- More consumers — 58% — ranked a balanced diet as a top way to proactively manage health than physical exercise (57%), taking supplements and vitamins (47%) and periodic medical checkups (46%). From a generational standpoint, more millennials said they were proactive with their health (71%) than baby boomers (66%) and Gen Xers (64%). The findings came from a study of 1,001 U.S. consumers that was published this month in a white paper from ingredients company Kerry.
- According to the study, 65% of consumers seek functional benefits from their food and drink. The top five ingredients perceived to deliver these kinds of benefits were omega-3s, green tea, honey, coffee and probiotics.
- The white paper recommends manufacturers add functional ingredients to nonconventional products, address top health concerns — stress, energy, sleep and digestion — and make sure the functional benefits are grounded in sound science.
The days when appearance, taste, texture and smell were the only variables consumers thought about when choosing what to eat are long gone. And while those are still important, manufacturers looking to invigorate their sales and profits should look to bring additional benefits to their products. After all, functional claims are no longer niche, but are increasingly becoming a necessity.
Functional foods continue to be an expanding business. According to Zion Market Research, the global functional ingredients market was worth $64.9 million in 2018, and is expected to reach nearly $100 million by 2025, increasing at a compound annual growth rate of 6.74%. The market for functional products is dominated by the U.S., and that is expected to grow at a CAGR of 8% through the end of 2021, according to Technavio.
Why the sudden popularity of functional foods? A large part of it could come from the democratization of information. Consumers, who may no longer place their unquestioned trust in health recommendations from their doctors and other medical professionals, can use online resources to find out more about different foods and ingredients. This can be seen through online searches for superfoods. As the trend of putting turmeric in anything was taking off in 2016, the bright yellow spice was called a "rising star" by Google Trends for its online search numbers.
As many consumers are searching for functional foods, manufacturers and restaurants are responding and functional ingredients are becoming much more commonplace. Retail revenue for products containing turmeric has grown 179% in three years, according to Nielsen statistics cited in Kerry's white paper.
Ginger, a functional ingredient known for immune and digestive support, is on 55% of restaurant menus in the nation, according to Datassential Menu Trends cited in the white paper. Apple cider vinegar, known for its digestive and blood sugar managing properties, has grown 86%, Kerry wrote. And 71% more restaurant menus started offering kombucha in the last year, according to a Mintel report referenced by Kerry.
Even though functional foods are becoming ubiquitous, there are still opportunities for manufacturers to get into the space. While bars, shakes, yogurts and powders are common ways for consumers to get functional benefits, the study points to unconventional functional products that consumers might be interested in. Coffee is an obvious choice. On its own, its main benefit is energy-boosting caffeine, but survey respondents ranked it in their top five items they saw as delivering benefits.
Kerry cites Mintel statistics indicating two in five consumers want coffee that promotes brain health, and a third of all consumers are interested in probiotic coffee. Several companies are catching on to functional coffee, including Starbucks and Monster Energy.
More indulgent treats also are a place where manufacturers can add function. And while it may be disingenuous to promote a treat like a cookie as "healthy," manufacturers can instead play up the better-for-you ingredients and how they contribute to overall health. There are some treats available blending function and indulgence, like Unilever's protein packed and probiotic Culture Republick ice cream. However, manufacturers should be careful not to violate the so-called "jelly bean rule," adding nutrients to things that are unhealthy simply to change how they are perceived.