“The beverage category is evolving so quickly that it is a challenge to pinpoint which trends matter most,” and which ones are merely flashes-in-the-pan that will be gone by the time a new product is developed and launched, according Google trends brand strategist Yarden Horwitz and trends data scientist Olivier Zimmer.
But, by using Google search data from April 2015 to March 2017 and considering the seasonal effect of consumer searches along with the queries’ year-over-year growth, velocity and acceleration for each search, the duo separated three long-lasting beverage trends from other short-fused fads in the latest Beverage Trends Report from Think with Google.
These include minimal processing and earthy flavors as two “seasonal risers,” which are cyclical but are likely to come back stronger each time, and premium water, which is a “sustained riser,” meaning that it has gathered steam steadily over the past years is a “safe bet” for future growth.
Process becomes primary
Taking a look at the first trend, a 41% increase in searches related to beverage processing, show how a drink is made is just as important as what is in it, according to the report.
“Whether it’s driven by health, taste or connoisseurship, we see growing interest in beverages that are defined by the key process through which they are made,” Horwitz and Zimmer say in the report.
The top trending process-led beverages in the US are related to cold brew coffee, nitro coffee, raw juice, cold brew tea, infused water and other variants on cold brewed beverages, according to Google search data.
Taking a closer look at cold brew, data shows that consumer interest in the method began in 2012 with do-it-yourself related searches climbing steadily for the next three years. In 2015, mainstream retail brands began jumping on the trend, driving spikes in searchers for cold brew and where to find it in stores.
Interestingly, as this market matures, Google data shows searches for DIY cold brew continue to rival retail brand related searches – but they are done at different times of day. DIY searches tend to happen more at night, while retail related searches spike around 2 pm.
Horwitz and Zimmer suggest there are several lessons learned from these findings. One is that associating a brand with DIY is a way to build credibility around authenticity. Another is that the marketing efforts should be targeted to the right time – so that ready-to-drink advertising peaks in the afternoon and at-home kits in the evening.
The third take-away is the idea that highlighting process can drive consumer interest and help shoppers recognize extra value in a beverage, which is a notion that both resonated and aggravated Natalie Sexton, the director at Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Company.
Sexton agrees that consumers have become extremely educated and want to know more about how the products they buy are made and sourced, but at the same time she says most shoppers don’t fully understand high pressure processing or cold-pressed pasteurization versus ultra-pasteurization or gourmet pasteurization.
“They’re not educated in-depth to know what they all mean and how they all affect the quality of the product, and that to me is a problem because you see the trends in cold-pressed and the consumer thinks, ‘Well, I’ve heard that cold pressed is better,’ so they buy it, but they don’t understand what it really means” and if it is better or worse than another method, she said.
She explains that her juices are gourmet processed, which she says is a minimal as it gets and therefore preserves maximum nutrient and enzymatic activity, but most consumers are not as familiar with it as they are the term HPP. She adds that she worries consumers are reaching for HPP when they think it offers the benefits of gourmet pasteurization.
As such, she suggests, “there needs to be a more in depth knowledge on what the pros and cons are about each processing method” and how it impacts the product, rather than pitting one method against another as better or worse.
Earthy flavors are on the rise
An outgrowth of the plant-based movement is increasing interest in earthy and floral flavors as illustrated by a 25% increase in searches around these taste profiles, Google search data suggests.
Specifically, it lists kombucha, matcha, oolong tea, chamomile tea, turmeric, ginger, green tea and hibiscus as top searches in the US.
Of these, ginger is growing exponentially at about 30% year over year, according to the report, which adds much of the growth can be attributed to ginger tea, beer and ale – demand for which is growing 32% year-over-year. Ginger infusions, juices and water also are up 70% year-over-year.
One company hoping to tap into this growing demand is Brooklyn Crafted, which launched a line of extra spicy ginger beer and sugar free ginger ale this summer in response to consumer demand for bolder flavors and a largely untapped demand for sugar-free options. The products also are set apart from the competition because they have real ginger pieces in each bottle.
“Ginger is such a popular ingredient because consumers are familiar with it,” and because it is associated with health benefits, Garlim Zhou from BCGA Concept Corp. told FoodNavigator-USA.
Zhou added that the brand’s experience with ginger closely aligns with the Google Trends’ beverage report’s findings and that, as suggested in the report, the brand will soon pair ginger with other flavors. Top pairings for the US are blackberry, lemon, honey and turmeric, according to the report.
Premium water gains traction
Finally, a 24% increase in searches for bottled water show that consumers increasingly want safe, clean and accessible water options to help them stay hydrated, according to the report.
The demand for water tends to fall in two camps: quality and quantity.
On the quantity side, consumers are seeking water sold in larger packages, for delivery or as filter systems, the report notes. For these shoppers, safety call-outs resonate well as do marketing messages around the process for filtering the water.
On the quality side, consumers are seeking premium water related largely to boosting alkalinity, adding carbonation or using premium water bottles, the report found.