“We've done a lot of research into what the consumer is looking for when they come to the beverage section, and what they're looking for in terms of functional beverages. And we've seen obviously that kombucha is an amazing product that delivers a ton of benefits, but we're also seeing that there are opportunities to meet the consumer with other usage occasions and other formats,” brand CMO Charlotte Mostaed told FoodNavigator-USA
Delivering on gut health, low sugar
SunSip is a prebiotic soda that contains five grams of sugar from cane sugar and is sweetened with fruit juice and monk fruit. The beverage is available in four flavors — Raspberry Lemonade, Cherry Cola, Strawberry Vanilla, and Root Beer — and is available to purchase at Whole Foods stores and Health-Ade's website for an SRP of $2.49 a can.
The beverage is formulated with 2g of fiber from agave inulin fiber and apple cider vinegar for added gut-health benefits, Mostaed explained.
“Fiber, in general, is a way that consumers are helping to meet their digestive health needs. People know that having more fiber in their diet provides that prebiotic benefit the quote-unquote fuel for the healthy microbiota in your gut ... and that keeps your digestive system on track.”
Not only was it important to provide consumers with gut-health benefits, but Health-Ade also wanted to address consumer demands for low-sugar products, sweetened with natural sweeteners, Mostaed said.
“We've seen not only is sugar a growing concern for people as they think about their beverage consumption. It's actually the top concern for people consuming [carbonated soda drinks] (CSD). Forty-four percent of CSD drinkers are trying to cut back on their sugar. But also, the type of sweetener has become really important to people, and we've seen things in the news and obviously, from big research companies about the potential negative impacts of ... erythritol and other artificial sweeteners.”
'For some, kombucha will not ever be the solution'
SunSip's release comes amid increased competition in the gut-health beverage space, as gut-healthy soda alternatives like Olipop and Poppi have gained popularity and market share at a time when kombucha sales have lagged. Legacy kombucha company Brew Dr. made a similar move to Health-Ade by expanding into the adjacent sparkling water category with Sipjoy.
US kombucha sales came in at $705m, growing 2% in dollars, according to SPINS MULO data for the 52 weeks, ending Dec. 31, 2023. Soda with digestive health claims came in at a fraction with $7.8m but saw 301.5% in dollar growth for the same period.
Additionally, diet soda and those with alternative sweeteners or digestive health claims saw $332m in sales, growing 197.9% in dollars, and water non-carbonated flavored drinks achieved $24m in sales, growing 79.5% in dollars, according to SPINS data for the same timeframe.
When asked about how brands like Olipop and Poppi might have influenced this launch, Mostaed noted that the company has been actively exploring ways to expand beyond kombucha for the last five years.
“When we looked at kombucha and did the research with our consumers ... for some, kombucha will not ever be the solution that they want to take towards gut health. However, they do want healthier options in their mainstay beverages that they enjoy,” Mostaed said. “We've been looking at an opportunity to meet that need in a different format for several years, and we're excited that others are also on this path with us.”