“Energy drinks are highly submerged in people’s daily routines, which might be one of the reasons why they are so resilient in countries where other categories such as carbonates and beer have been continually declining,” says Angela Wynne, analyst at Canadean.
Buoyed by a loyal base of consumers that is receptive to new product extensions boasting different flavours and alternative sources of energy, the report found that sales have remained stable during the economic recession – even in hard-hit countries such as Greece and Russia where people were spending less on beverages in general.
"[Energy drinks] have become entrenched in consumer habits in situations when they require an energy boost. Many consumers may now see them as a necessity rather than a luxury," Wynne told Nutraingredients.
The current flavour trend for fruit flavours marked a deliberate move away from classic energy drink flavours, said Wynne.
The volume of products boasting natural fruit flavours has risen by 11% from 2013 to 2014 with launches including orange, pineapple, lemon and lime, pineapple and lime and mojito.
“These new flavours are targeting consumers who do not like the classic taste of energy drinks and who use them for refreshment, especially during the summer time,” she said.
"Many potential consumers were put off by the “classic” taste - original Red Bull - so fruit flavour is more appealing and does have the added benefit of being perceived as more natural."
Mintel analyst Alex Beckett suggested that the drive in demand for natural flavours – be it fruit or botanical – was being fuelled by an increasingly older consumer base.
“Sports and energy drink users the world over are keen for more natural ingredients, offering opportunities for botanicals, and their naturalness may also resonate with the growing global base of older consumers looking to maintain an active lifestyle,” he wrote.
Last year UK food and drink consultancy Zenith International revealed its top thirteen trends for energy drinks, with fruit flavours topping the list and sour flavours coming in second – meaning more apple, lemon, berry and cherry.
Other trends identified by Zenith included sugar-free, health and wellness and health claims for cognitive health.
For Wynne, this was part of an image overhaul: “The industry is trying to change the perception of the category and tap into the new health-conscious demographic to ensure its future growth.”
According to Canadean data, sales of low-calorie energy drinks have increased by 11.6% in recent years as consumers turn away from sugary beverages – although this represented less than 0.1% of the market share, meaning that it would remain a niche sub-category fuelled by female consumers in a male-dominated energy drink market.
Continuing the trend away from artificial caffeine and taurine energy sources, manufacturers were responding with alternative energy sources seen as more ‘natural’ than artificial caffeine – even if the active ingredient in guarana berry, green coffee extract and yerba mate was still caffeine.
The report pointed to Tropicana’s guarana-boosted fruit juice while Canadean said Latvia’s Super Manki - a caffeine- and taurine- free energy drink launched last year with yerba mate - represented this health-conscious change.
According to a 2015 Mintel report on health claims, consumers have been affected by various food scares, meaning manufacturers of processed foods needed to address concerns around added or artifical ingredients. There was one way to get around this: "By using naturally derived active ingredients, tapping into the positivity around naturally nutritionally dense foods to fortify other products.”
Caffeine’s image has been somewhat tarnished in recent years - last year Lithuania became the first member state to ban sales of high-energy drinks to under-18s while EUFIC labelling requires health warnings for drinks that contain more than 150 mg of caffeine per litre.
And despite caffeine health claims for endurance, alertness and concentration being okayed by EFSA on a scientific basis, the EU Commission has not yet approved them for public health reasons.