Consumers have long grown wary of genetically modified or otherwise deemed “unnatural” foods, driving the clean label trend.
But amid the world’s COVID-19 and environmental crises, a growing acceptance of foods altered or “hacked” to improve nutrition is emerging.
In a 2020 Innova Consumer Survey, four out of five respondents affirmed, “I believe in progress in food and beverages through science.”
FoodIngredientsFirst speaks with suppliers Kerry and ADM on the nutrition “hacks” they are pursuing to meet consumer demand for future-forward food and beverages.
Pumping up ordinary F&B
Running parallel to the nutrition hacking theme is the heightened demand for health-promoting functional F&B that can deliver on added nutrition, vitamins or minerals.
According to Kerry’s proprietary research, 41 percent of consumers identified the use of foods and beverages with added functional benefits as one of the best ways to manage their health, says Mindy Leveille, the company’s strategic marketing manager of proteins.
Ingredients supporting immunity have boomed this year, as well as those supporting sleep and reducing stress.
Functional ingredients are ubiquitously appearing on shelves, as seen in recent festive limited-edition NPD with a nutraceutical twist.
“Manufacturer strategies will need to be adapted with a renewed focus on innovation in areas such as functional health,” says Elaine Druhan, marketing manager for foodservice at Kerry Europe and Russia.
Attracting functional followers
Consumers have become more value-driven. “They are willing to spend on affordable indulgence and trade up on products that offer added benefits,” explains Druhan.
Though somewhat counterintuitive, foods that capitalize on health can still be indulgent.
Functional ingredients may even be more acceptable in indulgent products, especially when it comes to mental health, points out Christina Furlong, consumer and market insight specialist at Kerry Europe and Russia.
“In a recent proprietary study, mental health was uncovered as the second most important beneficial need state for millennials after immunity,” she adds.
Ingredients to relieve stress
The ingredients that can meet this need have also evolved, with ginseng, turmeric and botanicals all ranking highly, Furlong suggests.
NutritionInsight recently highlighted the role of adaptogens in helping consumers cope with stress and the “enormous market opportunity” along with it.
Dairy ingredients are also poised for success in the field of mental health. Fonterra recently unveiled its NZMP Milk Phospholipids for stress-relieving snacks.
Ingredia’s Lactium bioactive dairy protein has shown positive benefits for improving sleep.
Meanwhile, FrieslandCampina has entered the mental health category with its Biotis GOS.
Gut health NPD a space to watch
Research from ADM’s Outside Voice insights platform has found heightened interest in the microbiome and forecasts gut health as a major trend for 2021.
“We know shoppers are seeking out ingredients that target specific health benefits,” explains Ana Ferrell, vice president of marketing at ADM.
“There is now a greater understanding of the foundational role of the gut microbiome on individual aspects of health such as immune function, weight management, cognitive support and overall well-being.”
The trend is driving demand for microbiome-supporting ingredients, like fibers, live microorganisms and inactivated microorganisms, she explains.
ADM’s research shows that 48 percent of US consumers agree good digestive health is important for wellness. It also found that 40 percent of consumers are interested in using functional foods and beverages to aid their digestion.
Gut support for metabolic health
As COVID-19 restricted movement and led to unwanted weight gain, manufacturers have found more ways to relieve metabolic issues through the gut pathway.
ADM is tapping into the functional foods trend with its HT-BPL1 inactivated microorganism that targets weight management and may benefit overall metabolic health.
“Since HT-BPL1 does not contain living microorganisms, it retains stability during harsh processing conditions. This makes it possible to incorporate into a wide variety of food and beverage applications that would be otherwise unsuitable for live microorganism inclusion,” details Ferrell.
Formulating for high heat
Heat stability has traditionally been an industry pain point for probiotic manufacturers, who must ensure the strains stay alive to maintain efficacy.
“Kerry’s GanedenBC is a hardy spore-forming probiotic, which means it can thrive in processing conditions other strains cannot, allowing it to survive better in most food and beverage applications,” explains Leveille.
“Nearly three in ten (28 percent) consumers say they would be more interested in purchasing hot beverages if they contained ingredients promoting digestive health,” she affirms.
With its spore-forming probiotic, Kerry has been able to successfully fortify tea bags with the clinically proven strain. GanedenBC has also been positioned for foodservice for inclusion in hot meals such as pizza.
Heat-resistant gut health ingredients support the market for functional hot beverages.
Balancing the evidence
As functional F&B continues to expand in popularity, the question of scientific substantiation will continue to be a key theme both for manufacturers as it is for regulatory agencies.
For products situated in a regulatory gray zone for claims, such as probiotics are in Europe, scientific studies can help inform consumers of benefits.
Leveille maintains that quality studies are important to backing claims on food and beverages.
“Brands have a responsibility to help consumers do this homework. This means having the research that supports efficacy, supporting consumer education and providing clear information about benefits on the label,” she affirms.
On the other hand, creating a new product that appeals to consumers’ sensorial qualities may be enough to get that initial purchase and then the repeat buy.
“We know that some consumers look for scientific evidence of efficacy, but a large number of people are relying on recommendations or are testing these products to see how they make them feel,” states Furlong.
A bright outlook for a functional 2021
“Nutrition Hacking” is Innova Market Insights’ number six trend for 2021.
Other top trends relevant to the functional F&B space include “Mood: The Next Occasion,” F&B to mitigate mood and “In Tune with Immune,” with F&B positioned to boost immunity.
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