Market surveys show that parents have been on autopilot for years in the children’s beverage aisle, whizzing through and spending less than 30 seconds on average choosing between pouches and portion-pack cartons for lunches and snacks. Getting them to slow their shopping carts down and take a closer look at the offerings — or, more importantly, attracting new shoppers to what has become a stagnant category — will take all-out innovation around the products in this category and the way they are presented.

The growth opportunity is in expanding consumer choices, including options that aren’t available here today. Consumers are looking for affordable, nutritious and delicious options but also are attracted to things that they haven’t seen before.

Product marketers are already carving out new niches that factor in key drivers like nutritional concerns and price sensitivity. Last year, nectars in a variety of fruit and vegetable juice blends found that sweet spot between healthy ingredients and cost, growing at a 75 percent pace in 2012, albeit from a small base, according to a SymphonyIRI report. By comparison, the report said higher-priced, 100 percent juice sales fell by 11 percent, and the cheaper juice drinks saw sales drop by 10 percent on the heels of demand-dampening price increases.

“It’s clear that kids’ beverages are crying out for innovation,” says Riccardo Vellani, beverage category manager for Tetra Pak U.S. and Canada. Out of 807 new beverage SKUs released in 2012, just 61 were targeted at kids, according to market-watcher Mintel. And between 2009 and 2012, there were 2,708 new beverages launched, with just 145, or about five percent, aimed at kids, according to Mintel figures.

As the stats from last year suggest, nectars appear to be a prime opportunity for growth, along with even more novel entrants such as kids’ coconut water, flavored waters and hybrid juice and milk blends. Each of these has the potential to appeal to nutrition-minded parents, who spend a bit more time reading labels in the kids’ beverage aisle, according to research conducted by Tetra Pak and SmartRevenue. Approximately 25 percent of parents spend up to 45 seconds browsing the aisle, the study found — and two in 10 shoppers overall leave without buying anything, indicating a dissatisfaction with the products on offer, or their prices.

Savvy producers are tapping into the trends with innovative offerings right now. Vita Coco recently introduced fruit-flavored coconut water for kids as a way to segment and expand the market and shake up the category. The company released three flavors this summer — Very Cherry Beach, Apple Island and Paradise Punch — packaged in the Tetra Aseptic Wedge with prominently displayed copy that plays up coconut water’s natural electrolyte load and the drink’s lower sugar and calorie count.

“Vita Coco Kids will not only expand our brand, we hope it will expand the children’s beverage category,” says Michael Kirban, Vita Coco co-founder and CEO. “Just as coconut water changed the dynamics of the mainstream beverage aisle over the past few years, we see Vita Coco Kids ushering in a new generation of kids’ drinks that are healthful, lower in calories and functional, while still delicious.”

But there are many more ripe targets for innovative products in this arena. Cartons and pouches of 100 percent juice and, at the other end of the price spectrum, drinks with less than 25 percent juice have been trading market share back and forth for more than two decades. That vast space between them — in terms of juice content, product formulation, demographic target (age) and price — offers enormous opportunity for innovation.

An example of an innovative product in that aisle is juice-milk hybrids that are nutritious, novel, great tasting and affordable, according to Vellani. These products have been popular in several developed and developing countries since the 1990s, Vellani says. Combining the protein and vitamins of milk with the great taste, lighter weight mouth-feel and refreshing qualities of juice, these products are sometimes referred to as “fortified juice.”

“We think this product arena has terrific potential,” Vellani says. “Europe is way ahead of us with milk-juice blends. Kids love them because they taste great, and parents love them because they are nutritious yet tend to be more affordable than 100 percent juice. But bottom line, they sell well and have revolutionized kids’ beverages there.”

And as innovative new products are developed, packaging must follow suit. “Research shows that kids are attracted to novel shapes and become really engaged with products thanks to the cachet of holding something new and different,” says Vellani. Tetra Pak’s most recent offerings with intriguing dimensions are the Tetra Wedge Aseptic and the tetrahedron-shaped Tetra Classic Aseptic.

Now more than ever, exciting new kids’ beverages have the potential to pull in more shoppers and increase consumption. The category is clearly ripe for a shake-up, and it will be the innovators — in product formulation, flavors and packaging — that will forge breakthroughs to grow the category and change the conversation.  

 Suley Muratoglu, vice president, Marketing & Product Management, Tetra Pak Inc. U.S. & Canada, currently runs the company’s presence in core categories, including dairy, beverage and food. Tetra Pak ( is the world’s leading food processing and packaging solutions company.