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Coffee gets a functional makeover

From the May 2018 issue.

From protein and probiotics to cannabis and extra caffeine, brands are enhancing their roasts to cater to consumers in the expanding functional beverage category.

For Andrew Aamot and Kevin Crowley, the choice to produce ‘functional’ coffee was a matter of differentiation in a crowded market. For Jordan, Jake and Jim DeCicco, it meant filling a need that the market wasn’t currently serving. And for Morgan and Andrew Iwersen, it was entering a new market to diversify their business.

All three coffee brands created very different products for very different reasons, but they’re tapping into the same trend, one that has been gaining momentum in the wider beverage industry and the coffee industry in particular – a demand for healthy, functional beverages.

Although coffee is increasingly being named as a functional natural beverage as more and more scientific research is released that confirms its varied health benefits, true functional coffee is comprised of products, such as coffee grounds or ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages, that have been fortified with vitamins or minerals that didn’t already exist in the coffee.

Rather than simply touting coffee’s existing health benefits, these coffee entrepreneurs are going a step further to create functional coffee beverages with added nutrients.

“The big trend in American drinks these days is a shift toward healthier products,” says Matthew Barry, senior beverage analyst at Euromonitor. “People are looking for more from their drinks. They want those functional benefits as part of a healthier lifestyle. It’s not just a coffee thing, but rather a larger beverage trend that is also affecting coffee.”

He references other categories in the beverage industry catering to this shift in consumer preferences, such as fortified waters, kombucha, tea, and energy and protein drinks with less sugar. As consumers look for healthier versions of their favourite drinks, “every food and beverage manufacturer is quickly trying to create healthy, functional products to claim their share of the consumer’s stomach,” says Spencer Turer, Vice President at Coffee Enterprises, a coffee business consulting company.

Market research firm Technavio forecasts the global functional food and beverage market to increase a strong 7.8 per cent per year on average through 2021. While that data represents functional food products, too, growth is also strong across beverages.

Considering that 64 per cent of consumers drink coffee daily, according to the National Coffee Association’s National Coffee Drinking Trends (NCDT) report released in 2018, coffee is an obvious beverage candidate for enhancement, especially with its expanding list of existing health benefits.

Explains Dr Mark Corey, the NCA’s new Director of Scientific Affairs & Project Management, “Many consumers drink coffee daily, so [functional coffee] is an easy way for them to get additional nutritional benefits because it’s easy to incorporate into their diet.”

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