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Survey says: Supplement consumers want plant-based functional beverages

Article-Survey says: Supplement consumers want plant-based functional beverages

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Taking a behavioral approach to market segmentation can be extremely valuable when seeking to identify early adopters as part of a go-to-market strategy.

Supplement consumers need to hydrate, too—and plant-based functional beverage brands may want to take a closer look at today’s trends among the wellness-minded, nutritional supplement consumer segment.

In 2022, MarketPlace surveyed 766 U.S. consumers who take nutritional supplements and asked them which attributes they find most desirable in nutrition-focused products. Nearly 1 in 5 (17%) said “plant-based” with an additional 3% responding “vegan.” These data points suggest the plant-based trend is still picking up momentum and that studying the supplement consumer segment may yield insights with real strategic impact.

Why target supplement consumers

When it comes to identifying target audience, brands may unintentionally bring biases to the table. Sometimes assumptions are made about the target market’s demographics—their age, gender and level of education, for example. Other times, the audience’s attitudes and lifestyle are set as the point of departure, and personal perceptions of what that market thinks, values and likes to do may come into play.

Taking a behavioral approach to market segmentation can be helpful in overcoming biases, allowing brands to narrow down their research to a clearly defined, behaviorally connected subset of people. From there, strategic considerations about consumer attitudes and awareness have focus and clear implications for messaging and creative. In this case, nutritional supplement usage is the differentiating consumer behavior.

This type of behavioral segmentation is extremely valuable when seeking to identify early adopters as part of a go-to-market strategy. Establishing an engaged early adopter base sets the stage for brand ambassadors, organic social media visibility and positive product reviews.

For functional beverage brands, targeting supplement consumers is an obvious choice. Regardless of formulation or format, there’s a good chance any new functional shake, soda or smoothie brought to market relies on ingredients that already have an active user base among people who take vitamin capsules, probiotic gummies or other supplement formats on a regular basis.

What may be less obvious are the adaptogens, botanicals and natural flavors that are “in the neighborhood” of those functional ingredients.

Identify opportunities

It’s quite common to see supplement consumers take multiple functional ingredients, either in separate dosages or in a single, multi-ingredient application, every day to achieve positive health benefits. Turmeric and curcumin, for example, are commonly taken as a standalone anti-inflammation supplement.

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However, its spicy notes, vibrant color, and well-established status as a powerful herbal flavor enhancer make turmeric a natural partner for spicy flavors, like chai tea, and vegan-friendly functional ingredients with anti-inflammatory properties, like cordyceps and ginger.

The data from MarketPlace’s survey suggest rising curiosity among supplement consumers for plant-based ingredients with health benefits. One-fourth of consumers said they spent more than an hour in the past year researching apple cider vinegar (25%), with a significant number of others looking up information on elderberry (16%) or medicinal mushrooms (11%).

By exploring the other ingredients that supplement consumers encounter in their research, functional beverage brands gain a tactical edge in keyword and search term optimization, and a strategic advantage in formulation and creative execution.

Formats & flavors

The plant-based functional space offers nearly unlimited formulation opportunities. Innovation at the ingredient level has overcome many of the flavor and formulation challenges that lie in creating scalable, high-volume production, and survey data show that supplement consumers are interested in a wide range of formats.

Ready-to-drink (RTD) smoothies (33%), coffee drinks (27%), ready-to-mix (RTM) shakes (25%) and tea drinks (25%) are among the formats for a better-for-you beverage that this audience found most appealing. Functional sodas (20%) and sports drinks (19%) are also not to be overlooked.

Supplement consumers also shared some preferences for functional flavors in better-for-you beverages, including green tea (41%), mint (34%) and ginger (28%). Lavender came in at 20%, and appealing to 10-12% of respondents were turmeric, elderflower, rosemary, maca/ginseng and matcha flavors.

Good things happen when brands take a behavioral view of targeting. For functional beverage brands, this could mean taking a deep dive into supplement consumers’ attitudes. The approach allows brands to cast a wide net in brand strategy while maintaining focus with marketing dollars and ad spend. Better still, as is the case with supplement consumers, it opens the door to effective microtargeting of early adopters and potential long-term end users.

Jon Copeland is a research strategist at MarketPlace, a strategy and branding firm to food and beverage, pet and animal, and health and wellness businesses. From primary research studies on the impacts of Covid on supplement demand to white papers, he delivers valuable insight to the company’s partners and the nutrition industry at large.

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