While gin has led the way in consumers’ understanding and appreciation of botanicals, other categories are now tapping into their growing popularity. We need only look to the seemingly unstoppable rise of non-alcoholic ‘spirits’ derived from botanical distillates for proof of that. And now botanicals are appearing in products further afield, including wine, beer and surprising spirits, such as rum.
The appeal of botanicals taps into trends around wellness and moderation
Wellness and moderation are now at the forefront of many consumers’ purchasing habits – especially Millennials. Clean, pure ingredients that don’t compromise on taste offer reassurance and shelf-appeal. Often sold in packaging that depicts their botanical, natural ingredients, these products are visually and nutritionally a marked change from the plethora of brightly coloured and artificial flavor-laden products previously aimed at LDA (Legal Drinking Age) consumers.
In fact, a number of products claim their botanicals offer functional benefits: on the alcohol-free side, Three Spirit is “the world’s first naturally uplifting, zero alcohol elixir” and is described as “a plant-based, non-alcoholic ‘social elixir’ for happier, healthier, more connected nights out”. Three Spirit’s plant ingredients, such as lion’s mane, cacao, yerba mate and damiana, have been chosen for their effect on dopamine, serotonin, GABA (a neurotransmitter that blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain, low levels may be linked to anxiety or mood disorders) and more.
Some alcohol products are benefiting from botanicals’ association with the ever-growing low- and no-alcohol category. These drinks advertise their functional, organic botanical ingredients such as rose petals (as an antidepressant and antioxidant), milk-thistle seeds (as a digestive tonic to help protect the liver), St John’s Wort, and lime flowers, to help combat anxiety and hypertension as well as the common cold. A number of launches also claim to offer environmental benefits, making use of ingredients – such as Lowlander 0.0%’s use of citrus – that would otherwise have gone to waste.
For some brands, botanicals only available in specific places or at certain times of year also offer a uniquely local or seasonal hook for consumers to buy into, an attribute that also helps to confirm these products’ craft credentials. The name of Seedlip Garden 108, for example, references how many days to seed, sow and hand-harvest peas, one of its main distillates. Oregon-based craft distiller meanwhile Wild Roots Spirits sources its botanicals, such as marionberry, huckleberry and apple, specifically from the state’s Willamette Valley.
Innovation outside of gin
Some botanicals can be divisive: a dislike of juniper is cited as the reason some consumers don’t like the flavour of gin. This has created an opportunity for spirits outside of gin. Adding botanicals – excluding juniper – to categories such as vodka may appeal to such consumers seeking an alternative. As many botanical-led spirits are made by re-distilling neutral spirits with select botanicals, consumers can opt for a spirit with the complexity of gin, without the bitterness of juniper. Brands must be careful of the level of flavour and the balance of the botanicals used in their products if they’re not to isolate consumers.
With proven consumer interest in botanicals, it makes sense that plant-sourced flavors and ingredients are now making an appearance in an ever diverse array of categories. Though estimates on the number of plants edible by humans varies, it is estimated that around 300,000 are suitable for consumption. However only around 200 species are currently eaten globally. The possibilities for drinks makers are vast. In fact, new alcohol ‘free spirit’ Feragaia has sourced a number of its botanicals from the sea, something we may see more of in future launches.
Floreat, for example, is a sparkling wine launched for the UK market that aims to link wine with wellness through its use of botanicals chosen for their mind- and mood-boosting properties. Its new expression contains 300 herbs and botanicals blended with Pinot Grigio from northern Italy and manufactured to medical-grade herbal standards. The beverage also contains vitamins C, B, E and zinc.
Other spirits that have innovated with botanicals includes UK vodka, Broken Clock, which has been infused with garden botanicals to create a liquid with a complex and long finish. Designed to have the character and complexity of a gin, but without the juniper, the liquid has been inspired by English country gardens. Amsterdam’s Spirited Union Distillery has launched a botanical white rum, a deliberate swerve away from overly sweet flavours in rum.
Looking at ales, The Good Living Brew Company in the UK has launched Binary Botanical Ale, which is a vegan and gluten-free light beer with a “tangy and aromatic profile.” The beer is aimed at wine, cider and beer drinkers. Dutch botanic brewer Lowlander launched a brew inspired by the island of Curacao. Made with vitamin C-rich Curacao orange and dragon fruit, Lowlander Island Summer Ale was made to honour the medicinal properties of the island’s flora and fauna.
Botanicals offer a feel-good factor
Botanicals offer consumers the feel good factor, as well as a tangible draw to those who may not understand or care about other aspects of drink production, such as triple distillation, or chill-filtration for example. Their association with low and no-alcohol drinks also helps them tap into a consumer base focused on moderation and wellness, especially when it comes to botanicals associated with a functional benefit. Sustainable sourcing, such as using ingredients that would otherwise have gone to waste, can also help brands reach consumers looking for products that are not only better for them, but better for the planet.
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