Powder Power: Drink Mixes Back in Style

Words like and only begin to describe the appeal of powdered and tablet drink mixes hitting store shelves. Pioneered by companies like Alacer Corp., which in 1978 introduced its Emergen-C effervescent drink mix, the category today is sprinting into the mainstream as manufacturers like Kraft Foods, 4C and Jones Soda Co. race to be first to market with their own versions of energy-promoting mixes and

Words like “light,” “portable” and “convenient” only begin to describe the appeal of powdered and tablet drink mixes hitting store shelves.

Pioneered by companies like Alacer Corp., which in 1978 introduced its Emergen-C effervescent drink mix, the category today is sprinting into the mainstream as manufacturers like Kraft Foods, 4C and Jones Soda Co. race to be first to market with their own versions of energy-promoting mixes and tablets.

“The era of ‘one size fits all’ in the beverage industry is long gone,” said Gary Hemphill, managing director of Beverage Marketing Corp., a consulting firm.

Among the newcomers: Jones Soda is in Whole Foods Market stores with 24c, a line of vitamin-enhanced powdered drink mixes. Veteran mix companies are also present: 4C has introduced Totally Light 2Go Vitamin Stix; and Kraft's Crystal Light has added three new varieties to its On The Go Enhanced line, introduced last year.

“Traditionally, people would buy powdered beverages for their value over ready-to-drink because they provided the consumer with more beverage on a per-ounce basis at a much lower cost,” said Hemphill, noting that many a childhood has been built around Kool-Aid and iced tea mixes.

“Now, health and wellness is the single most important driver.”

Whether sold in packs in the grocery section or individually at the checkout, the mixes and tablets typically contain pure cane sugar or a substitute sweetener, vitamins and minerals, and specialized ingredients such as antioxidants and electrolytes. The various formulas address specific needs, whether it's stamina, mental clarity or immunity.

There are also more specialized variations. A company called Phix offers green tea, yerba mate and multivitamins in its Energy product, and it adds herbs in a new formulation that promotes sleep. Zenergize offers reclosable tubes of 10 effervescent tablets in seven varieties.

All the products share a functional aspect. Marketers point out that, given the ongoing debate over plastic bottle waste, the powder sachets reduce the need to repeatedly purchase ready-to-drink performance beverages, and therefore cut down on bottle trash.

Still, not everything is going to dust — or, in this case, powder. Alacer is moving in the opposite direction and has introduced a line of bottled waters based on the tried-and-true Emergen-C formula.