The ‘shroom boom continues to echo across the food industry, and the beverage category is no exception. While functional fungi are now a well-established ingredient in coffees, powders, and shots, their use in the ready-to-drink (RTD) energy category is just starting to gain momentum.
“This mushroom trend isn’t really a trend at all but has been a vital ingredient in varying cultures for thousands of years,” Addison Blakeney, Marketing Manager at Garden of Flavor, told The Food Institute. “A natural supplement to help the body adjust to oxidative stress and fight off cancer causing free radicals, adding mushrooms into things like coffees [and] powders has become a no-brainer.”
Scott Frohman, founder & CEO of Odyssey Wellness, echoed this sentiment, adding that the use of functional mushrooms like Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps, and Reishi have seen a sharp increase in popularity over the past few years — a trend that shows no sign of slowing.
“In a post-pandemic world, consumers are increasingly seeking out ingredients that support both the body and mind, which has caused awareness and adoption of these fungi to skyrocket,” Frohman told The Food Institute. “The functional mushroom category is currently valued at $22.3 [billion] with a projected CAGR of 9.5% by 2032.”
The Evolving Energy Drink Landscape
In the past five years, the energy drink market has surged from $12 billion to $19 billion. Energy drink caffeine levels are also skyrocketing — some energy drinks have the same volume of caffeine as a six-pack of Coca-Cola, reported The New York Times.
Furthermore, many energy drinks are formulated with sugar or artificial sweeteners like sucralose, which a recent study has linked to the production of a “genotoxic” chemical that damages DNA, among other health concerns.
However, market data shows that consumer demands and expectations are shifting in favor of more natural solutions.
“Gen Z and millennials want healthier options with less (or no) sugar and artificial sweeteners, instead seeking out functional ingredients that deliver whole-body results…a lesser reliance on caffeine, and other unique properties,” said Frohman.
More Mushrooms in RTD, please
Odyssey Elixirs is blazing a new trail in the mushroom-powered sparkling energy space by offering beverages boosted by a concentration of adaptogenic mushrooms — Lion’s Mane and Cordyceps — that contain 8x the active compounds of the original dried varieties.
“While the energy sector competition may seem fierce to some, we are in a unique position because we are a new-age energy drink,” said Frohman. “We are very fortunate to be at the intersection of three burgeoning categories; functional beverages, mushrooms, and energy.”
In the juice-based beverage space, Garden of Flavor recently added Lion’s Mane and Chaga to its Pear-Reishi Energy Elixir, for the adaptogenic benefits and focus support.
“When information on the power of natural ingredients like mushrooms made it mainstream, functional medicine + food and beverage companies have continued to see a greater demand for similarly aligned products,” said Blakeney.
Flavor and Sweetness: Striking a Balance
When Frohman envisioned Odyssey, he wanted fungi to be the star ingredients. “We couldn’t deliver the functional benefits of mushrooms while swamped in sugar and tons of caffeine – ingredients that are, at best, conflicting to their health benefits,” he said.
Incorporating mushrooms into a clean sparkling beverage, however, was a significant challenge due to their flavors.
“Our formulation required many iterations. Eventually, our mushroom supplier came up with an extraction method that left all the bioactive compounds in place while removing the gritty, bitter parts of the mushroom,” said Frohman. “This is why you can’t even detect the taste of mushrooms in our beverage — a huge triumph for us.”
To round out the flavor profile, Odyssey Elixirs also contain monk fruit, erythritol, and natural fruit juices.
Despite demand for no- and low-sugar beverage options, the juice market also saw a monumental sales shift during the pandemic. Per Statista, U.S. retail sales for juice and juice drinks reached $20.9 billion in 2021, marking a substantial 124.7% increase year over year.
Garden of Flavor offers a middle ground with their energy elixirs by balancing the juice from organic roots, fungi, and greens with natural sweetness from fruits.
“We find that consumers tend to prefer a sweeter taste when it comes to juices, even if they claim to not want any sugar at all,” said Blakeney. “We see the demand for no-sugar options, but when you’re using whole, organic fruits and vegetables, you just have to abide by what nature offers.”