The thought of drinking kombucha, low-calorie soda that isn’t gimmicky, and cold-pressed juice that actually tastes good was probably a foreign idea a few years ago. Now these drinks are considered ubiquitous. A 2020 KPMG trend report found that consumers are willing to fork over more money for healthy beverages—and they’ll have to, considering a sixteen-ounce bottle of kombucha costs an average of four dollars. But, in turn, they want a drink with clean ingredients that promises results like better gut health and more energy. Brands have quickly adapted to this desire for functional, cleaner beverages, and the market is expected to grow over 8 percent by 2024. And there’s one small brand in New York City doing its part to help foster a better food and beverage industry.
IT STARTED WITH A SPICE…
DONA, a beverage company founded by Amy Rothstein in 2014, aimed to fill the gap in the market for high-quality chai concentrate made in her local neighborhood of Brooklyn. On her quest to source the best chai in town, Rothstein started learning more about the various spice profiles and the health benefits of cinnamon, cardamom, and black pepper. DONA works with different spice purveyors, one of them being Burlap & Barrel, an importer that helps to ensure the brand’s beverages are made with single-origin or directly traded spices from expert farmers.
When asked about why she thinks the health beverage boom is more than a trend, she states, “The meaning of ‘healthy’ is what trends. It used to be drinking diet soda over regular, then the juicing fad happened, and then there was flavored water. This is why I went back to basics and launched DONA, which is focused on pure ingredients.” Flavored with naturally sweet spices, DONA’s beverages are made in small batches to ensure the depth of flavor is never compromised.
Some of the spice-based beverages DONA churns out include their most popular, the Masala Chai concentrate, but you can also buy a latte-making kit and other various concentrates and soda blends—there’s even a Pink Peppercorn Lemon soda. And in case you think the spice-laden ingredient list in the company’s array of products is just for kicks, all these spices come with a burst of health perks. Consider turmeric: it’s filled with compounds that work to fight inflammation and boost your brain functionality. DONA also uses its fair share of cinnamon, another antioxidant-loaded spice that can help lower blood sugar; cardamom, a nausea-reducing and digestion-friendly spice; and black pepper, which aids in turmeric absorption and contains its own anti-inflammatory agents.
Rothstein also talks about DONA’s rebrand, and how she hopes to expand its offerings: “The identity of DONA is so much about our chai, which is pure and refined—all things that still hold true, but we’re expanding to offer herbal-based beverages. We want to put out drinks brewed not only with spices but also with flowers, herbs, roots, and citrus.”
A FIZZY FORECAST
While the aforementioned concentrates and herbal drinks are gaining traction, sparkling beverages are also increasing in popularity. A typical twelve-ounce can of soda has over thirty-six grams of carbs, nearly all of which come from sugar. And as little as a few years ago, it was hard to find an alternative that provided the same enjoyment that comes from the sugary carbonation found in soda—but not anymore.
New beverage brands are constantly popping up, offering drinks to help curb that midday carbonated craving and to give you a boost of something extra along with it. There’s popular brand Better Booch, which creates small-craft kombucha that is packed with probiotics and made with premium tea with no added sweeteners. But if fermented tea isn’t your thing, get your bubbly prebiotics via healthy soda brand Poppi, which will have your taste buds singing to the tune of apple cider vinegar goodness. Olipop has a similar ethos, offering up what you love about soda—effervescence and taste—without the added sugar, instead featuring plant fiber and botanicals. Of course, there’s always classic sparkling water: Topo Chico, La Croix, Spindrift, and Bubly are consumer favorites.
This illustrates the global reach of soda alternatives. What was once considered an occasional buy for the health-conscious consumer is now part of many people’s everyday lives, whether they’re seeking a healthier option or not. With workplace wellness on the rise, there are even sparkling water dispensers made specifically for the office. Water-cooler talk just got bubblier.
THE TASTE OF SUCCESS
Not to worry, smoothies and juices haven’t been forgotten. Daily Harvest, a direct-to-consumer food-and-beverage brand known for its healthy smoothies, has a strong following that swears by organically sourced products. The company took the hassle out of making a smoothie yourself—the buying and portioning out of ingredients—by delivering preportioned frozen packets to your door. In a similar vein, the Dallas-based company, Buda Juice, takes a “farm-to-bottle” approach, cold-pressing its signature organic juices year-round in a 35 degree-Fahrenheit kitchen. When combined with a balanced diet, drinking smoothies and juices is a great way to take in more fiber and other beneficial nutrients.
ONE LAST SIP
Once likened to “a craze,” healthy drink alternatives are seemingly here to stay. Eighty percent of respondents in a FMCG Gurus survey (which was distributed to 23,000 consumers across eighteen countries) said they plan on being more health-conscious after the COVID-19 outbreak—including monitoring their sugar levels more closely. As a result, functional drinks, soda alternatives, smoothies, and juices are likely to be staple items in grocery stores across the globe for many years to come.
For more info, visit drinkdona.com