EU Energy Drink Ban Ushers in Gentler, More Natural Formulations

Milder and healthier energy drinks are in demand in Europe, due to new regulations and consumer demand for clean label

KerryDigest Fast Facts:

  • A voluntary ban on energy drink sales to under-16s is inspiring the formulation of milder, less-caffeinated options.
  • When crafting new energy drink recipes, manufacturers are also responding to clean label concerns.
  • Consumers are already aware of several natural energy sources, including guarana and ginseng.
  • These are two of the five top new and emerging green and clean energy enhancing ingredients, each of which has unique attributes and production challenges.

KerryDigest Full Scoop:

Energy drink manufacturers are scrambling to create healthier, less intense beverages for the European market. The shift is due to a voluntary ban by supermarkets in the UK and Ireland on sales to children under 16 years of age of energy drinks containing more than 150mg of caffeine per litre—about the amount in a strong cup of coffee.  

This initiative was championed by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, a leading force behind sugar taxes, and supported by a 2016 study, which found that 68% of European youth and 18% of European children under age 10 consume energy drinks. According to the same report, energy drinks have been linked to stomach problems, sleep trouble and an increase in risky behaviour among young consumers.

Although the expected result of this grocery store ban is a crop if reformulated energy drinks with a milder jolt, the sentiment is inspiring a rebranding and rethinking of the energy drink market as a whole.

Energy Drinks Come Clean
“Clean label is in, and many of the big energy drinks are perceived as being full of chemicals,” says Mark Allen, Beverage Applications Manager for Kerry Europe. “People are more aware of these ingredients and don’t really trust them. They want to see something that’s more natural, such as plant extracts.”

For manufacturers seeking alternative and natural solutions, there are several obvious choices.

“Because ingredients such as gingko, guarana and ginseng are often added to energy drinks, they’re already thought of as energizers among a majority of consumers,” says Paul Villis, Innovation Manager, Beverage Applications, for Kerry Europe.

New formulations will continue to feature these ingredients on label callouts. But, because these ingredients generally don’t stimulate as much as caffeine, or are used in small enough quantities to fall under the new guidelines and be available to under-16s, drinks may sell the depiction of energy more than actual energy enhancement.

Regulations in Europe are vague regarding “energy drinks”, so even beverages with trace amounts of energy-boosting ingredients can be labeled as such. For instance, many new energy drinks get some of the added pep from fruit juice and B vitamins, ingredients the everyday health seeker considers to be refreshing and rejuvenating.

Despite the milder formulations designed in part for kids, this new wave of products are likely to appeal also to adult consumers because many of the natural extracts they contain are considered good for mental acuity and focus, the real end-goal for a majority of the category’s consumers. But this new trend in energy drinks also ties into the worldwide shift toward better-for-you and clean label, which may open the market to a new and untapped audience.

Natural Ingredients Provide Inspiration
Villis, Allen and their team are experimenting with several natural energy-boosting ingredients for crafting new beverage creations and existing beverage reformulations. Here are insights on five commonly requested ingredients, including technical insights on each. Currently in the EU you can make no claims about these botanicals, with the sole exception of caffeine level.

Ginseng: This root herb is grown around the world, including in the U.S. and Asia, with different varieties providing different health benefits. Studies suggest that Asian, or Panax ginseng can help boost mental and physical performance soon after consumption and may also have long-term effects on mental health. When adding ginseng to a beverage, be aware of the negative impact it can have on taste. Ginseng is bitter and has a metallic, stony herbal flavour.  

Guarana: The seeds of this climbing plant, which originated in Brazil, contain high naturally occurring levels of caffeine, estimated to be around four times stronger than that of coffee, plus other naturally occurring compounds that may enhance the energizing effects even more. Therefore, guarana should be used in small doses. When adding guarana to a beverage, keep in mind that it can be unstable because it is an extract system and can be prone to sedimentation.

Gingko Biloba: This tree, one of the oldest species on the planet, plays a vital role in Chinese medicine. Today, extract from the leaves are commonly used to treat a variety of physical and mental conditions, including dementia. As a beverage ingredient, ginkgo is relatively under-used and is not well known as an “energy” giving extract.

Yerba Mate: A South American species of holly, this plant contains small levels of naturally occurring caffeine in its leaves, which are often dried and brewed into a tea. Some research suggests this ingredient can help fight obesity. When added to an energy drink recipe, yerba mate has a very herbal taste which can limit the amount that is used in a typical beverage formula.

Green Tea: This common ingredient comes from the Chinese plant Camellia sinensis. Leaves that are steamed soon after harvest are considered “green tea” while ones that are allowed to oxidize are “black tea”. The plant is rich in flavonoids, which may also protect against cancer, according to some research, due to its reputed antioxidant properties. Green tea contains about 50% of the caffeine found in coffee, making it a natural fit for energy drinks. It has a fresh astringent taste that adds good complexity to flavour profiles, which is one reason it’s already popular in some adult soft drinks.

Kerry’s beverage applications team is here to partner on new and reformulated products, including energy drinks and reduced sugar offerings. To learn more, contact Kerry.

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