Consumers shun alcohol in favour of healthy drinks like juices and probiotics, says university scientist

A growing demand for healthier drink options is putting the hospitality sector on notice as patrons increasingly shun alcohol and soft drinks in favour of probiotics and super juices.

RESEARCH: A researcher says Australians are turning to healthier drinks.

RESEARCH: A researcher says Australians are turning to healthier drinks.

A study led by University of South Australia researcher Rob Hallak shows increasing numbers of Australians are driving sales of healthy beverages, including super juices, kombucha products, herbal teas, bottled water and probiotic drinks.

Drink sales account for 40 per cent of the country's $45 billion annual spend on eating out, with health drink sales topping $2.1 billion in 2018.

The demand could help counter a global obesity epidemic fuelled by the booming restaurant and takeaway food trade, which is renowned for its high-calorie, less nutritious, meals and large portions.

Dr Hallak, a hospitality expert in UniSA's school of management, surveyed 400 restaurant, cafe, and hotel managers in Australia and New Zealand, examining their approach to healthy drink options.

Only 35 per cent of outlets in both countries sold probiotic drinks like kombucha and kefir, but almost three quarters of those who did, reported medium to strong demand. New Zealand businesses were 20 per cent more likely to sell probiotic drinks than businesses in Australia.

Franchises and pubs were less inclined than independently-owned cafes and newer businesses to sell probiotic drinks, despite evidence suggesting a strong growth in consumer demand for healthy alternatives.

"It was surprising to see that less than 10 per cent of businesses overall offered a 'healthy drinks' category on their menus," Dr Hallak says.

"While controlling demand through regulations - including warning labels and taxes - may be one way to halt the consumption of sugary drinks, increasing the variety, availability and supply of affordable healthier drink options could be more effective."

There are challenges to selling healthier drink options however. The profit margins are smaller, storage/fridge space is limited, and their shelf life is short.

"Consumer demand for healthy drink options is certainly gaining traction and it's time the industry and government did more to encourage entrepreneurs in this space," he says.

The findings are published in the British Food Journal.