Drinking For Thinking

Whether they’re touting benefits such as arthritis relief, tanning power or sedation, functional beverages have long surpassed the passé point of added nutrition. 
You can divvy up the functional beverage category any way you want: Brain-power libation like Brainiac, by Function Drinks; arthritis-battling brew like Joint Juice, by Joint Juice Inc.; or the sun-tanning stew, Sun Water, by French company MicroFluid Biotechnology. 
If you have the ailment, they probably have the oil. In some cases, though, you just have to trust that the product is doing what it says it’s doing. 
So says Natural Marketing Institute’s Greg Stephens, vice president of strategic consulting at the Pennsylvania-based market research firm, who offered to divvy the functional beverages category into two areas: preventative products and immediate-health benefit products. 
“The products that are preventative in nature, you have to trust they’re working,” Stephens said. 
On the other hand, there are functional beverages offering immediate health benefits, which consumers will either notice, or not, after a certain period of time. MicroFluid’s Sun Water, for instance, recommends consumers drink a bottle a day for about nine days until they see its tanning effects. 
Likewise with Joint Juice, a product that’s been on retail shelves for about five years but only recently began making its way into the convenience channel. 
Joint Juice CEO Jack Robertson said his glucosamine-and-Vitamin-C-enhanced product will prove to be a natural fit for convenience stores. 
Its anti-inflammatory properties help alleviate joint pains and symptoms of arthritis, Robertson said, a benefit that could appeal not just to baby boomers but young, blue-collar males—the critical c-store demo-—whose jobs are taking a toll on their bodies.  
“At least 33% of American adults have chronic joint pain,” Robertson said. “We discovered it’s not people like my mother—it turned out to be the landscapers, the plumbers or the construction workers in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. Some had old sports injuries, and others just had normal wear and tear of cartilage from manual labor.”  
Selling functional beverages like this to the masses could be easier, Stephens said, because consumers can decide for themselves if the product is working as it says it will. Selling the preventative products, on the other hand—like those with vitamins and anti-oxidants—can sometimes be more difficult because it’s difficult to gauge whether the beverage is producing the intended results. 
Clinical research and media awareness can set the stage for a product’s success. For example, consumers have generally come to accept that omega-3 fatty acids do indeed have anti-inflammatory health benefits, Stephens said. 
“They kind of believe that, but they don’t necessarily feel it,” Stephens said. “They accept it.”
Functional beverages that single-handedly address cognitive function, mental acuity, stress, sleep and energy could prove popular, as consumers are beginning to understand that all these issues are linked physiologically, Stephens said. 
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