RTD drinks remain the most innovative in the beverage sector

I always enjoy attending the annual Fancy Food Show in New York City because it is the one trade show where I do not feel like a ‘stalker’…Before calling the authorities, let me explain. Whether I attend a conference, convention or trade show, I am constantly staring (squinting these days) at attendees to try to read their badges, and often following them – or chasing them – down aisles if it is an executive from a coffee or tea company with whom I would really like to speak. At the Fancy Food Show, food and beverage companies are the exhibitors so rather than utilising my chase skills, I am able to speak with them at their booths, which is refreshing, more civilised, and frankly a lot less exhausting!

Companies are often introducing new products or brands or displaying their recent launches at the Fancy Food Show (which took place between 23-25 June this year), so it is also the perfect opportunity to sample new coffee and tea SKUs. Most companies exhibiting at the show look to gain or expand their retail distribution in the United States. Whittard, for example, is a well-known and highly regarded English tea brand –established in 1886 – but it began to expand its presence in the US only recently so the show is an ideal place to meet retailers. Some companies exhibit hoping to find distributors to launch their products in US stores. For example, Shun Tea, from Japan, which was promoting its Camellia sinensis stem-based matcha called ‘bowcha’ and Brewix from India, which offers black, green and herbal and botanical teas in plastic-free, sugarcane-based packaging, were both hoping to find distributors to help bring their products in the US market.

On the coffee side, licensed brands were strong with many of the established companies (those already available at retail but looking to expand their distribution). White Coffee has long offered an array of licensed brands in its coffee assortment such as Harry & David, Entenmann’s, Jim Bean, Bailey’s and Peanuts. Two of its newest licensed ground coffee products are M&M’s and Snickers branded coffee, which join Twix and Dove.

Two Rivers Coffee from New Jersey also offers several licensed coffee products including ice cream brands Friendly’s and Cold Stone Creamery. Its newest item is Kellogg’s Eggo-branded coffee. According to Sam Blaney, vice president of sales and marketing, this is the first time Kellogg’s has licensed the Eggo name to another F&B product. Flavours for the single-serve coffee line include vanilla, maple syrup, cinnamon toast, chocolate chip and blueberry. When I asked who they are targeting with the Eggo coffee line, Blaney said it’s a nostalgia brand so he believes the line will appeal to anyone who grew up eating Eggo waffles, and of course, Gen Z, because that demo tends to enjoy sweet flavours.

New English Teas Ltd has also specialised in licensed products such as Beatrix Potter and tea sporting the Royals such as Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles, and Prince William and Princess Kate (technically, it may be Kate, the Princess of Wales). At the Fancy Food Show, New English Teas was highlighting its new Harry Potter line, which ranged from small decorative tins to beautiful large canisters and included a variety of flavours in both loose leaf tea and tea bags.

Unsurprisingly, the most innovation was in the ready-to-drink segment. Boba/bubble tea was ubiquitous, offering a variety of flavours (mango, passionfruit green tea; peach oolong tea; mixed berry hibiscus, etc.) including new tapioca and juice-based boba flavours, and instant bubble tea and instant popping boba kits. There were myriad companies offering new coffee and RTD drinks from cold brewed, to lightly sweetened and unsweetened, those with plant-based additives, and of course, new flavours, such as a lavender and maple oat milk latte from Dripdash, but the real innovation was in functional RTD coffee and tea.

Frujava won the Sofi Gold Award from the Specialty Food Association in the Energy Drink Waters & Functional Beverages category for its coffee bean and green coffee extract-based Cherry Vanilla Energy Drink. Frujava is targeting those consumers who would like the ‘energy’ benefits that energy drinks provide – each can contains 80mg of caffeine – but naturally, as the caffeine is derived from coffee. The drink tasted more like a semi-sparkling juice so it will appeal to those who may not want a soda but do want caffeine yet not necessarily a cup of coffee or a typical energy drink, both of which have much higher levels of caffeine.

Monatea, from South Africa – which was also looking for a distributor – was promoting its cold-brew sparkling rooibos drink (a subtle sparkling tea) that is caffeine-free, organic, has no sugar and only one calorie in distinct flavours such as ginger/peach/African olive leaf, sage/lime/Cape Mint, and hibiscus/berry/buchu. For those who prefer a sweetened beverage, Monatea also offers lightly sweetened versions. Many of the ingredients are native to only the Cape Floral Kingdom of South Africa, which adds to the uniqueness and originality of the drinks.

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