Still Hoping for Super fuel

So, I’m discussing this new Enviga stuff with a strapping store owner-type-of-guy at NACS, talking up its potential to make you burn a few extra calories and the fact that it doesn’t taste half-bad, and he looks at me and says, “Yeah, but here’s the problem: I need five of ‘em.”

He had a point. He was a big dude. A can or two of Enviga wasn’t going to do the trick for him. It won’t do the trick for most of us (except get us wired on about 300 mg of caffeine), in fact. But we want it to, desperately. No matter how strong any functional product claims to be, it’s belief that is the strongest function of all – the belief that holding a product will make us happier, thinner, more sophisticated, more intelligent, less nervous.

Which speaks well for Enviga and its ilk. Because even if Enviga works the way it’s supposed to, in the long run, what does the fact that you’ve burned about 60 calories really mean? I recently purchased a bag of chocolate-covered cherries at Peet’s Coffee. Two of them are a little more than 60 calories. As of this sentence, I’ve eaten nine of them. (Rest assured, they were all delicious.) That’s a lof of Envigas. But it’s what their functionality represents to the drinker that will make the sale.

That doesn’t mean that Enviga itself is going to be the first breakout mainstream functional product that has an effect beyond waking you up or making you less thirsty. But we think that Coke’s seeming willingness to cannonball into the pool of functional beverages indicates a major shift in the way beverage marketers understand consumer desire.

Consumers will give wide latitude to beverage marketers in terms of the claims they make about products. Right now, even the most unlikely claims (You know what they are…) are supportable financially not just because they might taste good, but because they soothe our aspirations.

Well, most of our aspirations, anyway. To me, most of the really good effects are going to be tough to pull off. For example, aside from the increased alertness that comes from full-on caffeination, no one has actually come up with a smart drink. And I’ve always wanted products that would give me superpowers — my wish for “telepathy tea” has been unheeded by even the quirkiest natural foods providers, who seem more interested in turning hemp seeds into milk – or, at least, could make me taller.)

But we believe that, down the road, as products are sorted not just by flavor, but also by potential physiological effect, the ones that actually work will eventually become important success stories. Look at energy drinks and, to a lesser extent, sports drinks: at the most basic level, they work. They wake you up, they hydrate you better. They’re also, in that vein, among the biggest recent success stories in the beverage industry.

So Enviga, and the products that are sure to follow it, is a glimpse of one possible future for the beverage industry, and it’s the chief component of our cover story on trends that will be of interest in the year to come. We’ve also got a glimpse of Fancy Foods West, a show of increasing importance, and some suggestions for stocking a contemporary New Age cooler, along with the usual columns and other departments.

In addition, we’d love to hear from you in the coming year. For example, if our Trends story doesn’t go far enough, we’d be happy to discuss it over another of our favorite functional beverages, one which we’re convinced make us much smarter, indeed: the Martini.