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Functional food: A holistic approach toward health and wellness

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As consumers become more aware of the relationship between health and nutrition, the demand for functional food that benefits physical or mental wellness is growing.

As consumers become more educated and aware of the relationship between health and nutrition, the demand for functional food that benefits physical or mental wellness is growing. According to Euromonitor International, fortified and functional food registered 1% growth to reach US$168.1 billion in 2019, with an expected growth of 2% between 2019 and 2024.

In addition to functionality, natural origin is another aspect consumers consider when eating healthy. As a result, many consumers are now getting functional nutrients from food rather than supplements, which are perceived as artificial. According to Euromonitor International’s Health and Nutrition Survey 2020 , half of global respondents selected food over pills as their source of vitamins and nutrients. Even half of respondents who are in favor of pharma for treatments and prevention accept food as a source of vitamins and nutrients.

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Food as medicine

Gut health and immune support are the two emerging themes in the concept of food as medicine. Gut health has been an issue for nearly one-fourth of global consumers who suffer from poor digestion, according to Euromonitor International’s Health and Nutrition Survey 2020, whereas immune support has gained further prominence due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Probiotics became a key ingredient for gut health and are now used not only in dairy but across different food categories, including snacks. In this regard, Nestlé launched a snack bar line with yogurt filling under the brand GoodBe with a “containing probiotics” front-of-packaging claim.

Immune support benefits from the fact that an increasing number of consumers are adopting a holistic approach toward health, increasing demand for products offering preventive benefits. This trend is expected to maintain prominence post-COVID-19, as consumers become more aware and cautious of viral infections and opt for diets consisting of food with nutrients that help boost immunity.

Need states

For today’s busy consumers, food that offers healthy nutrients and additional functional benefits to tackle issues related to both physical and mental wellness are top of mind. Energy, sleep, mood, cognitive focus and beauty are emerging as key need states to focus on and position food around to help improve quality of life.

Rise of confectionery

Despite being heavily dominated by dairy, fortified and functional food has a great number of applications across different categories, including confectionery. According to Euromonitor International, global fortified and functional confectionery sales reached US$11.9 billion in 2019, driven by fortified/functional chocolate, which registered 4% global growth in 2019.

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Functional claims

When snacking, consumers are looking beyond indulgence. In this context, products offering functional benefits addressing different need states are gaining traction. Manufacturers are developing innovative products targeting a specific physical or mental health issue.

Energy: In the U.S., The Whole Coffee Co. developed a new product type for energy—coffee bars. The company turned a coffee bean into an edible format in three different ways. Nudge coffee bar, which replicates chocolate tablets, coffee bombs for in-between snacking and a coffee butter. With 100% whole coffee bean content, these products offer not only a sensory experience, but also the energy kick needed in today’s busy world. Another example is from a U.K.-based company, Blockhead, which has a product called Energy Gum containing caffeine to boost energy.

Sleep: Euromonitor International’s Health and Nutrition Survey 2020 showed a strong connection between stress and sleeping difficulties. Almost 40% of global respondents with high stress levels find it difficult to fall asleep, and more than half of respondents with high stress levels still feel tired when they wake up. Furthermore, the adverse impact of COVID-19 is expected to increase stressors. As a result, night-time snacking products offering sleep aid are expected to gain further prominence supported by the innovations from international players. For example, in 2019, the brand Goodnight, backed by Nestlé, launched dark chocolate products made with ingredients to aid and help mitigate sleeping issues.

Mood: As stress impacts many lives, consumers are seeking a natural way to relax rather than taking pills. Packaged food is gaining traction to tap into this demand, and confectionery is one of the categories to focus on due to the convenience it offers. The brand Blockhead’s Calm Mint product, which contains ingredients to ease the mind and promote relaxation, is a good example.

Cognitive focus: Euromonitor International’s Health and Nutrition Survey 2020 reveals that more than half of global respondents are concerned about memory issues. In addition to these concerns, an increasing number of consumers are seeking aid for cognitive focus and to perform better in their professional lives. As a result, this is becoming a growth area for functional food, and chocolate is emerging as a product type with innovations addressing this specific need state. A recent example is from Japanese company Asahi, which launched Oishiku Tokeru Chocolat in 2019, targeting cognitive health for office workers. Peak Cholate is a startup that has brought nootropics (brain boosters) into the realm of snacking with three products: Peak Active, Peak Focus and Peak Rest, which target energy, cognitive focus and sleep, respectively.

Beauty: Beauty from within is another area of focus for functional food innovation. When looking at the concept of “edible beauty,” confectionery is one of the pioneer product types in which ingredients used in cosmetics are starting to be used. Katjes launched a product line in 2020 under the brand “Wellsweet” in sugar confectionery. The company’s “love in the hair” brand claims to support healthy hair with ingredients like biotin, Vitamin E and zinc.

Elif Polat is a senior analyst at Euromonitor International specializing in ingredients. In her current role, Polat is taking the ownership of different Western European countries to run the projects within the food and nutrition vertical of Euromonitor. She is also a content writer who writes regional briefs, company profiles and strategy briefings.

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