Targeting beverages for demographics

Brands can set themselves up for success by assessing the consumer market and determining what consumers desire from their beverages.

Cindy Hazen, Contributing editor

November 20, 2009

10 Min Read
Targeting beverages for demographics

In todays beverage wars, contenders are spread across the supermarket. They fill the dairy case and the juice aisle, the soft drink section and the beer coolers, and lets not forget the shelves containing coffee, tea or water selections. While competitors try to market to niche demographic groups, its important to also remember that threads of commonality can be found among even the most-diverse groups. Insights can be learned from all.


Nowadays, the market for people trying to manage cholesterol does not fall into a neat demographic age bucket, says Pam Stauffer, marketing programs manager, Cargill Health & Nutrition, Minneapolis. While high cholesterol continues to be an issue for the aging population, it also strikes even young children who also suffer from obesity.

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of beverages role in a healthy diet. For example, plant sterols and barley fiber are clinically shown to reduce LDL cholesterol and are backed by an FDA health claim, says Stauffer, and can be used to formulate drinks that can be enjoyed by the whole family or targeted to children, teens, parents or grandparents. Plant sterols are currently added to milk, orange juice and rice drinks.

Worldwide, moms are substituting more nutrient-dense offerings for high-caloric choices. Doug Edmonson, director of technology, Sensient Food Colors, St. Louis, finds the biggest trend coming from Europe is more naturally formulated beverages, using natural colors and flavors, replacing high-fructose corn syrup with other healthy sugars, and lowering the calories per serving. The trend for health and wellness appears to be strongest for children, and adults 35 and over.

Weight control crosses all demographics. For men and women, this can mean fortifying products with ingredients designed to increase satiety or boost metabolism, says Donna Hansee, director of marketing, Wild Flavors, Inc., Erlanger, KY. For children, this means developing products around reduced and healthy sugars, and paying attention to portion size for beverages. All-natural, no-calorie sweeteners like stevia are driving many low-calorie developments targeted to all demographics. Fiber in beverages enhances satiety while contributing to digestive health.

Soft drinks, long seen as contributors of empty calories, are becoming sources of sustainable energy. This is due to the combination of an aging population and longer working hours, says Ram Chaudhari, Ph.D., FACN, CNS, senior executive vice president, chief scientific officer, Fortitech, Schenectady, NY. Immunity is also becoming a major trend in soft drinks due to the increasing number of people concerned about their overall health. Satiety is, and will continue to be, a very popular trend in next-generation weight-management soft drinks due to the high levels of obesity across the United States, as well as the rest of the world. Good-for-you soft drinks are seeing a huge increase in their popularity, with bottled water, RTD tea and coffee and juices set to benefit from this trend.

Edmonson notes that teens and young adults are looking for drinks that can energize them throughout the day.

Shot-type beverages are moving beyond the energy market that has mostly targeted males in the mid-teens to late twenties and are entering the areas of cardiovascular health, immunity/digestive health, stress management, bone and joint health, and nutricosmetics/inner beauty, says Chaudhari. This is fueling condition-specific marketing strategies for these products.

Contributing calcium

Bone health is another claim with cross-demographic appeal. Calcium helps develop healthy bones in children and teens. In adults, it helps prevent osteoporosis and promotes joint health. Yet, according to Amr Shaheed, technical sales and services manager, beverages, Innophos, Cranbury, NJ, calcium phosphates may have different properties, and what works for one beverage might not be suitable for another. For example, in clear beverages, a soluble form of calcium is necessary to maintain clarity of the product, and it has to have minimal to no effect on the flavor and color profiles of the finished products, he says. For neutral-pH beverages, which include dairy and soy drinks, an insoluble calcium source is essential to avoid coagulation of the protein of the drinks, which will lead to instability of the beverages.

Innophos offers calcium-phosphate products that are designed for all beverage applications. Their tiny particle size enhances distribution and is undetectable in the mouth. In clear, acidified beverages, a soluble form of calcium that does not affect the stability or taste of the finished product is essential, Shaheed says. In acidified fruit drinks, this offers reduced buffering capacity, which allows higher fortification of calcium into those drinks with a minimal amount of acid used to optimize the formula to its desired pH, he says.

While calcium carbonate is perhaps the most cost-effective source of calcium, its flavor can be chalky and its mouthfeel can be gritty, says Chaudhari. This can also be a problem for dicalcium phosphate. Some of these processing issues can be prevented if a blend of calcium sources is used instead of a single source, he says. In addition, these calcium salts are not very soluble; therefore, it is desirable to add calcium citrate or organic acid to improve solubility. To get the most out of these salts, a manufacturer has to decrease the pH to solubilize, which causes absorption to increase. Generally, more absorption requires soluble calcium salts, he says, but there are advantages and disadvantages to either soluble or insoluble forms. For example, calcium gluconate is soluble, but it may interact with other ingredients in the product and impact flavor.

Targeting flavor and color

Flavors and colors are key drivers of demographic appeal. From a flavor standpoint, the biggest trend in beverage innovation is the drive to actually create flavors tailored to the target demographic, rather than modifying just the marketing message, says Hanse. Women tend to prefer flavors with deep berry, and sometimes herbal or floral, characteristics. Developments for men include building on popular flavors like cola or citrus punch. Older adults want flavors with a lot of impact that arent necessarily kid-like or candy-like. New offerings for kids beverages are centered around natural, juicy, fruit profiles, and not necessarily artificial-fruit types.

The totality of the beverage product is very important in selecting the right flavor. Processing parameters, sweetening and fortification all play a huge role in flavor choice, Hanse says. Of course, some flavor types work better in various beverage fortification and processing environments. Depending on the target market, product claims, shelf life and storage parameters, beverage scientists and flavor chemists work together to create the right blend of flavors and flavor modifiers.

Natural colors are increasingly important in beverage development. Today, a wider range of stable natural colors for beveragesincluding naturally derived, acid-stable blueis available, Hanse says. In the natural ingredient area, flavor development is no longer limited by the availability of specific natural shades.

Edmonson notes that its important to select the colorant based upon the shade required and the formulation constraints. Colors can be impacted by a number of factors in the formulation and processing of beverage systems that create challenges for both the flavorist and colorist. The level of ascorbic acid improves the stability of yellow and orange shades colored with beta carotene and other carotenoids while it bleaches anthocyanin colors from red to nearly clear over time, he says. Both heat during processing and heat and light during distribution may degrade the color, and many bottlers combat this storage degradation with UV-protected labels. Higher pH levels also destabilize the anthocyanins from red to blue to clear in highly alkaline systems. Finally, color and flavor emulsion systems must be compatible, or one or more components of these additives will precipitate or cause bottle ringing.

According to Hanse, consumers sometimes opt for organic drinks without any color. Bottled waters, low-calorie vitamin waters and other healthy drink choices, like RTD tea and fruit juices, are replacing carbonated beverages. Many of these healthy alternative drinks are naturally colored and/or flavored, she says.

Floral flavors offer a natural fit in functional beverages such as waters, green teas or black teas. Lavender, hibiscus, rose water and jasmine are possibilities to entice female beverage buyers. Weve seen more interest with adults, but not necessarily upscale, says Anton Angelich, group vice president, marketing, Virgina Dare, Brooklyn, NY. Its just another sensory sensation. People think of florals as being from naturehealthy and natural. Theyre very delicate, so you need to put it into something like green tea, which will allow the floral notes to come through.

Hibiscus has long been used in Latin American countries in making tea or agua frescas.

Hispanic flair

In designing beverages for the Hispanic market, its important to remember there really isnt just one market. There are many subsegments in the Hispanic population, and a lot of degrees of evolution, says Angelich. You cant generalize and say all things are Hispanic.

Nonetheless, there are commonalities. Angelich suggests Hispanic or Caribbean products are designed to appeal to the entire family. Caribbean products tend to be sweeter than you find in other places, he says. That has been attributed to a lot of different reasons. There is so much sugar cane available. Its an abundant source of energy, so people could get good energy for their daily work. he says.

Hispanic immigrants bring flavor preferences for certain citrus and mango-type fruit beverages. They also have a heritage of more modern-day consumer products, for carbonated beverages, and things like pineapple soda and kola champagne, Angelich says. When they come to the United States and resettle here, they often go back to those products, because theyre available in a lot of urban centers where a lot of the immigrants situate themselves. Once here, in a vast consumer economy where there are many, many choicesthe average supermarket has something like 32,000 productsthere are a lot more soft drinks available. They start to expand that with new things theyve never seen or heard of before, like root beer, ginger ale and all kinds of things that are much more popular here.

Immigrants assimilate into the American world, but their children and grandchildren often go back to their roots and experiment with things the previous generation consumed when they first got here or consumed in the old country.

Two-way migration also exerts an influence. Transportation to the home country is easier than in generations past, and people often come to America for shorter periods before returning home. There are places in the Caribbean and Latin America where people have spent a lot of time in Wisconsin or Connecticut and know American products pretty well, Angelich says. They got used to them, liked and want them, he notes. You never saw iced tea or ready-to-drink tea or bottled energy drinks in those markets that are now there. There is a translation of American things into those markets because of exposure in a small world. Product preference also varies with exposure. The widespread availability of the Internet increases awareness of different products.

Likewise, many beverages now migrate across demographics. While certain flavors, colors and functionalities appeal to certain population groups, the key to winning the beverage wars may lie in recognizing that were more alike than different, especially when it comes to the desire for health and simple pleasures.

Cindy Hazen, a 20-year veteran of the food industry, is a freelance writer based in Memphis, TN. She can be reached at [email protected].

Top beverage picks


Among the sea of beverages on store shelves, consumers are keeping a keen eye out for two qualities in particular, according to the Beverage Trends: Culinary Trend Mapping Report from the Center for Culinary Development, San Francisco, and Packaged Facts, Rockville, MD. Topping the list are better-for-you beverages, including those with a nutritional boost, as well as holistic wellness beverages. Also making it into the cart are beverages with a perception of quality, including organic, local, artisan-made, and retro and/or nostalgic beverages.

The Editors

About the Author(s)

Cindy Hazen

Contributing editor

Cindy Hazen has more than 25 years of experience developing seasonings, dry blends, beverages and more. Today, when not writing or consulting, she expands her knowledge of food safety as a food safety officer for a Memphis-based produce distributor.

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