Coffee’s rep spikes or crashes, depending on the research du jour, very often for the impact caffeine – one of its main active ingredients – can have on health. Here, we’re looking at emerging caffeine alternatives for consumers looking to move away from caffeinated food and drink but still want something for that energy boost.
Caffeine Alternatives On The Rise
Coffee is a key part of most adult consumers’ lives. For many of us, it helps us get our day started. One of the main reasons we are drawn to coffee is because of the caffeine content in it. Caffeine is one of the most popular (legal) stimulants which gives energy and focus. 90% of American adults are said to consume caffeine in some form or the other. In fact, even teens consume caffeine in the form of energy drinks and soft drinks.
Spoonshot’s analysis of social media conversations on energy found that nearly 20% of claims related posts associated caffeine with energy. However, caffeine also has some negative connotations among some consumers – this is because of the ill effects that come with excessive consumption of caffeine. Social media conversations mention giving jitters, indigestion, and risk of heart disorders, among others, some of which are also backed by research.
Given these health issues, consumers are looking for caffeine alternatives that still provide energy in addition to other health benefits. When we looked at our consumer data at Spoonshot, we found that 15% of consumers who are talking about caffeine alternatives are associating it with health.
Consumer interest in caffeine alternatives has gone up by 71% since 2019, US
There are a number of ingredients that fit the bill in terms of caffeine alternatives for energy, including mainstream ingredients like ginseng, ashwagandha, B vitamins, and so on.
But let us explore some emerging alternatives to caffeine that have potential for consumers seeking a cleaner energy boost:
Chicory: A Rooted Coffee Alternative
Chicory root comes from a woody, herbaceous plant in the dandelion family which usually has bright blue flowers. These roots are baked, ground, and often used as a coffee substitute or additive. One of the key reasons it is used as a coffee alternative is because of the taste and colour being similar to coffee and the good news is that it has no caffeine. Chicory also has other health benefits such as treating loss of appetite, upset stomach, and constipation. This is because chicory is also the primary source of inulin, a dietary fiber that also doubles up as a sweetener.
Spoonshot’s analysis of academic research papers on prebiotics found that 18% of these studies referenced inulin, making it the most studied prebiotic ingredient and supporting its gut health benefits.
Consumer interest in chicory has gone up by 41% since 2020, US
The ingredient also has a relatively high consumer score (out of 10) and medium novelty, which denotes that while consumers like the ingredient, it is not very niche and unknown in the beverage category.
There are coffee and chicory blends available now in the market and it is done so since chicory produces a more ‘roasted’ flavor than coffee.
The company also says that because the entire nut is used, the final product retains the nutrients and fiber of the nuts. Plant-based milks usually filter out the solids to maintain consistency and then add in different nutrients.
Café Du Monde Coffee and Chicory is coffee blend from a coffee chain in New Orleans. This product has an Amazon rating of 4.6 out of 5.
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Schisandra chinensis or magnolia berry is also called five-flavor-berry as it contains the five basic flavors – salty, sweet, spicy, sour, and bitter.
This berry contains a variety of bioactive metabolites, especially lignan components that are said to have potential in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. This ingredient is also said to have adaptogenic properties, and has been used for stress management.
Unlike caffeine, it provides non-stimulating energy and focus thanks to its adaptogenic and antioxidant qualities. Magnolia berry is native to East Asia and is still relatively unknown among Western consumers, hence the consumer score is low.
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Maca root is indigenous to parts of South America, where it is used as part of traditional remedies to address several health benefits, including improving libido, fertility, and boosting energy.
There are different variants of maca. Red maca has proved to be the most effective in improving mood, while black maca is considered the strongest in energy-promoting properties as well as the ability to balance blood glucose levels. There is some evidence on energy association with maca and how this ingredient helps with sports performance.
A small pilot study in eight male cyclists found that they improved the time it took them to complete a nearly 25-mile (40-km) bike ride after 14 days of supplementation with maca extract. The use of maca is still not very high in beverages, as the primary format of purchase is a powder. But given its popularity and associated health benefits, the ingredient has a high consumer score.
One of the reasons for the ingredient not being used as much with coffee could be that the combination gives very low flavour, compared to other ingredient combinations with coffee.
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Now beetroot is not an unknown ingredient to us – we consume it in many forms including juices, soups, and salads. Beetroot is also one of those ingredients which not only has a lot of health benefits but when used in a product, gives a really nice color to the final product, enhancing the visual appeal. Beets are a good source of potassium, a mineral and electrolyte that helps nerves and muscles function properly.
It has become a very popular and trending ingredient among athletes for improved cardiorespiratory endurance and performance. The naturally occurring nitrates in beets can improve the efficiency of the body’s energy-producing cells, called mitochondria.
A product from the UK, Rejuvenation Water, uses a combination of beetroot and turmeric in an interesting format – pods. These can be inserted into a Nespresso machine to make beetroot lattes. This offers the premium experience of having a latte but without caffeine.
Given how popular turmeric lattes have become in recent years and have become a staple of coffee chain menus, beetroot lattes have the potential to become the next big hit, especially given how photogenic the product is.
Caffeine still has a really high consumer need currently. But there are consumers who have started to migrate away from caffeine and are looking out for natural energy sources that do not cause the crashes that caffeine does. While this is still a relatively small requirement, we do believe that this space will grow rapidly as consumers are educating themselves on ingredient benefits. Using ingredients in formats that fit into the current lifestyle can also help consumers migrate to these products more easily, as in the case of Rejuvenation Water pods. We also believe that there will be a lot more ingredients to be discovered that offer cleaner energy benefits.
These ingredients may not be the go-to sources for energy for consumers at this point, but the association can be built up by introducing them in other categories as well, particularly those that are seen as energy boosters, like energy drinks, energy bars, and even tea.