Consumers Thirst for Unsweetened Beverages Unquenched.

It has been well documented that reducing consumption of sweetened beverages can have a positive impact on your health. In the InterAct Study conducted by the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPCI) in 2015, a relationship was found between the consumption of sugar sweetened drinks and type 2 diabetes. Other health risks sited by the Rhode Island Department of Health include obesity, tooth decay and heart disease. Personally, as the parent of a 1st Grader starting a new school year, my concern centers around the beverages options served within our school district which includes a variety of flavored milk like chocolate, strawberry, vanilla and even banana. It seems there are limitless options when it comes to sugar sweetened beverages; so what’s the alternative?

At 360 Market Reach, we focus on helping clients gather consumer insights to make data driven decisions. We also have a particular focus on the All-Natural & Organic Food & Beverage sector. Our approach centers around developing 2-way communication with consumers to deeply understand what drives them through their Customer Decision Journey. A couple of weeks ago, we decided to field a short poll to members of our All-Natural & Organics Insights Community. We were not surprised to find that interest among this target group was very high (81% Top 2 Box) in unsweetened beverages. Clearly among this discerning consumer group the message about sweetened vs. unsweetened beverages has been received and embraced. The surprise to us however was that while interest in unsweetened beverages was high, the level of satisfaction was surprisingly low (50% Top 2 Box) compared to their interest level. This leaves the question as to why with all the products on the market now, why isn’t there greater satisfaction

Our next step in the exploration of this topic was the fielding of a forum discussion within the All-Natural & Organics community. We find that this 2-way communication can fill in gaps in our understanding of consumer preferences. Topics also get uncovered within the community that we never anticipated during the design phase of a study. Over a 5-day period, community members discussed the topic with one another. The overarching theme was that despite the fact that these members are already buying and seeking out all-natural and organic products, they still feel there is a limited number of products and flavors within the unsweetened beverage category. My hypothesis is that this finding would only be amplified among a general population of consumers.

One of our community members’ Katie commented “I see a lack of flavors for unsweetened varieties. I like a large assortment as not to get tired whether it is flavored waters to coffee, tea, and juices. I would love to see more combination flavors and am obsessed with pomegranate at the moment.”

Other members talked about the feeling they get drinking different kinds of beverages. A community member Chris said “There are just not enough unsweetened beverages that make me say I want that now and after purchase feel like it something that gives me immediate gratification. Sweet beverages tend to be that way because they are sweet and feel like a treat.”

The ingredients used in the beverages was also a key topic of discussion.  Another community member said, “I think there needs to be more fruit flavors without any added sweeteners in all beverages. The flavor of the fruit alone should be savored and contain a natural amount of sugar without anything else added!” Sharon talked about enjoyed sweet beverages but is looking for natural sweeteners, she said “Sometimes, I do prefer a sweetened drink, but it's very hard to find one that is naturally sweetened - like with Stevia and ONLY Stevia. I wish there were more drinks that were sweetened with Stevia and only Stevia.” Sharon also talked about unsweetened drinks she enjoys but would still like more variety “Having said that, one of my favorite unsweetened drinks is Pure Leaf Tea. However, to my point, they only offer unsweetened black tea, unsweetened green tea or unsweetened black tea with lemon, at least from what I've seen in the store.  A few other options as far as flavors would be nice.”

The challenge that faces manufacturers is building compelling messaging that resonates with consumers and then deliver a product line that meets the need and tastes good. Through our All Natural/Organic Community research, we understand the specific challenges that natural/organic products face in building an image of having good taste and being healthy.

While this research was exploratory in nature, the takeaway is that demand for unsweetened beverages does seem to be at least partially unmet. This can present an opportunity for new products to enter the market and/or an opportunity for marketers to promote awareness of those already existing unsweetened beverages products.