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Exploring Opportunities for Food in the Mental Wellbeing Space

12/7/2021
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Health has become a top priority since the onset of COVID-19. Aiming for a holistic lifestyle, consumers no longer engage in activities that only target their physical health – they increasingly seek to improve their mental wellbeing too. This article looks at opportunities for food and beverage companies to tap into the growing consumer interest in products that go beyond nutritional purpose to also provide mental health benefits.

Consumer health concerns and the use of functional ingredients

Stress and anxiety has been the second most important health concern for consumers across the globe in 2021. The global pandemic has taken its toll on consumers and mental wellbeing is being increasingly discussed in the aftermath. Closely related to stress and also in the top three are sleeping problems. Memory issues rank much lower in consumers’ health concerns today but move up to rank at the very top in terms of future health concerns.

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Source: Euromonitor International’s Voice of the Consumer: Health & Nutrition Survey, Fielded February 2021 n=21,460

Food and beverages that target these consumer health concerns have a promising outlook by providing more natural solutions beyond (or in addition to) pills to address consumers’ needs. Functional ingredients – from adaptogens (ancient plants and herbs contributing to reduce mental and physical stress) over nootropics (substances that offer to improve cognitive function and focus) to superfoods with brainpower – have been in the limelight lately and have inspired product innovation. As legislation on the use of health claims remains complex and varies across countries, many food companies currently tend to take a positioning-based approach and indicate the functional ingredient on the packaging, relying on consumers to associate the botanical with the respective health benefits. This is often combined with visuals on packaging and creative brand names to strengthen the message.

Supporting brain/memory health

Currently still underserved, and offering huge potential, is the segment of the elderly. As birth rates fall and life expectancy increases, the world population is rapidly ageing. The global population aged 65+ will grow by 62.5% between 2021 and 2040 to reach 1.3 billion by 2040. This is not a developed market phenomenon considering that China, India, Indonesia, and Brazil are among the countries that are predicted to see the largest absolute increase in the population aged 65+ years. The new generation of senior consumers wants to live more active and adventurous lives and is willing to invest in their wellbeing by focusing more on nutrition and self-care. Being an expanding group of consumers with money to spend and evolving needs, older consumers offer food and beverage companies opportunities for the food as medicine and personalised nutrition concepts.

image3gyo4.pngSource: Euromonitor International’s Voice of the Consumer: Health & Nutrition Survey, Fielded February 2020 n=1,535, 2021 n=2,589

Vitamins and dietary supplements continue to be the preferred treatment approach for memory issues, but in 2021 natural or traditional solutions have gained over the pill format in countries such as South Africa, Turkey, Mexico, Australia, and the UK.

Japan’s Kirin Group for example, has been innovating around the topic of brain health and claims to be the first company worldwide to discover the functional ingredient β-lactoferrin included in dairy innovations (such as Snow brand Megmilk). Research suggests that β-lactoferrin helps consumers to maintain memory, in particular the ability to remember based on clues, which often declines with age.

Targeting cognitive performance

Nootropics increasingly attract the attention of specific consumer segments (gamers, students, and professionals with long working hours) that are keen to boost their cognitive performance over a period of time; this has inspired product innovation within food and beverages. Starting from a low base, nootropic claims see strong growth across packaged food or hot/soft drinks industries in countries such as the UK and US which tend to drive upcoming trends. However, this is also true in markets like India which show a rise in digital share of shelf with nootropic claims on the back of a strong tradition of ayurvedic medicine and wide use of herbs such as tulsi, ashwagandha and Gotu Kola.

imageqfqbk.png Source: Euromonitor International Product Claims and Positioning

Supporting stress management

72.6% of global consumers are concerned that stress and anxiety have a moderate or severe impact on their health. To cope with the increased levels of stress and anxiety resulting from the global pandemic, consumers show a growing interest in food and beverage products that help them to manage their mood, relieve stress and aid sleep. Companies are exploring different ways to position their products in this space. The so-called gut-brain axis is one way that supports the promotion of good mood food (a “happy gut” leads to happy mood). Another approach is CBD-infused food and drinks, which benefit from rising consumer acceptance and rapidly evolving legislation. The US is the largest market for CBD edibles and beverages, but strong growth is also expected from other countries suggesting a promising outlook. Other companies are experimenting with the use of adaptogens (ashwagandha) and nootropics (such as L-theanine) that help the body to reduce stress and uplift mood, inspiring product innovation in snacks and dairy.

imagez58rw.pngSource: Euromonitor International Cannabis

Opportunities and challenges

Companies need to overcome several challenges to successfully position their products in the market. Finding the right functional ingredients that suit the product formulae (in terms of texture, format, heat resistance) and satisfy consumer taste (botanicals can have a strong and bitter taste), increasing consumer awareness of related health benefits and dealing with the complexity of regulatory framework for health claims are some of the key challenges. With growing consumer interest, stress management offers the biggest potential in the short- to medium-term. Therefore, brain/memory health provides promising long-term prospects as there is a huge and unmet market potential to address senior consumers.

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