Nutrition is becoming a central pillar to a healthy lifestyle for a growing number of consumers. They are seeking products that not only taste good but also offer additional health value. In 2018, an Innova Market Insights consumer survey reported that one in 10 US consumers wanted “to be healthier” and—compared to the previous year—they increased their consumption of products with functional benefits and active ingredients.

This trend has continued. About 11.5% of US food and beverage launches tracked by Innova Market Insights in 2019 used active or functional health claims of some kind, illustrating their growing significance, although they continue to trail behind passive claims (low calorie, sugar free, natural, etc.), used on more than half of all new products.


Powerful Protein

Protein continues to be a key area of interest among consumers, with protein content driving food choices across a wide range of food and beverage categories. And interestingly enough, consumer demand for protein content and high protein products continues to grow—despite the fact that observers now believe most western consumers already have more than enough protein in their diets.

Protein is particularly evident in the market for specialist sports and performance products. Once relegated to athletes and gym rats, the high protein market has moved into the mainstream and increasingly targets generally active consumers. Meanwhile, there also are more direct claims and links between protein intake and topics such as weight management and satiety.

This protein trend really started in the United States. Innova Market Insights data indicate that on-pack references to “high protein” or references to the source of protein were evident on 11.8% of all new US food and beverage launches during 2019. That’s up from less than 7% six years ago.

Protein content claims most often are found in the more specialist areas of pet foods and sports nutrition, accounting for 15% and 14%, respectively, of US launches featuring this type of claim.

As mentioned, sports nutrition always has had a strong focus on protein content and more than one-third of US launches in the category in 2019 used claims related to “high protein” content or to the source of that protein. These continue to be largely focused in the dominant sports powders subcategory. However, there also is a high level of interest in protein in sports bars, and in the newer, less developed, RTD protein sports drink sector.

Outside sports nutrition and pet foods, the rising interest in protein content in the mainstream food and beverage market is also clearly apparent with growing levels of activity across a whole range of categories—led by dairy, ready meals, snacks, and cereals.

One of the most interesting developments in protein use in recent years, however, has been the move to alternative protein sources, with the traditional dominance of whey and other dairy proteins now strongly challenged by plant-based options. Initially, these plant-based options were mainly based on soy, but now there is a large and growing range of alternatives sourced from vegetables, potatoes, grains, nuts, and seeds. Last but not least, not only are consumers interested in the type or source of protein but their curiosity also even extends to ingredient sourcing matters, such as those related to sustainability.

Protein also is also finding an increasing role in the nutrition space for older people as they focus on staying healthy into old age.

“Baby Boomers,” are generally regarded as those born between 1946 and 1964 and this makes them between 56 and 74 years old. These consumers now make up about 23% of the US population and, perhaps unsurprisingly, healthy aging is a top priority for them. They are most likely of the generations to change their diet to improve health, with strong interest in functional foods, personalized nutrition solutions, plant based options, and reducing intake of “bad” ingredients, such as sugar, fat, and salt.  These older consumers also are interested in protein’s role to maintain muscle mass and ward off sarcopenia. They also are anxious about the risk of falls and eventual loss of independence.


Brain Health, Stress Relief

Along with heart, bone, joint, and eye health, another area of particular interest for older consumers is brain health (although it also is of increasing concern to all age groups).

In Innova’s 2019 Consumer Survey, slightly more than eight out of 10 US consumers agreed or strongly agreed that cognitive or brain health was very important to them and that their mental sharpness was as important as physical health.

Brain health claims for new packaged food and beverage launches rose sharply in 2019, along with interest in more botanical ingredients, nootropics, and adaptogens (alongside more traditional options such as omega 3 fatty acids). Consumers also are switching more from dietary supplements to functional foods and beverages to address brain and cognitive health issues.

Functional fitness drinks (sports drinks, energy drinks, and protein drinks) have seen particularly high levels of interest in brain health claims, with 11% of US launches in 2018 using this type of claim, up from 3% in 2014. Levels were particularly high in sports drinks, but also featured strongly in energy drinks.

One example involves Soylent Stacked Nootropics Energy Drink, introduced by Soylent Nutrition Inc. at the end of 2019. It features plant protein, 36 essential nutrients, and nootropics to improve focus and increase mental output. More mainstream drink launches also feature nootropics. This year saw Peloton Cold Brew LLC, West Chester, Pa., focus on nootropics and other benefits of cascara with new Peloton Cascara Tea in varieties such as Apple + Pomegranate, and Peach + Ginger.

Within the nootropics family are adaptogens, which help the body fight stress. There are a number of sources, including ashwagandha, schisandra, ginseng, and rhodiola. Most are non-toxic plants that have been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, but are now finding increasing popularity in the US and other western countries. Ashwagandha in particular, has seen rising levels of awareness and popularity globally, with sports nutrition the leading category for its use after dietary supplements.

One noteworthy example involves a line of Organic Pre Workout Energy drinks from Nooma, Euclid, Ohio. Introduced this year, the line includes Ginger Orange, Lemon Lime, Pineapple Mango, and Dragon Fruit flavors, all featuring ashwagandha to reduce stress, enhance cognition and boost reaction time.

For the record, it’s not only Boomers who are concerned about cognitive decline. In Innova’s consumer survey, 53% of Millennials said they are focused on increasing happiness and balancing body and mind. And then there’s Generation X, where 55% of these consumers said they have a strong focus on mental health and taking steps to improve it.

As mentioned, concerns over brain health and cognition reflect rising interest in the wider and more holistic role that nutrition can play in physical and emotional wellbeing. Many of today’s consumers are trying to manage careers, families, and social lives—and maintain healthy lifestyles (both physically, and mentally). Many are balancing the benefits and costs of these busy lifestyles and now realize that their food and diet decisions play important roles.


Less Stress

“The Right Bite” was one of Innova Market Insights Top Trends for 2020. It reflects how food and beverage supporting lifestyle choices can fall into a number of areas, variously aiming to help those wishing to embrace healthy lifestyles, balance busy lifestyles, and/or reject their current lifestyles in search for change.

Consumers looking for a change in lifestyle are particularly likely to increasingly distract and distance themselves from their busy lives and try to wind down. Emotional comfort is key here, with interest in comforting, relaxing, and sleep inducing foods and beverages. These are products with claims related to mood, energy, and sleep. ”Feel good” and “guilt free” positionings are important for this, and marketers’ use of both terms has been rising. There has been a 16% annual average growth of food and beverage launches in North America with a “feel good” claim during the 2014 to 2018 period, for example, generally also offering indulgence, or a treat.

Stress and anxiety are key concerns in modern life as awareness of their negative impact on mental and physical health grows. In a 2019 Innova Consumer Survey 32% of UK consumers and 39% of US consumers claimed to experience stress at least once a day, rising to more than half of those surveyed in India. The industry response has included more products targeted at improving low mood, tiredness, fatigue, and sleep.

Natural botanical and herbal extracts, such as lavender and chamomile, have traditionally been popular in this area, particularly in teas and other beverages, and are now being joined by newer options, such as cannabidiol, which is finding rising levels of use despite a still rather unclear legal status.

A more holistic approach to health means consumers will be looking more to diet and nutrition as key tools for a “self-care philosophy” for physical and mental wellbeing. More foods are being recognized as intrinsically healthful and more consumers are becoming aware of these ingredients. This adds to growing discussion and interest around the “superfoods” space.

In addition to ongoing developments in functional products enhanced with well-known ingredients such as protein and fiber for physical benefits, there is rising interest in developing products and ingredients with cognitive benefits, especially in enhancing the connection between food and mood, and in understanding the role that nutrition can play on emotional health and wellbeing.

Originally appeared in the July 2020 issue of Prepared Foods as I Feel Good.