Imagine you could look into the future of your category. Or see which emerging trends, needs, product benefits and ingredients will define consumers’ buying behavior in 12 months time.
It’s not sci-fi or the work of a fortune-teller. A time-travelling wizard or a crystal ball.
The ability to see what’s next in a consumer goods category is providing pioneer brands with an edge over their competition.
In April 2023, Black Swan joined with Beverages Industry for a webinar to explore how our consumer intelligence software could predict the future of functional beverages.
The webinar, Predicting the Future of Functional Beverages was presented by Gianna Tomassi and Jeremy Barlow.
Gianna, Associate Director of Insights at Black Swan, has a wealth of experience in the beverages space, working with brands like PepsiCo, Danone and Conagra.
Jeremy, Enterprise Sales Director, has worked in Insights and Innovation for 10 years, specializing in helping CPGs unlock incremental growth through tech.
170 leaders from across the industry (and across the globe) tuned in to find out how they could power their innovation programs with predictive, social data.
Functional trends regularly flow from one category into another. What’s happening in the vitamins and supplements category can give foresight into what’s next in food and beverages.
Gianna and Jeremy kicked off the webinar by exploring three of Black Swan’s datasets. These datasets are ready-made, needs-based segmentations. And constructed from millions of online social conversations.
US Vitamins and Supplements, US Beverages and US Snacking were chosen. These categories really interconnect.
As Gianna outlined, vitamins and supplements trends are increasingly overlapping with snacking and beverages. There are 1,357 shared ingredients and 360 shared product benefits across these categories.
By looking at these areas of overlap we can identify where a trend originates and predict where it may be salient in the future - within the original category, as well as within adjacent categories, like snacking and beverages.
Gianna began by looking at trends within the vitamins and supplements space. Mapping them against their current maturity in connected categories.
As she explained, a trend’s ‘maturity’ demonstrates when it will peak in relevance and have mainstream appeal to consumers.
Mature trends have sizable online conversation volume sustained over a period time. These topics have broad reach, high awareness and will resonate with consumers. They can be acted on now.
Emerging and Growing trends are smaller topics but show sustained growth and are predicted to continue growing. They should be acted on next, over the coming 6-18 months. And are prime targets for future innovation.
What became clear, as Gianna compared the maturity of trends across the categories, product benefits that were Mature in vitamins and supplements were Emerging or Growing in both beverages and snacking.
For example, brain and alertness benefits like ‘Improves Brain Power’ and ‘Improves Cognitive Performance’ are Mature and very well-established in vitamins and supplements. But they are surfacing as Emerging in snacking and beverages.
Many other product benefits related to ‘Energy Boosting’ and ‘Aiding Sleep’ follow the same pattern.
This pattern is crucial for brands looking to innovate in the functional beverages space. Adjacent categories (like vitamins) hold the key. Look at what’s trending there – because that’s where innovation opportunities can be found.
Next, Gianna showed us how to dig deeper. She spotlighted the ‘Strengthens Your Mind’ benefit. It’s one of the top ten trends across the vitamins, beverages and snacking space.
It was at this point that Gianna unlocked the power of Black Swan’s consumer intelligence platform. It allows a user to really zoom in on a trend, and discover all the benefits, products, ingredients and flavors associated with it.
In this case, 48% of associated conversations point to consumers exploring various types of Tea for their potential health benefits and medicinal properties.
Then Gianna explored the emerging ingredients associated with this space.
Tryptophan was the first to be spotlighted. It’s an essential amino acid used to make proteins. It’s found in many meats as well as plant proteins. The body does not naturally produce it, but if consumed via a food or beverage product, the body converts it into serotonin.
That’s why consumers discuss this ingredient for its potential to ‘Improves Mood’, act as an ‘Anti-Depressant’, as well as ‘Improve Sleep Quality’.
The next ingredient associated with the ‘Strengthens Your Mind’ benefit was Lemon Verbena.
Lemon Verbena is a flowering plant which is cultivated for its lemon oil and has edible leaves. It can be used similarly to herbs. It’s known for its ability to ‘Reduce Anxiety’ and ‘Relieve Stress’.
This ingredient is used in quite a few cocktail recipes, but as Gianna explained, it’s not for functional purposes. Currently, the functional use case in the market is mainly in the form of lemon verbena teas.
After identifying some of the key cross-category trends which are relevant in the functional beverages space, Gianna moved on to answer a key question.
What does this all mean for innovation, and how can these trends be used to action real category change?
Gianna spent the next ten minutes building a new concept springboard.
The concept was built from a range of ultra-relevant and future-proofed product benefits and ingredients mapped onto an adoption maturity curve. All of which surfaced during Gianna’s exploration of the functional beverages space.
She focused in on the Brain Power and Sleep need-space. This territory - as previously discovered - is well-established in the vitamins area and starting to grow within beverages.
There were several beverage products strongly associated with these needs, including teas, milk-based drinks and a range of other functional ingredients.
Gianna’s springboard (see below) brought together a range of these components.
She started with Mature components. These are ingredients and product formats which can be leveraged to tap into established and long-standing consumer needs.
These familiar trends create a sense of trust and are safe bets to incorporate into product innovation.
Then Gianna moved onto Emerging and Growing trends associated with the Brain/Sleep space.
Ingredients and products that offer brain boosting benefits, such as Astragalus Root and Marine Alga jumped out. As well as those which have calming effects, like Lion's Mane and Cordyceps Functional Mushrooms. Both of which will bring real distinctiveness to a product in the future.
Gianna assembled all of these trends in a concept springboard that reimagined and optimized a product which is popular right now, a Sparkling Tea.
This iterative process leaned on our prior understanding of the key vitamins and supplements benefits from an adjacent category, and deep-dived into what’s driving the conversation, now and next, in beverages.
In doing so, Gianna created a Mood & Focus Enhancing Sparkling Tea which delivers functional benefits to answer real consumer needs.
You can listen to the full webinar to find out more about how Gianna created this concept. As well as a guide to optimizing existing products through a positioning refresh.