Rising demands for legislation on artificial caffeine is coinciding with growing consumer interest in caffeine substitutes, “especially in products positioned as natural or herbal/traditional,” according to Chris Schmidt from Euromonitor.
Last year Lithuania banned the sale of high-energy caffeine drinks to under-18s while European FIC health warnings are now mandatory on drinks containing more than 150mg of caffeine per litre.
Although this legislation also applies to natural sources of caffeine, botanical energy stimulants do not necessarily have to be caffeine-free to still appeal to consumers, as naturally-occurring caffeine do not seem to have the negative associations that artificially added caffeine does.
“Companies are increasingly positioning ingredients like green tea extract, green coffee bean extract, guarana, and yerba mate as powerful, natural sources of energy,” Schmidt said.
“While all of these ingredients rely on their natural caffeine content to provide energy, this reality seems lost on many consumers.”
According to Mintel data, only 5% of sports and energy drinks launches in 2013 featured the term ‘botanical’ compared to 29% of alcoholic beverages and 24% of carbonated soft drinks, suggesting that there is much scope for development in this sector.
“Energy drinks are one of the last drinks sectors to embrace the eccentric yet sophisticated appeal of botanical extracts,” said Alex Beckett, food and drinks analyst at Mintel.
“Incorporating botanicals can meet energy drink users’ interest in more natural ingredients as well as convey a more mature positioning.”
An artisanal image for exotic botanicals
With guarana, green tea and green coffee beans already familiar to consumers, companies are on the hunt for new botanical ingredients that will both set them apart and convey a natural image.
Last year, NY-based start-up, Runa, launched a new Fairtrade energy drink which contains Amazonian leaf guayusa as well as antioxidants including chloragenic acids, isoflavones, and L-theanine. The producers claims that the antioxidents prevent the jittery feeling that coffee and conventional energy drinks cause.
In Europe, Swedish start-up Akuo brought out their ‘drink to think,’ a powerful focus aid containing a combination of matcha green tea, ginseng and guarana, while, UK-based beverage GustoOrganic contains Siberian ginseng, Chinese angelica, chrysanthemum flower and guarana.
Traditional beverage heavyweights have also tried to cash in on the botanical side but haven't always found success. Red Bull attempted to convey a natural appeal by adding coca leaf and kola but the range was discontinued in 2011 due to disappointing sales.
For Alex Beckett, this may be because the brand does not have a natural or healthy image.
“Energy drinks highlight the provenance of botanical ingredients and convey artisanal production values (...) to expand their consumer audience," the analyst said.
"The imagery which tends to adorn botanical drinks can also convey a sophisticated appeal, appropriate for attracting a mature audience of energy drink users. Focusing on these added-value features could help brands avoid the fate of Red Bull.”
In 2013 Pepsi revealed the details of their patented blend of energising botanicals, which included Polygonatum Root and goji berries, but a product containing the blend has yet to be launched.