Medicinal mushrooms have profound health-promoting benefits. They have been traditionally used in ancient therapies, but recent studies have also proved their favourable effects. Some species, such as lion’s mane, chaga, reishi and cordyceps, have been related to different properties, targeting immune support and brain health, being positioned as energy boosters or helping to promote a good night’s sleep. Historically, these mushrooms were consumed as hot drinks, but companies like Sayan Health, Four Sigmatic and Nordic Nordic have recently reignited the tradition and developed coffees and teas containing mushrooms, stressing their health benefits to consumers. These products are showing great potential, alongside growing consumption of health and wellness hot drinks, which was valued at US$41.0 billion globally in 2015.
Medicinal mushrooms’ health claims are still up in the air
Beverage company Four Sigmatic has created a variety of mushroom blends combined with different flavours to make them taste good. The range comprises mushroom hot cocoas and coffees, and includes species like: lion’s mane, claiming to improve memory, boost creativity and help with concentration; chaga, which has been associated with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects; reishi, aiding to relax and ensure a good night’s sleep; and cordyceps, which provides an energy boost and helps recovery after exercise.
However, these health benefits cannot be claimed on the packaging. Lari Laurikkala, Product Manager for Four Sigmatic, has recognised this as one of the biggest challenges for the company. For instance, chaga mushroom is considered a novel food in the EU and it can only be used in food supplements, as powder and/or extract, so there is still a long way to go. Despite this, Lari says “our Chaga drink is one of the fastest growing products, seeing differences between regions; the US is showing the biggest growth, whereas Europe is seeing flatter growth at the moment”.
Chaga mushroom tea is enjoying more mainstream popularity
Other companies like Sayan Health have specialised in chaga mushroom, with a wide range of chaga-based products on offer, including beverages and skin products like soap and cream. David Vartanian, Founder and CEO of the company, has commented that tea can be made with other mushrooms but the taste is a challenge and, in its pure form, only chaga could be used as tea, as it tastes better. This species also contains a specific complex called chromogenic and in its cream base it is highly protective for the skin.
Sayan Health was the first company to introduce chaga mushroom beverages back in 2007. According to David Vartanian, “at that time, very few people knew what chaga mushroom is. For the last nine years, awareness of chaga mushroom has increased a lot. And currently, it is still rising”. He also revealed that the company has experienced growth in sales every year, has incorporated new products into its range and now has a presence in more than 50 countries across the world where its products are selling very well. For instance, its chaga extract powder saw an increase in sales of 30% from 2014 to 2016, albeit from a relatively small base.
In addition, the company claims that chaga extract has a very high antioxidant level when compared with other high-antioxidant foods, far exceeding that of pomegranates, blueberries and acai extract, which makes this product very interesting.
Comparison of Antioxidant Level
Source: Brunswick Laboratories (chaga extract); USDA (acai extract, pomegranate and blueberries)
Note: ORAC: Oxygen radical absorbance capacity; molTE: mol trolox equivalent
Nordic Nordic is another company that only makes tea with chaga. The company only recently appeared on the market and boasts a wide range of flavours within its chaga tea products, like cinnamon, vanilla and peppermint. Reeta, Co-Founder of the company, agrees with David Vartanian in saying that chaga is the best choice for tea because of its abundance of benefits and its very pleasant taste when processed in a pure way. “People love it” she says. “Chaga has been popular in certain more health-conscious circles for years but it’s finally starting to reach more mainstream popularity. I think the best years of chaga are not here yet and we look forward to more people finding the natural healing properties of it! We have been in business for about a year now and our sales of chaga have drastically risen each month” she notes.
Is chaga the new “coffee/tea” for the affluent?
When compared with other HW hot drinks, such as HW coffee or tea, with average prices of mushroom drinks can be more than 20 times higher. For instance, a packet of Four Sigmatic Chaga tea (with 20 sachets of 3g per box) costs €35.00 (US$30 per box; US$507 per kg), Nordic Nordic Chaga tea retails at US$667.00 per kg, while Sayan Health offers its Siberian Chaga Extract Powder in bulk for US$300.00 per kg.
However, Four Sigmatic’s Product Manager says that it does not see hot drinks as competition; the company’s main goal is to introduce mushrooms’ health benefits in the same way as through supplements but it feels that hot drinks is a more natural way and is actually the traditional way to consume mushrooms in ancient cultures, resulting in a reduction in consumption of pills. As a result, supplements are seen to be mushroom drinks’ main competition.
Of the three companies evaluated, Sayan Health’s tea is the most affordable, but Nordic Nordic tea sachets are reusable and can be used to make at least three cups, which makes them more economical.
Are millennials the key target for mushroom drinks?
Millennials accounted for mushroom tea. They have different tastes and priorities and are keen to try innovative products. They also have strong ethical views, so natural, raw products, with easy-to-understand labels in line with the clean label trend, could be successfully applied to mushroom beverages. In addition, naturally healthy fruit/herbal tea grew very fast over 2010-2015, with absolute growth globally of mushroom tea companies should also keep an eye on developing organic tea varieties as they are liked by millennials and
Sayan Health also focuses on people with health challenges that want to add natural supplements to their diets to support their health. “In general everyone who is above 35 years of age is our client. People after 60 years of age, who are going through different health challenges, are our target as well. So there are two categories and each has its own reason to buy chaga mushroom dietary supplement” David Vartanian notes.
Finding convenience in chaga tea formats
RTD beverages are more convenient than powder formats and this brings a key advantage for millennial consumers that are a generation on the go, looking for convenience in all aspects of their food experiences. This is also in line with the fast growth in sales of HW RTD tea between 2010 and 2015, up by
Demands for convenience are at the forefront of companies’ thoughts; Four Sigmatic is keeping an eye on this idea as its target consumers are urban, young people with a desire to be healthy. At the moment, the development of powder options is much more economical, but according to Lari Laurikkala, ready-to-drink options might happen one day.
According to Reeta from Nordic Nordic, ready-to-drink options would be costly. However, she says “we are planning on launching an instant chaga product in the next 2-3 months. This product will address some of the convenience concerns of the millennials. A small amount of the chaga will be able to be mixed in almost any cool or warm liquid or food for the same health benefits. The small pouch of chaga will be easily carried in a purse, sports bag or even pocket”.
David Vartanian from Sayan Health also confirms that the company is thinking about making RTD chaga tea or a different healthy RTD beverage but agreed that marketing costs would be high as chaga drinks are still not known by many people.
Companies will have to evaluate individually if they can afford to develop RTD options but considering that sales of other NH RTD tea are expected to rise by