CBD Beverage Breakthroughs Creating Opportunities in 2023 and Beyond

CBD beverage technology trends

The rise of functional beverages has driven a sharp increase in the popularity of CBD-infused drinks. The timing for CBD beverages seems right as health-conscious consumers seek new ways to promote wellness while the increasing acceptance of cannabis is normalizing the use of CBD and making it more accessible.

As more informed consumers seek new CBD formats, CBD-infused beverages are growing across categories and customer segments. According to Nielsen, the top five growing segments to watch within CBD beverage trends are sparkling water and seltzer water, soft drinks, fruit drinks, energy beverages, and liquid tea.

The evolution of the market is being driven not only by curious consumers but by creative formulation teams leveraging significant advances to create better-tasting, more market-ready CDB beverages. Here are some of the advancements beverage innovators are leveraging to develop the CBD beverages of the future.

Leveraging Different CBD Formats

The more scientists work with CBD, the more they've learned to leverage the different types of CBD for various products and uses.

CBD types are differentiated by the compounds they contain, mainly cannabinoids and terpenes. Full-spectrum CBD includes all the cannabinoids, terpenes, and other beneficial compounds found in hemp, which includes trace amounts of THC. Broad-spectrum CBD contains most of those compounds except for THC. CBD isolate is just that — CBD, isolated from all other compounds.

Full and broad-spectrum are known for having the "entourage effect," which consumers perceive as more impactful because of the anecdotal wellness benefits associated with the additional minor cannabinoids and terpenes. The additional components bring an earthier flavor profile commonly associated with hemp and cannabis products. Isolate, on the other hand, has a cleaner flavor profile because of the removal of those compounds.

According to Brightfield Group, CBD isolate is the most popular form of CBD used in drinks, accounting for nearly 60% of all CBD products. CBD isolate is highly purified and offers formulation flexibility since it can be easily added to beverages without affecting flavor or viscosity.

In addition to the types of CBD being used, how CBD is incorporated into beverage products is also advancing. According to the leading supplier of CBD emulsions for food and beverages, SōRSE Technology, water-soluble emulsion technology for cannabinoids has become the preferred solution for infusing CBD into beverages.

"Water-soluble technology offers superior bioavailability and shelf stability compared to CBD oil," says Diana Eberlein, VP of Sales and Marketing at SōRSE.

Water-soluble CBD is created by emulsifying the CBD distillate (oil), reducing the particle size, and enrobing the molecules in a water-based solution, making it easier for the body to absorb and preventing separation.

According to Eberlein, a high-quality emulsion ensures that particles are suspended evenly throughout the beverage.

"Accurate and consistent particle size, stability, and homogeneity are essential for beverages," says Eberlein. "Consumers are counting on accurate dosing and a drink that looks and tastes the same, every time."

But a drink needs to be more than consistent to succeed. It needs to taste good. CBD emulsion technology and beverage formulation advancements are also stepping in to make CBD beverages more appealing and effective.

Improving Taste and Texture

Formulation teams have made great strides in improving the taste and texture of CBD-infused beverages, which can have an earthy taste and chalky texture.

One way to improve the taste of CBD drinks is to select the appropriate CBD for the specific type of beverage. Because CBD isolate is flavorless and odorless, it can be easily added to drinks without affecting the flavor.

Eberlein notes that the quality of the CBD used and how it’s made also impact the overall taste of a CBD beverage.

"An emulsion can make an ingredient like CBD, which has a bitter or disagreeable sensory effect, more palatable by reducing the traditional earthy flavor profile of hemp and cannabis products," says Eberlein. "A cleaner taste gives producers more control over the flavor profile of their beverages."

Another way to improve CBD drinks is to use natural flavors and sweeteners that complement, and therefore mask, the earthy taste of CBD. Terpenes, found in hemp, can also be used to enhance flavor.

  • Myrcene is a terpene often used in cannabis strains for its earthy, musky aroma. It is also used in CBD-infused beverages to improve taste and smell.
  • Limonene is a citrusy terpene used in CBD-infused beverages to add a refreshing flavor.
  • Pinene is a piney terpene used in CBD-infused beverages to add a woodsy flavor.
  • Caryophyllene is a peppery terpene used in CBD-infused beverages to add a spicy flavor.

Formulators are also leveraging developments, like SōRSE’s hop-derived beverage solutions, to customize the texture and mouthfeel of CBD beverages without incurring significant costs or additional equipment.

As CBD beverages evolve to overcome format and flavor challenges, they are also adapting to consumers’ growing desire to maximize CBD’s functionality throughout their lifestyles.

Making CBD Drinks More Effective

In addition to making CBD beverages more palatable, manufacturers are also working to make them more effective. One way to do this is to use a water-soluble emulsion process to reduce the size of CBD particles, making it easier for the body to absorb, resulting in more consistent effects.

CBD-infused beverages are also formulated with other ingredients to create synergistic effects and improve efficacy. For example, CBD-infused coffee is becoming popular for improving focus and cognitive function. CBD-infused tea is being used to enhance relaxation and sleep. Some companies, like Adapt SuperWater, the first NSF Certified for Sport CBD beverage, combine CBD with other functional ingredients and adaptogens.

The more consumers adopt CBD for varying functions, the more dosing options they are likely to look for within CBD beverages. Beverage brands are finding new ways to deliver effective CBD products that satisfy customers’ needs and meet stringent safety and quality requirements.

Better Quality Control

Consumer safety and quality control are vital in any food or beverage formulation, but it's essential when working with CBD. Because CBD is regulated, companies must ensure that their products comply with all applicable laws.

There are a few different ways to test the quality and potency of CBD, including high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), gas chromatography (GC), and mass spectrometry (MS).

  • HPLC: High-performance liquid chromatography is the most common testing method for CBD. This method can be used to measure the potency of CBD and identify impurities in the product.
  • GC: Gas chromatography is often used to confirm the results of an HPLC test.
  • MS: Mass spectrometry is a more sensitive method of testing CBD. This method can be used to measure the potency of CBD and identify impurities in the product.

In addition to studying and complying with laws and regulations, Eberlein stresses the importance of working with a trusted CBD supplier to ensure consistent quality and safety. 

"Your CBD producer should have established quality and safety standards, internal and third-party testing in place, and provide adequate documentation to verify quality and safety," says Eberlein.

The Future of CBD Drinks

The CBD drink industry is constantly growing and innovating new products, tastes, and effects to meet the needs of consumers who are more aware of what they put into their bodies than ever before. "Health & Wellness" is a lifestyle decision, and consumers are looking for seamless ways to get functional ingredients like CBD into their routine. Beverages are already an established delivery method for vitamins, supplements, and other adaptogens, so it’s only natural for the functional beverage space to include CBD and other minor cannabinoids.

While CBD is still the "new kid on the block" for the beverage industry, CBD will be included in formulations that feature a suite of functional ingredients, allowing brands to market their drinks to target specific desired effects and consumer types. According to SōRSE, CBD beverage innovation is moving faster than most know.

"CBD can be integrated into every beverage segment, from coffee and tea to sparkling waters and energy drinks," says Eberlein. "As research advances and more use cases are uncovered, we expect to see CBD listed on the nutritional panels of an even wider range of beverages."

New CBD Technologies to Watch:

CBD Emulsion
An emulsion is a type of water-soluble CBD that uses emulsion technology to create tiny droplets of CBD that are suspended in water.

CBD Enzymatic Conversion
In this process, enzymes convert CBD oil into water-soluble CBD. This makes it easier to add CBD to drinks without affecting flavor or viscosity.

CBD Microencapsulation
Microencapsulation is a process in which a protective coating surrounds tiny particles of CBD. This helps improve the stability of CBD and prevents it from separating from other ingredients. It also makes it easier to add CBD to beverages without affecting the flavor.

CBD Inclusion Complexes
Inclusion complexes are another type of water-soluble CBD that uses cyclodextrins to surround and protect CBD molecules. This helps improve the solubility of CBD and makes it easier to add to beverages.