Products that offer multiple benefits with science-backed health ingredients will appeal to rekindled interest in holistic health concepts.
With the functional nutrition space galvanized by the COVID-19 pandemic, a surge in demand for foods and beverages that confer targeted health benefits continues to swell. Innova Market Insights reported on several opportunities that will maintain the momentum of this nutraceutical category this year and beyond.
In a recent webinar, Lu Ann Williams, director of insights and innovation at Innova Market Insights, analyzed growth opportunities for functional foods and beverages, noting rekindled interest in holistic health concepts. At the same time, consumer desire for foods and beverages that target specific health needs is front-of-mind.
Consumers have a multitude of needs, and demands. Buyers in the functional nutrition category are receptive to products that can deliver on more than one need at once.
Age will be the most important differentiator when it comes to the appeal of certain functional foods, Williams said. When it comes to consumers under 35, the primary area of focus for functional foods is appearance and sports performance. Younger consumers are also more willing to change what they eat, and often are the determinate group when it comes to the success of new products.
Those over the age of 35 generally look for more specific, targeted health benefits, such as Generation X and Baby Boomers hoping to support immune health, sleep, and mood at a time when their careers are busier, or age-specific issues begin to arise, Williams said.
Positive Nutrition Over Restriction
Consumers are taking less reductive or restrictive approaches to nutrition, according to Williams, and instead are more interested in adding foods and beverages with positive attributes. A recent Innova poll showed 40% of consumers indicated they were more inclined toward positive nutrition, while only 30% said they were interested in dieting.
Certain health benefits are more sought-out in different regions than in others, Williams noted, such as hydration being especially important in the U.S. while digestive health claims are more attractive in the Asian and South American markets. Of global importance is the need for formulators to touch on other trends that are colliding with the holistic health movement, such as appealing to plant-based and clean-label needs, Williams said.
Several newly introduced ingredients and benefits are emerging this year, while others are having a revival after being introduced long ago, Williams said. "Emerging functional benefits include claims about DHA content, prebiotics, immune health, brain health, probiotics, skin health, and eye health. Many of these claims, especially in relation to digestive health, are re-emerging from when they were first introduced in the mid-1990s. While we’re seeing relatively low market penetration, these numbers are growing very fast and will likely be winners when it comes to new holistic benefits."
Williams noted that interventions in the microbiome will be one of the biggest disruptions in the functional foods space for what may very well be decades. "Forty percent of consumers say that having a healthy gut is important for immune health," she said. "Research is also signifying the impact of metabolism and digestive health on skin and joint inflammation. There’s an increase in low sugar-related claims due to research surrounding the negative impact of sugars on gut health, and on the benefits probiotics have on mood and stress, which can boost the probiotics space significantly. It’s a place where people focus a lot on snacks and supplements that have very specific functional benefits."
A noteworthy turn in the nutraceuticals space is the need for products that can boost resilience against the stressors of everyday life, Williams said. "Seeking happiness, dealing with constant stress especially among young people, feeling less tired, and fixing sleeping problems are key issues people are looking to alleviate," Williams said.
Sparkling waters with added functional ingredients have been a quickly-growing place for mood support platforms, she added, with many leading health claims in the fortified water space dealing with replenishment, recharging, cognitive function, concentration, brain health, and sleep. "I’m sure this area is subject to generational divides, and these benefits are not well-established, but they’re growing fast. Hard seltzer may catalyze a functional sparkling water trend," she said, noting several sparkling water launches that contain caffeine and other natural ingredients to support energy and cognitive health.
By and large, these trends will serve as differentiators for several years, according to Williams. "There will be a hybridization of health benefits, and opportunities for products to carry multiple claims such as plant-based and clean-label. Mental health claims can differentiate products when consumers are dealing with a great deal of stress, and there’s an emergence of information on the importance of food in maintaining a healthy mood. During the COVID-19 pandemic, food served as entertainment and social opportunity, and people had more family meals; and there’s a functional side to this when it comes to the mood platforms people are looking to engage with."