Ready to Drink Beverages — Convenience Merging with Science

The Ready to Drink (RTD) space has been an emerging segment over the course of the last few years in sports nutrition, both for traditional use such as the gym and athletic performance as well as the rapidly growing sector of eSports which has become a beast in its own right. While most think of ‘energy drinks’ due to the recent landscape, this segment also includes a variety of beverages including non-carbonated pre-workouts, aminos and the monster we all seem to forget — sports drinks (i.e. Gatorade).

There is a growing interest in the evolution of this space, stemming from what initially began as very simple ‘protein shakes’ or caffeine centric ‘energy drinks’ with a sprinkling of supporting ingredients added in here and there formulation has shifted to including more revolutionary ingredients at efficacious dosages. Stability, saturation, and pH are all things that have to be taken into consideration and have previously limited the capabilities (not to mention price point) of many RTDs. A larger demand has prompted more research, testing and the development and implementation of advanced ingredients and the result has been the emergence of new ‘smart’ RTD applications.

Emerging Data

Now, taking a look at this topic, you can find a decent number of statistics on this specific category, collected over the past few years. One analysis I found interesting in particular was from Euromonitor International. This specific research survey included over 20k individuals from over 20 different market segments. It found that when looking at products, 48% of male and 45% of females desired RTD as a characteristic of the product. This is hypothesized to be due to the increasing demand for things that are portable as well as increased awareness and popularity of the format driven in part by the trend of energy drinks. The second most desired trait was that the product to be “low in sugar” and third most was to feature “clean” ingredients, meaning no artificial colors, sweeteners, and other ingredients.

There was also some good data gathered from this group regarding performance characteristics of the drinks. 43% of respondents said that hydration was a reason, 41% for aiding in recovery and 42% of male and 36% of females said that training endurance was a key factor. Last but not least, when it comes to supporting weight loss, 35% female and 27% of males said this was a driving factor in their decisions.

Out of the consumers using RTD format products, there are many of them in the traditional sports nutrition segment as you can imagine, but this also encompasses people consuming them for cognitive performance in daily work/study and then there is the esports category, which is possibly the most rapidly growing segment across the board in many categories, including RTDs.

Formulation Considerations

One area, especially in the ‘energy’ and preworkout oriented products that has been largely left untouched is the formulation and ingredients. Putting things in a ready to drink format, both carbonated and non-carbonated can be challenging. This is due to stability, pH considerations, taste and of course cost of goods (COGs) and how it influences the price. RTDs are typically pricier than their powder format counter parts due to the added weight and complications in shipping, the space they take up and the general ‘convenience’ factor. Many have traditionally been caffeine centric with a few other ingredients added for good measure or worst case ‘label dressing’.

With recent research and new ingredients coming to the forefront, this is changing quickly. Things such as natural forms of caffeine vs traditional anhydrous, nootropic ingredients and even things for thermogenesis are starting to appear. One ingredient in particular that is being used with great success for its water stability, benefits, minimal taste impact and clinically studied dose that makes in manageable for inclusion is nooLVL from Nutrition 21. With some great data supporting its benefits (especially in esports) for enhancing cognitive performance, it has rapidly gained popularity both in traditional powder format as well as this growing RTD space and I was one of the first to market with it Dr. Jekyll Stim-Free in early 2019. Since then, there have been several other brands utilizing this awesome ingredient, with a strong emphasis in the esports targeted segment. This is largely due to it being one if not the only sports nutrition ingredient with research supporting its ability to directly improve the performance of gamers…a perfect example of traditional sports nutrition working in synergy to cross over into this esports space that will continue to grow exponentially.

I’m personally excited to see the growth and direction of this market segment and as a formulator, I am especially looking forward to implementing more of these ingredients as more solution stable ingredients are synthesized and readily available, both in my own products as well as the industry as a whole.

Veteran Formulator & R&D Scientist - Director of Scientific Affairs at Dragon Pharma