Sipping her way through Dry January, Rosie Greenaway explores what’s on the menu in the world of functional drinks
When NPN spoke to Will Fugard, CEO, Gusto Organic, in 2021 he was persuading hotels and petrol stations to stock Super DC beside conventional sodas. The brand’s functional drinks were already on offer in Heathrow’s BA lounge; nine months on, Fugard says Super DC outsells Gusto’s organic soft drinks there ‘by a consider-able margin’. That’s how fast the functional drinks market is booming.
Wings for the weary
“Airport sales offer a perfect marriage of context and function. Super DC appeals to tired travellers, anxious about their immune systems, who want … a boost before or after being on a plane with hundreds of other people. If you can place your functional drink where that function is most required, it will literally fly off the shelves,” says Fugard.
Indeed, any close proximity setting these days is enough to make people immune aware. “It is unlikely we are going to see the interest in immune support … waning any time soon. Customers are tiring with the endless stream of broadcast doom and are looking at other ways they can keep themselves and their families safe.”
Energy, too, remains a draw for the weary public – let’s face it, life can be relentlessly tiring. Gusto’s solution to keeping people peppy doesn’t involve the synthetic caffeine found in mainstream energy drinks because consumers are becoming more wary of ‘where they get their wings from’. Instead, the brand’s Original Energy bottles are packed with stimulating guarana, cola nut and adaptogenic Siberian ginseng. “There is a much more attractive narrative in getting your energy from the ancient and ceremonially revered cola nut,” says Fugard.
Beers with benefits
Adaptogens are making their way into some fascinating new bevvies. Last September NPN presented new-comer The Functional Brew Company with the award for Best New Drink Product in the Natural & Organic Awards Europe 2021. The drink that caught the judges’ eyes was Fungtn Lion’s Mane IPA – a unique alcohol-free craft beer finished with a 500mg dose of mushrooms. Think of it as adding benefits to your Friday night bevy. Zoey Henderson, founder, calls it ‘bringing ancient wisdom into modern-day beer drinking (without the hangover)’.
You might wonder what place mushrooms have in beer, but Henderson says liquid is the perfect delivery vehicle for their ‘amazing health benefits’ – that’s how you get the most out of them. Reishi, turkey tail and cordyceps are hard and unpleasant to chew, plus ‘half of the compounds are trapped in their very fibrous coatings [so] they wouldn’t be bioavailable to you’ if you ate them. “Hot water extraction is the most traditional method, brewing it into teas. People have done that for thousands of years. Because of their solubility … some compounds will only come out if you draw them out with alcohol and some … with water.”
Henderson’s ‘obsession’ with mushrooms was sparked on a visit to the US seven years ago when she’d just sold her coffee shop, was stressed and suffering with eczema. “I needed something to boost my body. Four Sigmatic had a pop-up in LA called The Shroom Room. It was just a crazy guy and all these … adaptogenic mushrooms. I was fascinated by them.”
A spoonful of mushrooms
To this day, she has a spoonful of mushrooms in her daily coffee. “Reishi is a great anti-inflammatory and antihistamine. Chaga is amazing for the immune system. Lion’s Mane is awesome for memory, focus. They’re each good to have at different times of the day.” The decision to incorporate them into a beer came from working as a mindful drinking consultant, which exposed her to alcohol-free launches and ‘a movement of people wanting to have more healthy drink options’.
“CBD was coming up and people were getting quite au fait with the cannabinoid system. We were seeing lots more botanicals come into the mainstream so it seemed like a great time.” Henderson said the idea for Fungtn was born from ‘selfishness’: she loved mushrooms, she loved alcohol-free beer, and in 2020 when her Dry January journey turned into almost a year of no drinking, she realized the earthy, bitter-sweet nuttiness of mushrooms would complement the flavour profiles of craft beer. Nobody had done it commercially – not in the low-and-no world. The first recipe involved a spoonful of mushroom powder stirred into her beer and was refined from there to create the multi-award-winning brew on shelf today.
“We are creatures of ceremony; it’s very important to get things into our habitual lives and our routines – whether that’s your morning coffee, your post-work smoothie, your after-work drink. The more wonderful adaptogens … we can get into our everyday diet, the better.”
So what does Fungtn’s beer taste like? The brand carefully balances the mushrooms’ ‘hardcore, astringent, bitter’ tastes because ‘if you want a mainstream product, it has to taste good’. “The way we brew our beers is a classic beer recipe: hops, barley, malt, yeast. We cap fermentation – so we don’t de-alcoholize, we don’t use hop oils or hop flavours, we just put a really heat-sensitive yeast in there so it stops it from over-fermenting past 0.4%. Our IPA’s got a really interesting stone fruit-flavoured profile mixed with a bit of hay and earth. But the Lion’s Mane is super interesting because … when it’s fresh it almost has the flavour of smoked chicken. When it’s dried it tastes like walnut … so that really complements the apricot vibes. It’s a well-rounded flavour.”
Navigating the niche
Are British palettes ready for a niche drink like this? “Give people something that they don’t realize they want yet – nobody thought we needed an iPad! As a small challenger brand … you have to put a large amount of time [and] money into … getting people’s heads around it. We’re the first brand doing this in the world, which is incredible, but it also means … we’re literally starting from the beginning. I think consumers now are open to … more unusual things going into their food and drink. CBD has been amazing for this.”
While kombucha-lovers may bemoan the fact it still isn’t widely stocked in pubs, Fungtn is steadily making a name for itself in hospitality, with 45 indie stockists. Henderson uses her consultancy experience to educate venues about promoting ‘dry’ options to drinkers to increase demand.
As a beer, Fungtn fits into off licences, bars and restaurants; as a health drink it
maximizes its reach via health food stores and delis. And as brand rides the waves of the ‘shroom boom’, Henderson believes consumer appetite will only increase as the health-savvy flock towards the numerous health benefits of medicinal mushies. “The UK will be … a slow burn, but I’m confident that there’s enough interest in fungi … to help propel that.”
Henderson offers final thoughts on the functional drinks sector: “I think we are in an interesting space. We’ve carved out a completely new category of beverage. The non-alcohol sector is a whole new independent beverage channel which hasn’t ever happened in our lifetime. It’s evolving – like everything does now – exponentially quicker than other things have done in the past. People are taking control of their health and wellness by the foods and drinks that they consume. There’s a lot more scope for different herbs and botanicals. It’s a really exciting opportunity.”
Can with a van
A brand which also launched in 2020 and taps into the CBD market is INTUNE, founded by Hannah Glasson who discovered CBD’s benefits when she underwent treatment for cancer. “As a drinks industry communications professional, I loved my job and wanted to work throughout treatment. I found that CBD enabled me to do just that.” She explains that because of how the endocannabinoid system regulates mind and body and promotes balance – a state called homeostasis – CBD helped her not only relax but be ‘in the moment’ too. “My friends and colleagues experienced its positive impacts too, so I decided to make CBD taste amazing and bring its benefit of focus to more people through a vibrant brand.”
And the branding really is vibrant, with colourful geometric designs adorning its cans of Grapefruit & Mint, Elderflower & Hops and Pomegranate & Ginger. Also on offer are CBD mixers (Ginger, Lemon and Mint) hitting the low-and-no market and helping INTUNE fulfil its mission to ‘bring CBD to more people through great tasting drinks’. “I often drink a can of our Elderflower & Hops over ice as an alternative to alcohol. I find the dryness of the hops really hits the spot. Our Mixers were developed with low-and-no drinking in mind. We often combine them with the likes of Caleño, Everleaf or Nonsuch to create non-alc cocktails with the benefit of CBD. It’s an INTUNE point of difference in the CBD space and we definitely want to develop this as we grow.
“Our drinks are … vegan with no preservatives, additives or artificial sweeteners. They enable people to easily fit CBD into their daily lives in a delicious way.” Containing a 10mg ‘lifestyle dose’ of CBD, a can from the Originals range helps Glasson get through ‘the 3pm slump’.
INTUNE delivers via bike and an electric truck – affectionately named Cosmo. “Through the first lockdown, we made a lot of deliveries in Cosmo around London … to people’s homes … as well as dropping drinks to our stockists.
“In 2021, we brought our drinks to the nation through street food markets, trend-leading grocery shops, bars and restaurants. 2022 will be a big year for the CBD market as we have been going through regulation, which we expect to be finalized within the next 18 months. This will enable us to go bigger; INTUNE is ideal for live music experiences and we’ll be bringing our drinks to festivals … enabling more people to switch mode and live in the moment.”
Glasson also believes that while the ‘functional drinks sector was already on an upward trajectory before the pandemic’, healthy habits established in the ‘new normal’ are here to stay. “The average spend on functional wellness drinks is now more than twice the average spent on soft drinks … according to a Nielsen study conducted by Britvic.”
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Gusto Super DC Immune Support
Gusto’s Super DC is available in two delicious flavours: Blood Orange and Blackcurrant & Elderberry and is free from artificial sweeteners, under 70 calories and sweetened with fruit juices. We’re proud to be the only immune support drink with a Great Taste award for our Blackcurrant and Elderberry flavour! We have blended extracts of British super-fruit Elderberry with White Mulberry and Acerola Cherry, all natural sources of potent antioxidants, known to help reduce the severity of cold & flu and fight free radicals. Our ingredients within Super DC work synergistically to optimise effect and are conveniently available if a fully recyclable grab and go can for every day support. Super DC delivers a high dose of immune-supporting vitamin D and vitamin C, Zinc, vitamin A, folic acid and vitamin K and make delicious functional drinks to support a healthy immune system.
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Fungtn – Adaptogenic alcohol free craft beer
Alcohol free craft beer brewed with functional mushrooms. No, your beer won’t taste like mushroom! These super food fungi contain adaptogenic compounds that help balance health and support wellness. Our beers are vegan and gluten free and with nutty, earthy, bitter flavour profiles, much like hops, our functional mushrooms blend well into a banging trio of 0.4% craft beers.