“When I started selling drinking vinegar to a market in Portland several years ago, there were no products at grocery stores besides apple cider vinegar, and even that wasn’t [promoted] as ‘drinking vinegar’ for health,” Takako Shinjo, founder of Suganju and co-founder of Genki-Su, told FoodNavigator-USA. But, she added, “now, I can count five or six locally made drinking vinegar products and more nationwide and from overseas.”
Still, she cautions, the category is new to most Americans and it requires a lot of consumer education, which is best addressed by the industry as a whole.
“Instead of competing [with] each other, we all … need to cooperate to promote our products” in their many forms, whether those are shrubs, switchel or drinking vinegar like those made by Suganju.
Specifically, she recommends industry better position drinking vinegar as a healthy, better-for-you option to sugary soft drinks, which are falling out of favor as consumers focus more on health and wellness.
Balancing sweet with healthy
Another challenge the category as a whole must address is overcoming the sour taste and slightly pungent flavor of the vinegar without adding too much sweetener or excess flavoring.
One way Shinjo did this with her Genki-su line of drinking vinegar was to use stevia and honey, rather than sugar to keep the calories down. However, Shinjo’s new line of drinking vinegar, Suganju, uses organic cane sugar to soften the organic vinegar’s pungent flavor but without the bitter aftertaste sometimes associated with stevia.
Shinjo also uses a variety of fruits and herbs to round out the vinegar in her new line. These range from Oregon Mixed Berries to Grapefruit Rosemary to Plum Shiso and Ginger Turmeric, among others.
Increasing convenience to increase sales
A third hurdle blocking widespread mainstream adoption of drinking vinegar is making it more convenient, Shinjo said, explaining that often drinking vinegars are sold concentrated in multi-serve bottles with directions to dilute them in juice, smoothies or fizzy water.
“Convenience is a key to be successful in the beverage industry, so I am working on a single-serve pouch [that] customers can take … with them on the go,” she said.
She envisions consumers “adding a bag of drinking vinegar to their drinks at the gym, yoga studio, during a hike, on an airplane, in a hotel room and a mini-bar!”
Keep price down without lowering the quality
The final major challenge drinking vinegars must overcome are perceptions that they are expensive, Shinjo said.
Her new line of drinking vinegar sells for $9.99 to $11.99 for a 12-ounce bottle, which is less than some competitors, but can still seem high to some consumers who are used to spending a few dollars for the same amount of liquid.
The solution here, Shinjo said, is to explain clearly that each bottle has up to 10 servings – making it more like 99 cents to $1.99 per serving, which is much easier for many mainstream shoppers to swallow.
If drinking vinegar manufacturers can overcome these hurdles, Shinjo says she is confidence the category will go mainstream because it fits so many other macro trends, including better-for-you, fermented and a flavor adventure.