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Non-Dairy Sunflower Beverage Introduced

Tuesday, August 30, 2011
filed under: Marketing/Risk Management

From snack foods to beverages, new sunflower products seem to be popping up all over. Sunrich Naturals, a SunOpta brand, recently unveiled a new product called “SōL,” a non-dairy beverage made from nutrient-rich sunflower seeds.

Many consumers are looking toward non-dairy beverages due to food allergies, in an effort to reduce fat and cholesterol intake, or just to take advantage of the many benefits of plant sources of nutrition. Products from soy, rice and nuts, such as almonds, have been steadily increasing their market share opening the door for sunflower to enter the picture.

This is all good news for the consumer because the options for non-dairy milk keep getting better and tastier. In the March/ April 2011 issue of The Sunflower, readers were introduced to “Sunsational,” a non-dairy sunflower beverage produced by an up-start company based on the East Coast.

Sunrich Natural’s SōL, made with 100% U.S.-sourced sunflower seeds, is available in three flavors: Unsweetened, Original, and Vanilla. It is packaged in shelf-stable, 32-oz containers. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price is $2.69.

Tina Nelson, vice president of sales & marketing-consumer products at SunOpta Grains & Foods Group, says her company is excited to leverage its expertise as a leading producer of organic and natural non-dairy shelf-stable beverages by introducing SōL. Nelson recently offered some insights into the company’s newest product.

— Sonia Mullally

What was your marketing strategy for introducing a new sunflower beverage?

As one of the largest producers of aseptic non-dairy beverages in North America, SunOpta has unique insight into developing trends. Over the past several years, we recognized there was growing and significant interest in nut-based beverages. As the leading supplier and processor of sunflower in the U.S., our highly experienced R&D team set out to see what could be done with a beverage application. After a few years of development work, we’re very pleased with our final result: SōL.

Where is SōL marketed and sold?

Our first round of distribution is to natural food markets on a national basis. We’ve had incredibly positive responses from retailers and consumers. As of the time of this article, we have secured retail placements in most regions. We’ve even had some international interest and have started shipping to international destinations.

A big challenge with sunflower products continues to be creating/fostering consumer awareness. What are some of your company’s strategies for this area?

The stigma of sunflower seeds being a high-fat product is starting to fade as consumers begin to understand good fats and bad fats…and that our bodies NEED good fats for optimal function. We’re hopeful the more consumers see sunflower products – whether in SōL, sunflower butter, sunflower snack items, sunflower oil, sunflower in bread and baked goods – the more they’ll come to understand and embrace sunflower products as the ‘superfood’ that it is. The industry also seems to be benefitting from the plethora of health and nutrition studies touting the benefits of nuts and seeds.

How does sunflower fit into the non-dairy beverage category as a viable choice apart from soy or almond beverages for example?

When you examine the category consumption patterns of the non-dairy, shelf-stable beverage category, it’s very clear that this consumer is more of an adventurer and seeks a variety of flavors and types of beverages. I think it’s safe to say that true ‘foodies’ love what the category has to offer in terms of the variety of flavors and types – soy, almond, rice and sunflower. We feel these consumers will be greatly rewarded by the flavor and nutritional benefits of SōL.

Another aspect to consider is the increase in certain allergies such as dairy, wheat, soy and tree nuts (which includes almonds). With 8% of U.S. children suffering from food allergies, and 40% of those kids having a history of severe reactions, parents are looking for a delicious, nutrient packed alternative beverage that can be enjoyed in place of dairy or nut milk any time, and we feel SōL meets this need. During the product development process, we chose ingredients to specifically avoid the “big eight” allergens. There are no dairy, wheat, soy or nut ingredients in SōL.

What are some of the challenges with consumer acceptability of non-dairy beverages in general?

As part of our product development process, we conducted a two-day consumer panel at Purdue University. This blind taste test compared a full spectrum of sensory aspects between SōL and the leading brand of rice milk and almond milk. SōL was scored at parity with almond, with a slight preference toward the flavor of SōL and both almond and sunflower ranked much higher than rice milk in all sensory measurements.

As far as consumers choosing this as a replacement for cow’s milk, I think that’s part of the motivation. The rest of it has to do with folks enjoying flavor variety in their beverages…and with non-dairy beverages, especially in the shelf-stable category; they’ve discovered a wide range of nutritional benefits as well.

In terms of nutritional value, how should this propel your product from a marketing standpoint. Are nutrients added?

SōL Sunflower beverage is fortified with vital nutrients, similar to that of other non-dairy beverages and cow’s milk. The consumer has come to expect this fortification, especially in this particular beverage category. One of nature’s most potent ‘superfoods’ sunflower seeds are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals that help neutralize cancer-causing free radicals and slow down signs of aging. Each serving of SōL is packed with essential minerals such as phosphorus and magnesium. SōL’s vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats boost immunity, promote brain and heart health, strengthen bones and teeth, and promote beautiful, younger-looking skin from within.

Some features that set SōL apart are its Vitamin E (50% RDA) and Folic Acid (20%RDA) content – similar to what you would find in a single serving of sunflower kernels. SōL also has the trifecta for bone health of Calcium (30% RDA), Vitamin D (25% RDA) and Magnesium (6% RDA). SōL is certainly a tribute to the ‘superfood’ composition of sunflower seeds.

To learn more about SōL, go to
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