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Gen Z Drinks to Better Health

Consumers, especially young adults, are thirsting for beverages that go beyond refreshment to offer easy, portable nutrition.

While traditional carbonated soft drinks remain the biggest form of liquid refreshment beverage, according to the Beverage Marketing Corp. (BMC), they’re losing both volume and market share. BMC research shows soft drink volume slipped by 1.5 percent from 12.8 billion gallons in 2014 to 12.6 billion gallons in 2015, which lowered their market share to less than 40 percent. Meanwhile, niche categories continued to outperform most traditional mass-market categories and fill the breach.

Research from BMC and Fluent, a Boston-based college marketing and insights agency, projects that Gen Z—a group taught to make healthy choices from a young age—will continue to drive flavor experimentation and beverage styles. Bottled water is the top beverage purchase among Gen Z students, with 43 percent consuming it seven or more times per week. Coffee (hot or iced) is next at 22 percent. And for all beverage choices, Gen Z students seek clean label options. The top three descriptors influencing their purchases are “all-natural,” “low-calorie” and “organic,” with “vitamin-enhanced” and “zero-calorie” also priorities.

Half of all students surveyed say they try to avoid artificial sweeteners, flavoring, preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup. Their preferred sweetener is cane sugar (55 percent). Nearly half (49 percent) of students cite “healthy/good for you” as a reason to purchase a beverage; interesting flavors are another big motivator at 36 percent.

Despite having limited disposable income, Gen Z members have premium tastes, and catering to them can pay off now and pay future dividends as they mature and earn more. Savvy companies and restaurant concepts are already catering to Gen Z tastes. In retail, bottled options from San Diego-based Suja Juice offer “non-GMO project verified, raw juice blends, cold pressed by hand from 2-3 pounds of fruits and veggies.” At Colorado-based MAD Greens, a fast casual salad chain, the Bright Buzz Juice blends apple, carrot, and pineapple juices with a boost of bee pollen to “enhance energy, soothe skin, boost the immune system and support the cardiovascular system.” Green & Tonic in Connecticut serves up matcha and medicinal teas plus on-trend nitrogen-flushed, cold-brewed coffee and homemade almond milk for shaken drinks. 

Grocerant-Ready Ideas:

  • Clean label beverages for grab-and-go options from the cooler
  • Made-to-order drink menus with vitamin enhancements
  • Nondairy cream options with coffee, smoothie and shake offerings
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