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Consumer insights analyst warns of nitrogen-infused products

Customers could face health risks if not handled with care and consumed carefully.

February 8, 2019
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Ferris Coffee & Nut Co. of Grand Rapids made headlines when it introduced its Nitro Cold Brew Coffee early in 2018. The coffee, which promises to deliver a “smooth and creamy” profile with the addition of liquid nitrogen, rides a growing trend among food and beverage makers.

While nitrogen-infused food continues to be a growing trend — particularly in Beer City, USA — it does come with some major health risks if not handled with care and consumed carefully, warned Shagun Sachdeva, consumer insights analyst at GlobalData.

Sachdeva said liquid nitrogen is a tricky ingredient to work with as it also can trigger breathing problems among people with asthma or it may lead to inflammation in the lungs and aspiration, just by inhaling the vapor released by liquid nitrogen in food or drinks.

“The vapor emitted from nitro-infused food or beverage, if splashed into the eye, can also cause permanent cornea damage by freezing the skin tissue and eye fluid,” Sachdeva said.

The appeal of liquid nitrogen is, in the case of tea or coffee, it offers creamy taste without adding calories or animal-based ingredients, making products attractive for consumers pursuing a vegan diet.

Sachdeva added curiosity is a key driver of appetite for nitrogen-infused beverages, further fed by higher exposure to social media.

“Millennials, who are stereotypically tech savvy and experimental, appreciate products which deliver an element of surprise,” Sachdeva said. “This willingness and desire to experiment creates opportunities for brands to ‘premiumize’ by offering unusual and innovative products, which consumers are often ready to pay a premium price for.”

Besides the simple chemical dangers of handling liquid nitrogen, Sachdeva also warned “nitro” coffee can aggravate anxiety levels. Consumers may try to mask their exhaustion and fatigue by consuming nitro-infused coffee, but in reality, the higher caffeine concentration in nitro coffee could lead to various cardiac disorders like arrhythmia, impacting nerve signaling.

“In this situation, it becomes imperative for the companies to incorporate procedures and safety training, adhering to the rule of FDA about the advisory warning of using liquid nitrogen in foods and beverages, as well as educate the consumers on safety-related issues for liquid nitrogen,” Sachdeva said.

Liquid nitrogen, however, is not the only process beverage makers take to produce “nitro” versions of their products. Edwin Collazo, co-owner of City Built Brewing Company in Grand Rapids’ North Monroe district, said his company uses nitrogen gas in the carbonation process to produce nitro brews.

“Typically, people use liquid nitrogen if they drop it in a can,” Collazo said. “If you start to package, that’s when they drop it in.”

City Built has only used nitrogen gas, and Collazo said he was unsure of any health risks associated with it in beverages. He added the addition of nitrogen gas, particularly with meads, ciders and wines, has been around for a very long time, and no known health risks have been associated with it.

Ferris Coffee did not immediately respond to inquiries to its infusion process at press time.

GlobalData is a data analytics and media company headquartered in London, U.K. and has offices in the U.S., Argentina, South Korea, Mexico, China, Japan, India and Australia. 

The company offers data analytics across a variety of industries, including health care, retail, financial, technology and professional services.

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