That is the view of the Scientific and Regulatory Affairs Manager at Frucor Suntory, Dr Lesley Stevenson, who delivered the keynote presentation at our final Positive Nutrition Interactive Broadcast on better-for-you beverages, which can be viewed on demand here.
She highlighted how firms need to be aware of the different regulations and permissions needed to innovate with healthier beverages, especially for the non-homogenous APAC region. This also applies to the ability to make claims and using sugar reduction tools.
“There is a lack of harmonisation across the APAC region and the world. What you do in the US may not necessarily be allowed say in Europe, Australia or New Zealand.
“This is the barrier, but it is also an opportunity because you need to plan and do your due diligence and never make any assumptions.
“If the size of the opportunity is big enough, you need to have a proactive strategy in the regulatory space, make applications and go through the processes. It’s not straightforward because consumer safety is behind this thoroughness,” said Dr Stevenson.
She cited the example of using the rare sugar called allulose in beverages.
According to her, allulose has already been approved for use by the US FDA, specifically for US consumers. It is attractive to manufacturers because it would not be declared under “total added sugar”.
However, it has not been approved for use in the European, Australian and New Zealand markets, she said.
Dr Stevenson also highlighted three key demands for the APAC beverage market, which are lower sugar content, increasing fruit and vegetable intake and becoming a source for vitamins and minerals.
Markets like Vietnam, China, Indonesia and the Philippines usually look for vitamins in the beverages, whereas Thailand and Japan are inclined to adding more fruits and vegetables to their consumption.
Meanwhile, Singapore is aiming for less sugar products on its shelves, she said, referencing a survey done in 2021.
“Positive ingredients and nutrition is not only about adding functional food, but has a positive contribution to the consumers’ diet as well as adding to consumer enjoyment and experience. You have to do a lot of work to be appealing to customers,” said Dr Stevenson.
Another trend that she observed was the emergence of nootropics to improve cognitive functions like memory and adaptogens for broader benefits. A common adaptogen is actually ginseng, she added.
Categories of beverages have seemed to converge too, like non-alcoholic beers with added vitamin D, juices with probiotics or juices with added vitamin C. These can be highlighted to the consumer using methods like clean labelling.
“Overall, I think that things will change, but the rate of change in the space is driven by regulatory environment and the markets where you want to launch your innovation,” she said.
Overcoming challenges to replace sugar
SweeGen and Kerry Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa, the Diamond sponsors for this event, echoed similar sentiments with Dr Stevenson on the challenges befalling the functional beverages sector.
Imtiaz Chaglani, the director of business development for SweeGen, and Harsch Koshti, the marketing director for Kerry, spoke about objectives to be achieved for the healthier beverages, such as nutrient content, sustainability, sugar reduction, availability and uncompromised taste.
One strategy to overcome such challenges was to transfer knowledge and expertise, especially when dealing with additional ingredients and methods like bitter-blockers and taste modulation.
“There is a no one-size-fits-all method for these challenges. In the markets today, we can see a single brand with different variants for different markets,” said Chaglani.
Koshti also highlighted that the innovations might alter the beverage product, for better (adding botanicals or probiotics) or worse (bitterness, astringency and other factors); hence, beverage companies must understand the formulation and flavour profiles properly.
Koshti then identified China and Australia as the two best markets to penetrate if a firm has innovative beverage products.
“For China and Australia, they are open to good innovation – they moved from flavoured water to flavoured functional water,” said Koshti.
‘Pouring’ over the future and trends of functional beverages
After the three presentations, webcast participants were invited to participate in a panel discussion hosted by NutraIngredients-Asia editor Koe Tingmin.
Alongside Koshti, two additional panellists were invited to share their experiences in beverage innovation – the co-founder of Soynergy, Dr Jing Lin, and CEO and founder of Savvy Beverage, Mark Curry.
During the 45-minute discussion, the three panellists generally agreed that functional beverages must match the taste and quality of what people have been traditionally consuming.
They agreed the most robust market to watch out for in Asia is still China.
Additionally, Curry believed in the magnificent market potential for nootropics and adaptogens, which will optimise functionality.
However, he cautioned that an issue would be the dosage, which manufacturers might scrimp on the actual beneficial and functional ingredients.
“It is only worthwhile if you provide the consumer with the right dose,” said Curry.
Curry, Koshti and Dr Jing also emphasised the importance of creating new perceptions, feelings and experiences for the consumer as they try innovative beverages.
Koshti even summarised future trends through the achievement of four ‘A’s: acceptability, affordability, availability and addressability.
“APAC and EMEA covers 80% of the world’s market and spans all age groups. Each group have health needs to be fulfilled,” he said.