L-theanine, the unique amino acid found almost exclusively in the tea plant Camellia sinensis, is taking off as an active ingredient in beverages. Interest in the substance has been growing in recent years with launches of ready-to-drink (RTD) tea and sports and energy drinks featuring L-theanine steadily rising. Products containing L-theanine claim mixed benefits, including sustained energy release, focus, reduced stress and concentration. The ingredient is typically used as an energising alternative for those who do not like the energy-jolt and associated ‘jitters’ from caffeine.
Launches of beverages containing L-theanine have more than tripled in the four years to November 2016, according to Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD); however the number of products remains low. Indeed, just a handful of hot tea brands have highlighted L-theanine content, such as Lipton, which called out L-theanine on its Natural Energy black tea bags in the US and Tranquini, which uses the slogan “positively relaxed”.
While RTD tea is the main beverage category capitalising on the functionality of L-theanine, the past year has seen a surge in sport and energy drink launches. These brands have turned to tea in recent years to provide consumers with more natural ingredients in their beverages, and in the 12 months to November 2016, 9% of all sports and energy drink launches featured tea, marking an all-time high for the category, according to Mintel GNPD.
Potential for high L-theanine matcha
Matcha tea brands are well poised to take advantage of interest in L-theanine, given that this type of tea is especially high in the substance. Teapigs’ RTD matcha drink claims the drink provides consumers with “buckets of sprightliness”. While Red Bull’s Carpe Diem featured kombucha until recently, the company has just launched a sparkling matcha tea drink flavoured with ginger and nashi pear, described as “providing a soft energy kick”.
Swedish companies lead the way
Sweden has produced two notable beverage brands that harness the benefits of L-theanine. This interest in the development of an alternative to caffeinated beverages could be related to the fact that the Scandinavians are the second-highest consumers of coffee globally. On a per capita basis, they consumed 9kg per year in 2015, twice the amount consumed by Americans, according to Mintel Market Sizes. Indeed, coffee appears to be the energy drink of choice in Sweden, with their tea consumption on par with other European nations and their consumption of energy drinks quite low.
Weaning the Swedes off their beloved coffee will be no easy task, but that is exactly what the team at Naka plan to do, with products inspired by Japanese monks who would routinely drink matcha tea when meditating to help them maintain focus.
Another Swedish newcomer is Noa, a brand of fruit juice that contains 200mg of green tea extract, which it claims to be equivalent to 15 cups of green tea. This active ingredient is said to help consumers “cope with stress and maintain focus”.
What we think
L-theanine is featured in a small, but increasing, number of new product launches globally, indicating the key benefit of mental clarity is emerging as a new benefit in tea and energy drinks. Targeted product launches that focus on key users, such as university students and yoga devotees, that promise to aid ‘mental clarity’ and that help consumers understand this new type of beverage are proving successful.
Jodie Minotto is a Global Food and Drink Analyst at Mintel. She has more than 13 years of experience in sales, marketing and market research roles, predominantly in the food and beverage industry, working for both global CPG companies and SMEs. Her expertise lies in the dairy, confectionery, meal solutions, snack foods, beer and wine categories.