There’s a growing emphasis on mental and emotional wellbeing as consumers take a more holistic approach to health. That’s why Innova Market Insights identified “Mood: The Next Occasion,” as one of its Top Trends for 2021. 

Innova Market Insights’ consumer research indicated that concerns around mental and emotional wellbeing already were growing—but truly came to the fore in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. A 2020 survey indicated that 53% of global consumers claimed to have taken action to improve their physical wellbeing. Meanwhile, efforts to boost mental and emotional wellbeing also registered with a significant 44% of those surveyed.

As a result, what’s thriving are nutritional options that support both physical and emotional wellbeing. Consumers looking for a change in lifestyle—both before and after COVID-19—are likely to increasingly distract themselves from busy lives and try to wind down. Emotional comfort is key, with interest in comforting, relaxing and sleep-inducing food and drinks, particularly carrying mood, energy and sleep improving claims.  

According to Innova consumer research in 2019, Generation X consumers, those born between 1966 and 1980, have perhaps the strongest focus on emotional wellbeing. An estimated 55% of consumers in this age group take steps to improve their mental health. In particular, they have high levels of interest in brain and mood health. 

Baby Boomers, those consumers born between 1946 and 1964, now make up 23% of the US population. Perhaps not surprisingly, healthy aging (including retaining mental sharpness), is top of mind for them. Meanwhile, Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, tend to focus on balancing body and mind, with 53% intent to increase their “happiness.” This is a key factor driving the interest in mood health and boosting research and new product development in the area. 

Stress and anxiety are key concerns in modern life particularly with consumers’ growing awareness of their negative impact on mental and physical health. Concerns over mental health are more significant than ever and, according to the World Health Organization, depression may be the leading illness globally by 2030 if no action is taken. In a 2019 Innova Consumer Survey, 32% of UK consumers and 39% of US consumers claimed to experience stress at least once a day. This figure even rose to more than half of consumers surveyed in India. 

Not surprisingly, food and beverage processors are developing and targeting more products for brain health and improving low mood; reducing tiredness and fatigue; and encouraging good sleep.

Brain Boost

Food and drink brain health claims have risen sharply since 2019. This coincides with growing consumer interest in botanical ingredients, nootropics and adaptogens; alongside more traditional options such as omega-3 fatty acids and choline. Increasingly, consumers also are switching from dietary supplements in favor of more functional foods and beverages to address these brain and cognitive health issues.

In 2020, Innova Market Insights recorded that 1.5% of new US foods and drinks carried claims related to brain health. Although it’s a small percentage, it’s well up from the comparable 0.8% share in 2016. These US new products also stood out in terms of the global picture, where less than 1.1% of 2020 NPD used this type of claim.

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 2020 using this type of claim, up from 3% in 2014. Levels were particularly high in sports drinks, but also featured strongly in energy drinks, such as Riot Energy’s 100% Plant Powered Energy Drinks. Developed by teaRIOT LLC, Marina Del Rey, Calif., the line’s four varieties include L-theanine for alertness and focus, vitamin B12 for brain function and adaptogens to resist stress. 

More new mainstream drinks also feature nootropics. In 2020, Peloton Cold Brew LLC, West Chester, Pa., introduced Peloton Cascara Tea in two varieties: Apple plus Pomegranate and Peach & Ginger. Both focus on the nootropic and other benefits of cascara, the dried outer husk of the coffee cherry. Last year also saw Tesla Nootropics Inc., Dover, Del., introduce Nubrain nootropic flavored waters range in three varieties: Brainstorm, a Lemon Grape flavor for “lazer focus;”  Nightflight, a Tropical Citrus for “lucid dreaming;” and Mission, a Vanilla Blueberry drink for “extreme energy, and focus.”

Formulators also are using nootropics in food products. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Impact Snacks, Boston, introduced Dark Chocolate Brownie and Iced Caramel Latte superfood bars made with pea protein and contain nutrient-rich ingredients like lion's mane mushrooms, maca root, and kale. Eat Gold Organics, Los Angeles, also offers a line of functional chocolates including Sweet Dreams, which features “melatonin-rich almonds, calming reishi mushrooms, and tryptophan (not just for turkeys)” the company says.

Adaptogens are a specific type of nootropics that help the body fight stress. There are a number of sources, including botanicals such as ashwagandha, schisandra, ginseng, rhodiola and moringa. Most are non-toxic plants used for centuries in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. More recently, they are becoming more popular in the US and other western countries. 

Again, beverages have been a key area of use. DT Brands & Co Ltd., Pleasant Hill, Calif., says its Daytrip Adaptogenic CBD Infused Energy Drink helps to “increase energy, endurance, strength and mental capacity.” Pivot Coldbrew, Commerce, Calif., introduced its namesake Nootropic & Adaptogenic Good Energy Coffee drinks in several varieties: Rejuvenating Ginger, Laid Back Black, Fearless Black, Perfectly Sweet and Harmonious Vanilla. These all boast “nootropics: high octane for the brain, adaptogens: a healthy dose of chill.” Another example involves So Good Brand Inc., Minneapolis, which offers a So Good So You Mind Tonic line. It includes Focus+, Calm and Protect varieties, all featuring “plant-powered adaptogens and nootropics.”

Rest, Relax & Sleep

Consumers have expressed particular interest in sleep and relaxation and there’s no doubt that this trend has been accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Stress, anxiety and sleep quality are closely linked and although recent initiatives have been led by supplements, there is growing interest in these functional benefits delivered by the wider market of foods and drinks. 

When it comes to the sleep space, the most popular related herbal ingredients are valerian, lemon balm, lavender and chamomile. These have long been associated with traditional medicines. There also are basic nutrients such as magnesium and vitamins; plus other ingredients, such as L-theanine.

L-theanine is an amino acid found most commonly in tea leaves and in some fungal species. Research indicates that it can promote relaxation without drowsiness by impacting nerve impulses in the brain and releasing neurotransmitters, including GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid). L-theanine has long been available in supplement form, but also is increasingly appearing in instant and ready-to-drink functional beverages, often in combination with adaptogens. These products carry related claims associated with relaxation and calming.  

Both U.S. and global markets have seen growing numbers of functional new products. In Europe, MEDA Wellness Ltd., London, introduced a MEDA Calm Lavender & Chamomile drink with L-theanine, ashwagandha and CBD. This February saw Rayburn Trading Company Ltd., Manchester, UK, introduce Slow Cow Mind Cooler with six botanical extracts including L-theanine to promote “relaxation without drowsiness.”

One interesting US launch in early 2021 was Molson Coors’ Verywell CBD sparkling water line. An Unwind Blueberry Lavender variety contains L-theanine, as well as ashwagandha and CBD/hemp extract. Related wording tells a consumer “[l]et go of your day.” Two additional Verywell varieties also had mood and brain health positionings. There’s Mind & Body Strawberry Hibiscus and Focus Grapefruit Tarragon—both also featuring CBD/hemp extract and adaptogens.

In early 2021, PepsiCo addressed the mainstream market with Driftwell, a flavored, functional water with 200mg of L-theanine and 10% of the daily value of magnesium, no calories and no sugar. It comes in a Blackberry Lavender flavor and in a 7.5oz can to help consumers “relax and unwind” and to “sip into relaxation.”  

Connecting Sleep, Gut Health

Another area of potential within sleep improvement involves a growing link between quality rest and the microbiome. Experts say the gut produces 95% of the body’s serotonin, a key hormone that helps regulate emotions and sleep. Increasingly, good sleep is positively correlated with a more diverse gut biome.  

This March, Unilever announced a partnership with Microba Life Sciences, Brisbane, Australia, to uncover the link between sleep and the human gut in a year-long project. Officials said the move was part of Unilever’s Future Food initiative, which includes a 2025 target to globally double the number of products delivering positive nutrition.

During the past year or so, there’s been a developing theme of gut-friendly ingredients used to tackle sleep issues. According to Innova Market Insights, global food and beverage launches with both digestive health and sleep claims experienced a compound annual growth rate of 21% from 2016 to 2020. The top categories involved products for baby and toddlers, followed by hot drinks, and sports nutrition.

A more unusual player in this arena is Nightfood Inc., Tarrytown, N.Y. Its Nightfood Sleep Friendly light ice creams target guilt-free nighttime snacking with a sleep friendly nutritional profile. Officials say Nightfood’s formula has less sugar, less fat and fewer calories; as well as casein, prebiotic fiber and digestive enzymes, “sleep-friendly” vitamin B6, calcium, zinc and magnesium. The line has nine flavors including Milk & Cookie Dough, Cherry Eclipse, Full Moon Vanilla and After Dinner Mint Choc Chip. There’s also the more unusual Pickles for Two to satisfy pregnancy cravings.

Nightfood debuted in 2019 and since has secured distribution in several large US grocers including divisions of Kroger, Albertson’s and H-E-B. Most recently, it started distribution in April with Walmart.

NPD around mood is seeing rapid growth, with rising use of on-pack claims relating to specific mood platforms. Calming/relaxing and energy boosting are the most established platforms in mood health, while sleep promotion is still niche, but growing from a smaller base and showing potential for further innovation. Adaptogens are also trending upward as the move to more holistic wellbeing continues.

Lu Ann Williams is Global Insights Director at Innova Market Insights, provider of market research services including the Innova Database. With more than 25 years’ experience in the food industry, Lu Ann is a trend expert and frequent public speaker at events worldwide. She leads a team of analysts and works with global clients. Contact her at