Functional straws to make their mark in the beverage industry

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 22nd September 2008

Australian company Unistraw is continuing to expand their offering of straws to focus on the booming functional sector of the beverage market.

Unistraw International Ltd. first came to prominence with the release of the ‘Sipahh’ – a straw which adds flavour to milk. Inventor Peter Baron came up with the idea just over a decade ago, as he sought to find a way to flavour milk at a low cost and with less sugar.

Commercialisation on a global scale begun in 2004 after years of development and the success since the ’05 launch has been phenomenal. The product, targeted toward children, has won numerous awards around the globe and can be found at a wide range of food retailers (from supermarkets to fast-food chains such as McDonald’s) in over 100 countries.

The increased consumer desire for health and convenience has ensured a strong market for the product and has created extensive growth prospects for the company. Using their Unistraw Delivery System (UDS), the company hopes to expand into a range of new categories including water, sports drinks, ready-to-drink alcohol products and “nutraceutical” beverages. The nutraceutical applications effectively revolve around the concept of functional beverages, whereby products will be enhanced enhanced with vitamins, minerals, probiotics or herbal supplements. They are even anticipating the design could allow over-the-counter medicines to be delivered with the help of a straw.

Unistraw last week signed a global agreement with packaging company Tetra Pak for a patented on-pack straw drinking system that can deliver probiotics in long life milk, dairy products and juice – potentially the first step beyond flavoured milk for the Australian business (they also currently sell Ma’ia Iced Coffee Straws).

The Unistraw on-pack straw delivery system will allow producers to offer consumers long life products with probiotics, according to Tetra Pak. The delivery system stores the probiotics in the straw in the form of dry, stable UniBeads which are held in place by filters at both ends of the straw and dissolve as liquid is sipped through it. With this method, probiotic beverages need no refrigeration and reportedly have a shelf life of up to 12 months.

“This new on-pack straw system provides a unique marketing vehicle for our customers, which will help make milk, juice and other dairy products more exciting and engaging for the consumer,” said Michael Zacka, vice president of marketing and product management at Tetra Pak.

Tim York, Managing Director of Unistraw expects that, with current consumer trends toward health and wellness, the new system will be met with great interest. “We developed the new system based on increasing consumer demand for convenience, health and wellbeing, choice and taste – in a format that’s compatible with busy and increasingly mobile lifestyles,” he said. “Partnering with Tetra Pak to introduce this new system is a natural fit for us.”

The two companies expect the straw to be ready for commercial application by mid-2009.