While having a cold one has always been about simple satisfaction of the need to hydrate, take a break or socialize, the combination of relaxed cultural norms around drinking behavior and the increased importance of health and wellness in our food and beverage choices has expanded the roles that beverages play in our everyday lives: Our Modern Beverage Culture 2018 report helped document how we've become constant sippers and found that 65% of consumers always have a beverage on hand (including 73% of Millennials, 63% of Gen X and 58% of Boomers). 

Modern Beverage Culture 2018 found that beverages have become increasingly socially acceptable in almost all spaces of our lives (from work to school to car, bus, or train to shops and public spaces) and are increasingly used as a source of nutrition and even as substitutes for food: 62% of consumers believe beverages play an important role in their health and wellness and the younger the consumer, the stronger the belief. Forty-four per cent of all consumers agree with the statement “I like my beverages to do something for me, such as provide energy, nutrients or other benefits.” But again, this resonates more with Millennials, with the figure rising to 55%. Millennials also are more likely to treat beverages as a snack (49% of millennials vs. 39% of all consumers), as well as consume beverages to replace meals (38% vs. 28%). This use of beverages as food is fueling innovation in the health and wellness drink segment, with concepts and flavors targeted for more adventurous younger palates.

Commenting on the trend in a recent Food Business News article, Hartman Group CEO Laurie Demeritt notes “When Gen X and boomers were younger, replacing food with a beverage was almost always a weight loss technique. ... Today’s meal replacements are designed not for weight loss — though that may be a benefit as well — but for convenience. Millennials’ desire for functional benefits from their beverages is highlighted by changing norms around meal replacement drinks.”

Changing norms indeed! Whereas old school meal replacement shakes like SlimFast were designed to work in the context of a restricted calorie diet (tiding you over until you could eat a “sensible dinner”), today's meal replacement drinks are positioned nutritionally to be food and focus on the benefits of not skipping calories but instead skipping the time and energy it takes to make and eat a meal. 

Parents also bring their desire for personalized nutrition and functionality to their children’s beverage choices: Beverages can provide an easier way to give children—especially picky eaters—the nutrition parents worry their kids’ diets lack. Smoothies are the perfect, personalized vehicle for this purpose. Fruits, vegetables, protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals are all easy additions to smoothies that parents tailor to everything from weight gain to energy to tummy troubles to general good health. Millennial parents (who represent the majority of parents of young children), bring their generation’s distinct notions around quality, wellness, and personalized nutrition to their approach to childrearing, and are making the universe of claims around the formerly simple category of dairy substantially more complex.

New emerging functional beverages are encroaching on daypart occasions where established functional beverages already play: Nutritional supplements and meal replacement beverage use peak at breakfast, pointing to a growing trend of "drinking one’s breakfast." This usage supplants the traditional role of dairy and juice, which typically accompany breakfast meals. Meanwhile, consumers are using fermented and broth beverages and functional beverages/waters in the midday and afternoon period when they have traditionally turned to water, tea, sports/energy drinks, and soda. Drinks like kombucha, coconut water and plant/vitamin waters offer a highly appealing combination of refreshment and health benefits.

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