As coffee consumption soars to a two-decade high in the U.S. and more than 66% of Americans now drink coffee each day – more than any other beverage including tap water – it emphasizes two points: consumer’s appetite for products touting energy support continues to grow, and caffeine still dominates as the primary ingredient solution. As much as consumer demand has grown, innovation beyond caffeine-based products has been slow to keep pace. As the category continues to evolve innovation will play an important role to provide consumer-relevant products that tap into broader market opportunities in energy
What’s Driving Growth and How to Stand Out on The Store Shelf
According to Mintel, the top three factors driving the need for energy in the U.S. are more demanding work routines, changes in exercise and heightened stress. Also, consider the wide range of applications and need-states energy formulas can play – sports nutrition, cognitive performance, active living, to name a few – and it’s easy to see why market demand and growth is high. And its caffeine that has played a major role in helping meet demand because, quite simply, it works after the first dose, and its effect is almost immediate. But as much as it is lauded for its ability to kick start the day, it does have its limitations.
For one, the physiological effects are relatively short-lived, lasting from three to six hours. Secondly, habituation to caffeine leads to higher or more frequent dosing to achieve the same effect the more a person consumes it. And the chief complaint of consuming too much caffeine is “tenseness” or the “jitters,” while agitation, altered mood and tiredness are common complaints as caffeine’s effects begin to wane. Moving forward, differentiating your brand means looking for adjuncts to or beyond caffeine-based formulas.
Differentiating in the Energy Market. It’s a 24-hour concern and increasingly benefits-driven
Over the past two years, our work-life balance has been redefined as more people work from home and the typical 9-to-5 work schedule intermixes with personal time and exercise schedules. More than ever, consumers are looking for energy solutions that help sustain them throughout the day – and even into the night – and provide options to help recover for the next day. Additionally, the energy category increasingly serves as a euphemism for other benefits like alertness, focus, reduced fatigue, and improved endurance.
Here is where formulators can focus on differentiating in the market: providing solutions that meet specific need-states and can be used throughout the day without impacting sleep and avoid side effects like those associated with caffeine. Let’s look at a few examples:
- “Calm energy” sounds oxymoronic but it speaks to consumers’ interest to have all the benefits inherent in caffeine and without the associated side effects. People want to feel focused and alert, not overstimulated. And developing low-caffeine and caffeine-free solutions are on trend: Mintel reports coffee consumers are concerned about the impact of caffeine on their health, yet still crave the energy boost. That means formulas that can provide sustained energy without the ‘jitters’ can stand out on a shelf filled with high-caffeine lookalikes. Adaptogens like American Ginseng (i.e., Cereboost®) has been studied for its ability to boost mental energy. Other ingredients like guarana, yerba mate and black/green tea are sources of naturally occurring caffeine, typically at lower concentrations, but also rich in other compounds like xanthines and theanine that help support needed energy throughout the day. Added bonus: consumers associate plant-derived sources of caffeine as more natural, “clean,” and sustainable.
- Think beyond the morning cup of coffee. Eighty-three percent of people drink their coffee during breakfast, but the need for staying energized extends throughout the day and evening (for those of us who work out at night). In the absence of effective alternatives, consumers often opt for caffeinated products later in the day despite the impact it could have on sleep. Formulating with caffeine-free alternatives is an attractive proposition for consumers looking to bolster energy throughout their day.
- Factor in stress and sleep. Thirty-seven percent of adults reach for caffeine beverages to combat the effects of stress. On average, 35.2% of all adults in the U.S. report sleeping less than seven hours per night and almost half of all Americans say they feel sleepy during the afternoon. Adaptogens like Rhodiola and American ginseng are well-known for their ability to combat stress. Other herbs like valerian, kava and lemon balm are great foundational herbs for sleep formulas. Consumers are looking for solutions to “turn off” after a busy day and support a restful sleep; it’s the most natural way to re-energize, and consumers get it.
- Formulate for function. The energy category is becoming more specialized to meet different consumer needs. Where one person is dealing with fatigue or tiredness, another is turning to energy formulas to support cognitive function or reaction time. Communicating the “mental energy” or “physical energy” component of a formula is an easy way to showcase how your brand can help answer consumers’ specific energy needs. And it’s an easy way to provide line extensions across different benefits and even demographics!
Whether it is a supplement, food or beverage, the first rule of formulating for energy is experiential; consumers want to feel it work. Caffeine has set a high benchmark for efficacy but new science and formulations with caffeine alternatives are proving that it’s one that can be overcome. And even provide better outcomes. Despite its trade-offs, caffeine-based formulas will continue to be very relevant to meet consumer demand. But, the caffeine-alternative market has growing potential for brands looking to differentiate their products.
- National Coffee Association. Coffee consumption hits two-decade high – Spring 2022 National Coffee Data Trends report. Retrieved from: https://www.ncausa.org/Newsroom/Coffee-consumption-hits-two-decade-high-2022-NCDT
- Drinks that boost energy now will reap benefits later. Insights Report. September 2021
- Is local coffee the new decaf?. Insights Report. June 2022
- Share of coffee drinking consumers in the United States in 2020, by time of day. Accessed at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/323438/coffee-drinking-consumers-in-the-us-by-time-of-day/
- Caffeine and Sleep. Sleep Foundation. Updated May 2022. Accessed at: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/caffeine-and-sleep
- National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Population Health. (2017, May 2). CDC – Data and Statistics – Sleep and Sleep Disorders. Retrieved October 22, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html
- National Sleep Foundation. (2020, March 7). The National Sleep Foundation’s 2020 Sleep in America® Poll Shows Alarming Level of Sleepiness and Low Levels of Action. October 22, 2020