Exploring the botanicals trend in food and drink

14 July 2021, 11:42 AM
  • Botanicals are growing in popularity thanks to their association with sustainable credentials, natural flavours and health benefits. How can retailers cash in?
Exploring the botanicals trend in food and drink

Previously reserved for herbal teas or gin distilleries, botanicals are now growing in popularity throughout the food and drink sector. Beloved by customers for their authentic flavours, sustainable connotations and perceived health benefits, there has been a spike in products boasting botanical ingredients.

The global market for botanical food and beverages is booming, with Zion Research predicting it will reach $1,489bn by 2025, and a survey across Europe by ingredients expert Kerry found that 69% of consumers reported purchasing a product containing botanicals in the past week. Speciality Food explores what’s behind this trend…

What are botanicals?

A botanical is an ingredient derived from a plant which is valued for its therapeutic properties, flavour or scent, according to the US National Institutes of Health. Botanicals include herbs and spices, but also products like ginseng and guarana, which are created from the roots and seeds of plants, and flowers, such as passionflower, chamomile or lavender.

Why are botanicals popular?

According to Kerry, botanicals are associated by consumers with “premium” ingredients, and they also add an authentic taste to products thanks to their natural origins. They are particularly popular among consumers who are seeking out clean label and sustainable ingredients.

Botanicals also play into a growing desire for food and drinks that provide a ‘sensory experience’, according to ingredients brand Euroma, due to their aromatic nature.

Perhaps most of interest to modern consumers, however, are the functional and health benefits which botanicals are prized for. Kerry’s European survey found that 83% of consumers believe botanicals offer health benefits, and 81% said they provide additional nutritional benefits.

Thanks to their association with a multitude of benefits, Kerry found that 75% of consumers expect botanical products to cost more.

Where are botanicals used?

In alcoholic beverages, gin is a natural fit. Typically made with botanicals including juniper and citrus, producers are getting more experimental with ingredients like bergamot, yuzu or cherry blossom. Secret Garden Distillery has leaned into the health angle with products including Apothecary Rose Gin and Elderflower & Jasmine Gin, both of which are made with botanicals grown and harvested on the distillery’s own garden in Edinburgh. But rum is also capitalising on botanicals, with Spirited Union aiming to “create union between the vast and colourful world of botanicals” to produce its range of naturally flavoured rums.

Ready-to-drink cans have also jumped on the botanical trend – seltzer brand Something & Nothing has created a French Rosé + Hibiscus & Rose Seltzer Spritz which aims to blend “quality French wines with refreshing, balanced botanicals, juices and extracts”. But non-alcoholic spirits also offer opportunities for stocking botanical products, from Sea Arch, which uses a blend of 11 seaside botanicals, to Happy Inside’s botanical-laced gut-health boosting drinks or Firefly Drinks’ refreshing beverages made with botanical extracts.

Herbal teas also feature highly for their use of botanical ingredients which boast associated health and wellness benefits, such as calming teas with lavender and passionflower or immune-boosting blends with ginger and turmeric.

While botanical ingredients are most strongly associated with drinks, confectionery, dairy and bakery products also present opportunities, according to Kerry.

Which botanicals should I look out for?

According to Euroma, the top botanicals to seek out are:

    • Yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit with a “lemony” flavour, which can be added to sauces, soups and desserts
    • Poppy seed, which offers a rich, roasted flavour
    • Sumac, a spice that gives food a fresh, sharp zing, which Euroma says is great for providing a sweet-sour balance
    • Lemongrass, which provides a lemon flavour that is already widely used in Indonesian and Thai cuisine
    • Elderflower, which is sweetly scented and popular in desserts or gin
    • Pandan leaf, which offers a nutty, roasted flavour

Meanwhile, in Europe, Kerry found that fruit, cocoa, vanilla, coffee, tea and floral botanicals were the flavour profiles that consumers preferred. Other popular botanical ingredients include turmeric, yerba mate, hibiscus and ashwagandha.

By keeping a close eye on food and drink products that contain these trending botanicals, retailers can ensure they stay at the forefront of consumer demand.

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