Chili in Your Cola, Alcohol in Your Tea

Business aside, food fairs are a great place to drink in ideas, receive inspiration and see the technological developments and consumer directions that may lead the market in the years to come.

COLOGNE - There are things you'd be advised not to do at an international trade show. One is start the day at the beverage section. Nine in the morning is no time for alcohol, or even the "energy drinks" that have been taking the markets by storm.

At 9 A.M., even the staffers aren't jumping to the loud music yet. The drinks haven't been poured. Nobody's clinking glasses or raising toasts. The only people on the horizon are the corporate reps waiting for the hordes to descend, thousands of attendees crowding the halls and booths. They will drink, laugh, taste and above all buy. At that hour of the morning they're more likely to head for the cheese displays than those of trendy new intoxicants, and buy, buy, buy.

That's because everything at Anuga, one of the world's biggest fairs for the food industry, held in Cologne, Germany, every two years, boils down to business.

Business aside, food fairs are a great place to drink in ideas, receive inspiration and see the technological developments and consumer directions that may lead the market in the years to come.

If you decide to disdain convention and pester the sales reps in the beverages barn first thing in the morning, you'd get their undivided attention and have the opportunity to sample some truly interesting products at your leisure.

The way to do it is taste a lot of drinks that may sound a little strange. It begins with juices from fruits you've never heard of. Take the yangmei, also known as the red bayberry or yamamomo.

The Chinese have known about it for millennia and use it medicinally, but it's all but unknown in the West. It tastes rather like cranberries and is rich in vitamins and the antioxidant ellagic acid (which is also found in pomegranates, strawberries, walnuts and more). It looks like a lychee, but "eats" more like a cherry.

The Brazilians also have an exotic red fruit: acerola, which also tastes like cranberries. It's used in drinks, and the descriptions of its healthful qualities go on for pages. Acerola drinks (Pic. 1) are a hit in Japan, whether as juice, concentrate or in flavored water. If you want to taste the fruit itself, you have to settle for a lollipop. The company Niagro hopes to sell acerola drinks the world wide.

Another fruit processed into a drink, which may not be a good thing, is the Hawaiian noni. Polynesians may have been using it for centuries to strengthen themselves but the drink tastes rather repulsive. The Bononi drink (2), made in Germany, is touted as a major innovation at Anuga because its makers preserve the fruit's qualities in processing.

Then there's Pom Wonderful (3), a U.S. company that grows pomegranates and sells their unadulterated natural juice. If you imbibe pomegranate juice for health reasons alone you can get them in Pomx, a concentrated shot with 1,300 milligrams of antioxidants. Pom Wonderful also makes pomegranate pills.

Israelis have also figured out how to leverage the pomegranate. In the Israeli booth Yekev Rimon of Moshav Kerem Ben Zimra presents a wine, as well as pomegranate oil, juice and jams.

True Fruits of Germany (5) sells blends of natural fruit juices, notable for their pretty bottles. True Fruits made Anuga's "most innovative" list with a drink that contains high levels of the antioxidants in green tea.

Drink your facial, dear

In the category of "it's a plant, it's healthy, it's weird - let's drink it!" we can also place Happy Day (6), made by the Austrian company Rauch from rhubarb. Anuga observers think rhubarb is going to be the next thing in nonalcoholic beverages, point to the growing number of chefs enamored with the plant's sour, fruity qualities.

The Thai company Sappe also presents a new line of products: drinks purported to beautify. Chug one down and count it as a facial. The company makes four lines of these "cosmetic" beverages, differentiated by taste and characteristics: collagen, fiber, chlorophyll and Q10, for people who believe that one must suffer for beauty. Sappe's aloe vera drink is already imported into Israel.

Another offering in the category of "beauty beverages" is Glowelle (8). Launched last year, it's made by a Nestle subsidiary. Glowelle is base on pomegranate and lychee juice to which natural essences are added to help facial skin stay young, the company promises. It's sold in bottles that evoke Erlenmeyer flasks, from chemistry lab, and that also won several prizes for design.

These days, juice can also be transparent. South Korean company OKF produces a line called Sparkling, which made Anuga's most-innovative list and won the soubriquet of "new generation drinks." They are lightly carbonated and come in transparent plastic "cans." They are sugar-free and flavored only with natural essences, which persuaded Australia to allow their distribution in schools because they are healthy and non-fattening.

Sar and Imagram make completely transparent organic drinks based on mineral water in almond, lemon and orange flavors. They are sold in bottles with clean, simple lines that scream of elegance, which you pay for.

One drink that stood out for design is WB & Co's vegetable juice (9), which has won design awards all over the world since its launch last year. Aside from the clean, green design, the drink contains 100% vegetables and is chock full of vitamins.

Health isn't everything: There's also energy, and the energy drinks sector is fiercely competitive. It's a small market but a growing one, and innovation abounds.

There are the inevitable cans, and then there's Bomba Energy (10) of Austria, which hawks its drink in glass bottles shaped like hand grenades.

If you prefer to swallow your energy drink in one go you can try Boxlight Brands' X8 series. The taster who downed the shot of berry-flavored X8 reported eight hours of wakefulness and energy followed by terrific lassitude.

Energy drinks are quite the macho sphere. Virus Energy Drinks hopes to conquer the distaff side with Virus of Beauty (11). Predictably, the can is pink and sports a picture of a butterfly. It stands out against the aggressive designs common in this area.

LIVE Energy Drink (12) is sold in the United States with a unique business model - half the profit from every purchase is donated to charity. Its presentation at Anuga is meant to showcase the trend of consumer awareness.

At the other end of the rainbow we find Slow Cow (13), touted as an anti-energy drink. The cans bear a cow that looks either squashed or logy, you can decide for yourself. It contains chamomile, valerian and other plant essences that are supposed to held you relax from the rigors of the day.

But it's hard to relax at Anuga, and the party mood can be helped along with products by Singapore company Resorts, maker of Long Island Tea - spiked with alcohol, from 4.3% by volume to 9.9%.

Then there's Cola Rebell (14), a German product that's simply cola spiked with chili pepper - yup, spicy cola, which made the Anuga most-innovative list too. The company representatives say it was invented when a bunch of its guys went to a bar in Hamburg. One said he felt like something spicy. As a joke, one of the guys tossed chili pepper into the first guy's drink. The rest is history.