepts presents a massive opportunity for brands. “People are very clearly choosing healthy options over unhealthy ones in increasing numbers, and this creates the chance for emerging brands to become not simply a niche product, but one that can become part of the identity of a generation, much in the same way that Coca Cola was to the 1950s and Red Bull was to the 2000s.”

As is typically the case with any emerging sector, it does not take long for it to become populated by a plethora of players, each offering their own product to try to appeal to the masses. As such the need to differentiate one’s self and to advertise the benefits of an individual brand is imperative if it wishes to capture a large share of the market.

“What we as a brand are trying to do with our products is offer an easy way for consumers to obtain their protein intake in a tastier, alternative way, while at the same time making sports nutrition more accessible,” Rafael reveals. “In the UK, it is estimated that less than a quarter of those who regularly exercise also use energy or sports nutrition products. Our task is to appeal to these consumers, many of which are also aware of the need to increase their own protein intake, and we are doing this by launching unique and intriguing products and flavours into the market. For example, we have recently unveiled the world’s first watermelon flavour protein product, which quickly became our top-seller after its launch.”

PYPR, meanwhile, has achieved strong growth by advertising the unique benefits of its phytonutrient ingredients, namely their ability to ‘reduce stress and anxiety, and enhance an overall positive mood’. “PYPR is also 100 per cent natural, with no artificial flavours or colour, and no added sugars,” Marina enthuses. “It is also high in antioxidants due to being made with blackcurrants, which are rich in vitamin C.”

Increasing demand
Carving out a space within a crowded environment is definitely an important battle to win, but what does a brand then have to do to become available to as many prospective consumers as possible? For Vieve, the product was initially launched online and sold through its own website and marketed at various tradeshows, and has since been carried in around 100 retail stores and chains across the UK, a figure it now wants to increase. A similar path is laid out for PYPR which, having targeted venues with the wellness sector, such as gyms and yoga studios, is now about to launch an online sales platform and is in positive discussions with several national retailers about establishing a bigger distribution platform.

What Rafael, Marina and their peers also agree upon is the fact that the demand for healthy nutritional products is here to stay. “The theme of health is not going to go away, and as people gain even more of an understanding of just how much the food and drink we consume contributes to our welfare, there will only be a greater demand for products such as ours,” Rafael highlights.

“The future prospects for the healthy drinks sector, and products such as ours are amazing,” Marina agrees. “We do not see this as being a trend or a fad, but rather a real change in lifestyle values and that is what is driving the sector forward.”