The trending hot drinks where comfort meets function

01 December 2021, 09:16 AM
  • The challenges of Covid have brought to light the importance of health and happiness, and these two factors are key to the hot drinks opportunity
The trending hot drinks where comfort meets function

While the Covid pandemic seems to have calmed into a sense of normality for many of us, there are elements of its influence that are still being experienced as strongly as they have been since the start of 2020. Comfort and functionality may not appear to be natural bedfellows, but in British shopping habits they were two of the strongest trends the food industry witnessed. Hot drinks offer an opportunity for independent retailers to engage with both of these consumer wants, and the great news is that you can tick both traditional and trend boxes while you’re at it.

According to research conducted by FMCG Gurus, the new ‘holistic’ approach to life and health has been accelerated by the onset of the pandemic; according to spokesperson Will Cowling, consumers are “recognising that all aspects of health are interlinked.”

Their research found that functional hot drinks are a solid proposition for retailers looking to the future, with 45% of consumers interested in hot drinks offering benefits around sleep, and 55% attracted to hot drinks boasting skincare improvement claims. The study also uncovered some opportunities which as yet are not being tapped for their full potential; 36% of shoppers would like to see more hot drinks demonstrate digestive health benefits, while 35% said they would appreciate hot beverages which offered cognitive health improvement.

According to Will, “This highlights an opportunity for brands and manufacturers to position hot drink products aiding a number of different health issues, as consumers actively seek our products that can boost their health even if not currently suffering from any illness.”

The health opportunity

Bone broth has been a popular trend across social media and the wellness sphere for a few years now, but Covid is bringing its unique combination of health credentials and delicious flavour into the mainstream – making winter 2021 the perfect time to explore this tasty trend.

“With the global pandemic shining a strong spotlight on the importance of good health and wellbeing, and bone broth enjoying a string of claimed health benefits (including aiding digestion and improving gut health, boosting immunity and as a beauty elixir to promote strong hair, nails and young-looking skin), the buoyant broth market is estimated to grow over 3.5% CAGR between 2020 and 2026,” explains Daniel Adams, managing director of Bone Broth Bros.

Thanks to its ‘superfood’ credentials – bone broth is said to be nutritionally-rich, containing high levels of protein and collagen and gluten-free – and its impressively simple production – imagine the contents of a bubbling broth pot condensed down – the product also bridges the attractive gap between the growing health functionality opportunity and artisan food; something which currently only a limited number of products on the market can claim to do.

“Stocking products that are moving from being niche health products to more widely enjoyed functional health products is a great way to drive sales with individuals that are looking for hot drink options that aren’t just about comfort or caffeine,” he continues. ‘Functionality’ is a term bandied about a lot in the food and drink industry right now, particularly in the start-up arena, but what does it actually mean? “We describe functional drinks as those blended or infused with an additional ingredient that elevates their original property to serve an additional benefit or purpose,” explains James Wright, owner of Cheerful Buddha. “For example, CBD-infused coffee elevates standard coffee by reducing the negative effects caffeine can cause – such as anxiety – creating a calmer clarity and focus.”

Making wellness convenient (and tasty)

While some of us are happy to carve out additional time to invest in stronger health and wellbeing, for a great number of British consumers the easier it is to adopt healthy habits the better. “We all know that creating a new routine or behaviour into our daily lives is incredibly difficult, requiring some serious effort, dedication and willpower.

Therefore, infusing additional functionality into hot drinks we consume on a daily basis like coffee, in a delicious and great tasting way, makes it much easier to enjoy and feel the benefits,” he continues. CBD was the perfect health and wellness product to give the functional drink treatment. “Having been fans of using CBD for a while we were frustrated with a number of things relating to our CBD wellness routine,” says James.

“Firstly, the taste of CBD isn’t very nice, so using tinctures wasn’t a routine we looked forward to. Secondly, taking a tincture of CBD every day was another thing to remember to do in our vitamin and supplement routine which was getting too long! We thought of adding it to our morning coffee to save the hassle, but obviously oil and water don’t mix, so not only did it leave a horrible film on the top of our Americano, but the CBD taste also ruined our coffee! Thus our challenge was born… To make a great tasting CBD coffee infusion.”

For Twist Teas founder Claire Ayres, tea was the optimum vehicle for functionality. “Gone are the days of simply adding boiling water and a dash of milk to a dusty, mass-produced tea bag,” she begins. “Health-conscious consumers are far savvier and more aware now than ever of the effect of what they eat and drink does to themselves and the environment.”

Of course, if you’re looking to sell a new type of product it’s important to know who might buy it. Twist Teas have found that it is younger generations driving the charge. “Millenials and Gen Zs are keen to try teas that have proven health benefits, and consumers of all ages are following fast in their footsteps.” That’s why the business developed its Functional Teas range: “aimed at helping people to perform at their peak throughout the day. Whether you drink tea to energise in the morning, to detox throughout the day, to revive after a workout, or to have a restful night’s sleep, Twist has a tea to suit every requirement.”

The evolution of comforting classics

While functionality is a key element of shoppers’ checklists right now, arguably comfort is top of the pile – as it has been for a long time. And, in the absence of coffee shops during the first couple of lockdowns in the UK, customers developed an appreciation for at-home hot drink indulgence that looks as though it’s here to stay.

“Over the last 18 months many consumers, unable to get a proper coffee out of home, and having more time on their hands, have upgraded to roast and ground coffee at home. Whilst many people’s lives are now getting busier, many are continuing to enjoy the habits they formed during the slower pace of life throughout the pandemic. With winter fast approaching too, customers will appreciate a good selection of warming, classic coffees,” explains Helen Boulter, multi sector sales controller at Taylors of Harrogate.

According to Helen, roast and ground coffee is growing faster than any other sector within hot beverages – and ground coffee makes up 64% of these sales. “At Taylors of Harrogate, we’re dedicated to producing the best coffee there is and a much loved and popular classic in our range is our Rich Italian blend. With notes of dark chocolate and almonds, it’s the perfect comforting, cosy coffee,” says Helen.

Of course, it’s important for Speciality Food readers to continue to satisfy the needs of their customers, whether they’re back to the pre-pandemic pace or still slowed down due to Covid but wanting to enjoy great coffee without hassle. “Coffee Bags, worth £13m – up 46% YOY2 and growing, are perfect for these consumers and ideal for cold winter days on the move,” suggests Helen. “Taylors of Harrogate Coffee Bags contain fresh roast and ground coffee and work just like a tea bag, brewing in just two minutes, making it easy to enjoy a delicious cup of coffee – all that’s needed is a kettle.”

When it comes to selling coffee to fine food consumers, it’s important to know the difference between ‘blends’ and ‘single origin’. According to Victoria Cozens, co-founder of London-based roasters Perky Blenders, blending different coffee beans together can result in tailored flavour profiles which remain consistent over time, even if the elements change slightly.

“Not all coffees are equal and coffee producers around the world produce different styles, flavours and levels of quality,” she explains. “By blending different styles of coffees we can achieve taste profiles that would not be possible from a single origin coffee. This opens up a world of possibilities and keeps it fun for us at the Roastery!”

In terms of single origin coffees worth selling, Perky Blenders look for “complex coffees that can stand on their own and display layered flavours,” Victoria explains. “Single origins tend to lend themselves to more experienced coffee drinkers who like to taste the expression of a specific terroir, varietal, fermentation or post-harvest processing.” Ideal for self-described foodies, “they tend to be more adventurous as there are so many different producers around the world, all with their specific style and markers. It takes time, dedication, and a keen sense of taste to discover them all.”

Whether you’re catering for comfort-seeking shoppers with a quality take on storecupboard staples or exploring the functional opportunity, now is the time to take stock of the hot drinks on your shelves; by getting the balance right you’ll be able to quench the thirst of your evolving customer base.

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