The Growing and Changing Sports Beverage Market

Unit sales in sports drinks are growing at three times the rate of carbonated soft drinks (CSD) according to IRI data ending in June of this year. Sales in the CSD market continue to decline and future forecasts are flat. In contrast, performance drinks are projected to grow 29% from 2016-21(Mintel). Today’s consumers are looking for convenient ways to pursue a healthy lifestyle, often wanting more out of their everyday drink offerings. Innovation in sports drinks has been spurred by this consumer mentality of “what can this beverage do for me?” In turn, brands have responded by adding nutritional value like electrolytes, minerals, and pre-biotics to their replenishing or rehydrating beverages.

While most performance drinks on the market today use artificial ingredients, there are a number of emerging players who are using natural ingredients to differentiate themselves.
sports-drink-imgA year ago I wrote about natural orange and blue colors for beverages, but even in this short time frame and given the new trend of value-added ingredients like electrolytes and minerals, beverage formulations have become more complicated than ever before. I thought it would be best to revisit this topic and factor in these added nutritionals.

Replenish with Colors from the Rainbow—Naturally!
Natural color stability in electrolyte or mineral beverages primarily depends on the following factors:



RED 40

Red Anthocyanin Vegetable Juices

Red Anthocyanin Vegetable Juices + Beta-Carotene

Carmine + Beta-Carotene

Tomato-based Colors + Beta-Carotene

Natural Formulation Tips

Some anthocyanin-based reds are challenging in pH environments above 4.0, especially with the presence of ascorbic acid.




Paprika-based colors like
Pure-S™ Orange

Red Anthocyanin Vegetable Juices + Yellow Beta-Carotene

Red Anthocyanin Fruit Juice + Yellow Beta-Carotene

Natural Formulation Tips

Oil-soluble colors like orange beta-carotenes like oil better than water, so the color tends to group at the surface of beverages, resulting in a ringing effect on the plastic bottle, cap, and even equipminent tubes.

Some plant-based color sources have not been suitable for beverage applications due to strong, inherited flavor off-notes.




Encapsulated beta-carotenes like our Advanced Emulsion Technology (AET) Beta-Carotene

Turmeric dependent on packaging

Natural Formulation Tips

Just orange beta-carotenes, yellow shades from this source also prefer oil better than water so the color tends to group at the surface of beverages resulting in a ringing effect on the plastic bottle, cap and even equipment tubes.

Yellow shades from Turmeric are bright and vivid; however, this color is light sensitive and will precipitate over time. It’s a great yellow option for drinks without clear packaging though.




Spirulina (Only for powder drink mixes)

pH stable vegetable juices like Sensient’s Butterfly Pea Flower Extract

Natural Formulation Tips

Generally an uncommon color found in the produce section, a Blue 1 replacement from botanical sources for high water activity applications is the only shade that is truly still missing from the industry.

Spirulina is a great natural alternative to Blue 1 from a shade standpoint but only in a powdered beverage mix. It’s not stable in RTD drinks below pH 4.0 and doesn’t survive the pasteurization process or high water activity.

Some ions and metals from hard water can impact natural blues shades, so filtered water is recommended.




BLUE 1 +


pH-stable blue vegetable juices + Turmeric or encapsulated Beta-Carotenes

Natural Formulation Tips

Natural Greens are formulated by combining blues and yellows, so any factors impacting blues and yellows affect natural greens.



BLUE 1 +

RED 40

pH stable blue vegetable juice + Red Anthocyanins

Sensient’s Butterfly Pea Flower Extract in pH below 3.6

Fruit Juice Anthocyanins

Natural Formulation Tips

Most anthocyanins in these pH environments exhibit burgundy shades, rather than true purples.

The cleanest purples are achieved by a blend of natural blues and reds.


Color doesn’t mean artificial anymore.

Just take a look at your retailer’s produce section, it’s abundant in vivid reds, bold oranges, bright yellows, many greens, and vibrant purples— “naturalness” is colorful!

In a category where color is certainly prominent, there is great opportunity to cater to consumer requests for cleaner ingredients through natural color conversion. When today’s ingredient-conscious consumers are increasingly seeking naturally positioned options, there is a tremendous growth opportunity available.

As you know from my blogs, I really enjoy teaching others about natural color, so if you have any questions or projects where you may need assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

We also specialize in compatible color and flavor systems should you want to create an integrated solution.

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