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As consumers increasingly focus on better-for-you food and drink choices, opportunities grow for manufacturers to add functional ingredients to existing or new products to meet the demand. Kim Berry reports.

It’s widely accepted that Covid was both a reset and accelerator for consumers and their attitudes to health and wellness.

Kerry ANZ business development director, Taste, Emma Stride, says emphasis on self-care has evolved from mere health-consciousness, to prioritising health in food choices.

The Asia Pacific region is also proving unique, with its consumers viewing sustainability and transparency as inherent to their wellbeing as the ingredients.

“The source of their food directly influences the quality of their health and the preference for local ingredients is strong... indicating a resurgence of pride in local ingredients. This holds potential for innovation in sustainable flavours and solutions,” Stride says.

Mintel research found Australia has the fifth largest share of food and drink products with functional claims, with India, the US, China, and UK leading the pack.

Functional food and drink product launches in APAC accounted for 10 per cent of all food and drink launches in the year to July 2023, Mintel says.

Consumers are looking for products with added functionality, active ingredients, or clearly stated benefits that address specific parts of their health, be it stress management, aiding sleep, relieving anxiety, or boosting immunity.

According to IBISWorld, the Australia functional beverage market is worth almost $600 million a year.

Mintel says 36 per cent of Australian consumers are willing to pay more for food and drinks with claims supporting immune system health.

Globally local

A report by FMCG Gurus found 68 per cent of consumers globally had actively sought to improve their diet in the last two years and this could be seen in a rise in functional flavours in beverages.

WeightWatchers has launched its Meals to Support Immunity range featuring Wellmune, a natural fibre scientifically proven to improve immune health from Kerry.
WeightWatchers has launched its
Meals to Support Immunity range featuring Kerry's Wellmune, a natural fibre scientifically proven to improve immune health from Kerry.

“Honey, manuka honey, almond, matcha, turmeric, rosehip, elderflower, and acai are piquing interest for their perceived health benefits, and this is evident in drinks such as lemongrass tea and turmeric latte; similar preference goes for beverages that boost mental alertness and physical performance,” Stride says.

Innova Market Insights Global Insights director, Lu Ann Williams, says we are back to 30 years ago when ingredients really became part of a product’s unique selling point.

“The popularity and growth of ingredients that are better-for-you, be they healthy, adaptogenic, nootropic, probiotic, post-biotic, macronutrient, a superfood or superfruit, continues unabated.

“These functional ingredients are tightly bound to consumers’ ongoing interest in their mental and cognitive health. Beverages really take centre stage here with 10 per cent growth in soft drinks and sports nutrition products making a health claim,” Williams says.

Dsm-firmenich’s Global Health Concerns Study in 2023 found 68 per cent of consumers ranked energy levels/tiredness as a top health concern, 63 per cent said mental and emotional health, and 60 per cent said mental performance.

The company says there is white space for manufacturers to tap into.

Opportunities abound

While sports and energy drinks still dominate the category, it is becoming more sophisticated and targeting specific audiences, like women managing perimenopause symptoms.

Euromonitor International says its research shows women in particular are prioritising health and embracing holistic solutions to take charge of their wellbeing. Head of Food and Nutrition, Maria Mascaraque, says there are significant opportunities to tap into this rise of personalised care and self-care trends.

“Breaking taboos around topics such as menstrual care and menopausal health is boosting consumer demand. Also, while supplements have traditionally addressed women’s health due to their targeted and concentrated nature, there is a rising recognition of functional foods’ potential.

“This offers an opportunity to incorporate beneficial ingredients into everyday diets to complement a holistic approach to supporting women's health,” Mascaraque says.

While nutrition is number one in promoting wellbeing for women, specific nutrients and botanicals can be used to address needs across different life stages in preventative and treatment contexts.

Mascaraque says interest in prescription medicine has been waning since 2020, creating potential for functional nutrition such as soy-based foods and phytoestrogenic botanicals such as black cohosh and red clover.

“Other common nutrients and botanicals targeting women’s life stages include Siberian ginseng and ginger to support hormonal balance for menstrual care, and diets with folic acid, calcium, and omega-3s during pregnancy and postnatal care,” she says.

Backing up claims

One of the challenges for food and beverage manufacturers including functional ingredients in their products is getting them at a level where consumers can get the therapeutic benefit.

Dsm-firmenich emphasises that highlighting the scientific rationale behind your selected combinations and dosages demonstrates a commitment to delivering real cognitive benefits but also empowers consumers to make informed choices for their brain health.

As more consumers start looking to their food and drinks rather than supplements or prescription medicines, there are many opportunities for manufacturers, but also greater responsibility for the health claims being made.

This story first appeared in the April/May edition of Food & Drink Business magazine

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