Functional food meets flavor: Cognitive health top of mind, sleep and relaxation in focus
08 Feb 2023 --- Botanical ingredients are increasingly associated with well-being as they boast inherent characteristics and tastes that consumers associate with aspects of better physical and mental health. FoodIngredientsFirst speaks with key industry experts who discuss the trends in the sector.
According to Brenda Rangel, business director at Biolev by Levapan, an era of “conscious nutrition” has been simmering for several years. This movement has been a considerable challenge for producers and ingredient suppliers because a common characteristic of these claims is that, in many cases, healthy is contrary to tasty, she says.
“A focus on holistic health is driven by the demand for an experience that involves all the senses. In addition, the new reality has brought relevant trends such as supplementation aimed at the specific stimulation of different systems of our body, such as mental health, aspects where consumers not only seek a nutrient but also want to highlight the pleasure of the flavors.”
Anja Müller, communication and social media specialist at Silesia, agrees that functional food applications and opportunities in the space are broad.
“From plant-based dairy alternatives to meat alternatives and functional beverages. In the US, functional gummies in the sense of over-the-counter products are very popular and spill over to Europe; these products are heavily loaded with functional ingredients and are therefore challenging to flavor,” she comments.
Functionality beyond supplements
Notably, there is a rising demand for functional ingredients across F&B’s whole range of applications – not just supplements but also familiar everyday products.
In line with this, Kerry’s research has shown that 42% of consumers increased their purchases of functional or fortified foods and beverages after the pandemic outbreak.
John Quilter, Kerry VP of global portfolio – ProActive Health, says what’s notable is that it’s increasingly easy to formulate with functional ingredients. “The biggest opportunities lie in education and scientific substantiation. Consumers are increasingly likely to do their homework and seek out products based on ingredients with proven benefits,” he explains.
Kerry’s research shows that 51% of Millennials and 45% of seniors do their research into products and their ingredients. According to Quilter, that’s one of the reasons for the popularity of ashwagandha. He believes it’s one of the “best-studied adaptogens” and has been shown to influence stress responses positively.
Trending functional flavors
One way formulators can tap into the healthy indulgence trend, underscores Quilter, is by designing a product “that combines indulgence through an on-trend flavor with functional ingredients for health.”
“We witness a combination of ingredients and often a combination of flavors in functional food and beverages that make these solutions palatable to consumers as taste remains a key priority to them,” he notes.
For Hélène Moeller, vice president global product marketing flavors at ADM, today’s consumers are increasingly focused on convenience and customized nutrition solutions to help them reach their wellness goals.
Meanwhile, foods and beverages with functional ingredients may support physical health and/or emotional well-being, and flavors may cause consumers to think of these products with desirable benefits.
“Generally speaking, honey and elderberry are associated with products formulated to support immune function, lemon balm and chamomile are linked to sleep support products, and coffee and mint are often tied to products that are aimed at supporting mental focus,” she explains.
“Of the top ten flavors global consumers associate with being healthier, orange, pomegranate, banana, blueberry and apple rank highest.”
For instance, citrus fruits that contain vitamin C are often linked to immune function support, so their refreshing flavors and uplifting colors are frequently featured in health-oriented products. Moeller sees a growing interest in less common citrus flavors, such as finger lime, calamansi, pomelo and yuzu.
“Extreme flavor profiles like cotton candy, sour blue raspberry and bubblegum are also surging to the forefront in energy and sports beverage offerings,” Moeller adds.
Moreover, herbs, spices and other fruits also play well in this space, bringing enjoyment and interest in combinations with mainstream citrus tonalities, Moeller outlines. “Pomegranate ginger sparkling water may elicit positive feelings of well-being, while elderflower and rose lemonade can evoke soothing, spa-like attributes. Savory flavors also have a seat at the table, from varietal peppers and earthy root vegetables to garden herbs and exotic spices.”
Yet, Moeller affirms that consumer satisfaction relies on more than the presence of these flavorful ingredients and functional botanicals.
“Nearly eight in ten shoppers say they would be unhappy if food and drink was less tasty because it contained functional ingredients associated with health,” she outlines. “This indicates the importance of better-for-you product offerings being deemed enjoyable from a taste perspective so that consumers are more interested in incorporating them into their everyday lifestyles and for the long-term.”
Balanced wellness in focus
One key area of focus ADM predicts for 2023 is “balanced wellness,” as consumers seek options for relaxation and energy.
“Research finds 46% of global consumers plan to improve their mental well-being, and 41% want to improve their energy levels over the next 12 months,” states Moeller.
Moreover, flavors that evoke a sense of lightness underscore this concept, whether that’s a delicate lavender-infused gummy or a vibrant tangerine hydration beverage. “Brightness and optimism are especially in demand, with flavors of dragon fruit and prickly pear gaining popularity.”
Sleep and relaxation ingredients
Quilter says sleep and mood are “absolutely top of mind.”
“We’re living through times of great stress, with new sources of uncertainty since the pandemic – inflation, economic volatility and a seemingly unstable geopolitical situation. It’s not surprising that around half of Millennials and Generation Z say they feel stressed most of the time,” he explains.
“This has changed the landscape for the food, beverage and supplements industries which are increasingly offering products with benefits for improved sleep, mood and stress relief.”
Meanwhile, ADM is drawing inspiration from lavender, which Moeller believes is frequently used to evoke feelings of relaxation as both a flavor and color.
“Lavender continues to trend, especially as we find that consumers are shifting their outlooks to brighter and lighter moments and are leaning into ways to support their holistic well-being,” she details. “It also pairs well with mellow vanilla, further elevating functional beverages, gummies and more that may be formulated to support sleep and relaxation.”
For Silesia, the US market is “already advanced” in energy, sleep and mood products. “We see that the European market is visibly following this trend,” says Müller. “There is a demand for products which are targeted for the different situations that arise in a normal day, e.g., a relaxing tea in the evening or energizing products in the morning.”
According to Rangel at Biolev by Levapan, consumers are most interested in benefits such as alertness and focus, reduced fatigue, improved memory and mood, stress and anxiety management and better sleep.
“This topic has already caught consumers’ attention and fueled a new discussion beyond the gut. The gut-brain axis is analyzed by science for improving the microbiome can potentially deliver benefits for depression, Alzheimer’s, stress and inflammation,” she elaborates.
“Foods that may be helpful include those rich in fermentable fibers and probiotics. Growing science will drive innovation focusing on gut and brain benefits,” she concludes.
By Elizabeth Green
To contact our editorial team please email us at email@example.com
Subscribe now to receive the latest news directly into your inbox.