An Amazonian battle is on for the heart of the energy drink customer

The energy drink sector has seen a drop in sales, but the future looks bright thanks to drink entrepreneurs breathing new life into the market, by bridging the gap between health-conscious consumers and performance boosting drinks.

According to market research company, Kantar Worldpanel, the energy drink sector experienced a sales slump of 3.7%, that’s a decline of £8.6 million year-on-year between February 2017 and February 2018. Sales have been affected by the perceived lack of ingredient transparency, and a growing demand for healthier versions of energy drinks.

This is leading some adventurous drink producers to venture deep into the Amazon jungle in search of a solution. Can Scottish drink companies afford to leave others to seek out the brain-boosting plants that could re-energise the industry, and grow the customer base?

The search for natural nootropics

Nootropics are substances that may help to improve brain and cognitive function. Beverages that contain naturally-occurring nootropics, such as caffeine, are said to aid grey matter functionality, and enhance physical performance.

Natural caffeine extracts come from guarana fruit, the yerba mate tree, green tea plants, and ginseng roots. All of which have been commercialised into a variety of beverages and supplements.

Guayusa (gwhy-you-suh)

Now, a new caffeine source has got the market’s attention - the Amazonian Ilex guayusa tree. And it's proving a popular choice with energy drink manufacturers looking to produce clean label natural products.

The Ilex guayusa tree is one of four caffeinated holly tree species that grow in the rainforest of the upper Amazonian regions of Ecuador, as well as in Peru and Columbia.

Guayusa doesn’t contain tannins, which can make green tea bitter, but does contain as many antioxidants as green tea. And after the coffee producing coffea plant, it’s the second most caffeinated plant in the world.

Extracts from the guayusa leaf have been eaten by indigenous people for years. They say the leaf has health-enhancing properties and claim it can boost concentration.

The leaf has been legally available for food and drink product use in the US for five years. And last year, the UK approved its use here.

Runa: the guayusa pioneer

American company, Runa, supports more than 2,000 guayusa farmers in Ecuador. Its canned, ready-to-drink beverage line promises a clean label, organic, sustainable and fair-trade product.

Runa drinks come in the following flavours: mango, pomegranate, pineapple, mint strawberry, and watermelon. They’re lightly carbonated, contain 70 calories per 12 ounce can and 150mg of caffeine, about the equivalent of a cup of coffee. Runa also sells unsweetened zero calorie options.

Yusa: the UK’s first guayusa-based drink

Launched this year by BFT Drinks, Yusa is the first guayusa-based energy drink in the UK, and is specifically aimed at health-conscious consumers.

It’s carbonated, ready-to-drink cans are available in natural mango and pineapple.

Sweetened with stevia, the drinks contain less than 2.5g of sugar per 100ml, the same amount of caffeine as around one and a half cups of coffee, and about the same amount of antioxidants you would get from three cups of green tea.

Growing the energy drink business in Scotland

The commercialisation of guayusa is just the start of the revitalisation of the energy drink sector, as more people look for functional food and drink products.

Scotland’s soft drink industry has the chance to become part of this growing trend. How it diversifies and utilises guayusa, and other brainpower boosters, will be an important factor in its future success.

If you want to understand more about the guayusa leaf or energy and health-boosting drinks in Scotland get in touch.

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