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Fi Europe 2021

Consumers turning to ingredients to manage stress

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Stress management has become a consumer priority, as people juggle busy lives at a time of ongoing anxiety over the Covid-19 pandemic. Hanna Mansour, Research Analyst for Food and Drink at Mintel, examines growing consumer awareness in Germany of the connection between food and mood, and what this means for manufacturers seeking to tap this desire to relax and unwind.

Mental wellbeing has been a concern for more than a third of Germans during the pandemic, and, notably, half of all 16 to 24 year olds.

“Stress and anxiety levels among German consumers have increased,” notes Mansour. “ The inhibitive nature of lockdowns and restrictions have brought mental wellbeing into focus. Fears of being infected by the virus and concerns, for example, about future job prospects have made many people look to support their mental wellbeing and reduce stress.”

Furthermore, Germans are increasingly aware of the link between food and mood, with 69 %  saying that what they eat has a direct impact on their emotional wellbeing. Some 42 %  would ideally like their diet to improve their mood/ well-being, which rises to 58 % of 16 to 24 year olds.

Time for relaxation

This, says Mansour, represents a major opportunity for food and beverage manufacturers.

“According to EFSA regulations, explicit claims regarding stress reduction may not be possible in Germany,” says Mansour. “Brands however can capitalise on long-standing associations that many people have with certain ingredients, e.g. chamomile or lavender, and relaxation.”

Even if products don't contain ingredients that are approved for a functional claim related to stress, manufacturers can link their product with stress reduction or relaxation by giving advice on how to de-stress, for example, on pack or on their website. Dr. Oetker, for example, provided instructions for progressive muscle relaxation on the back of its Vitalis cereal pack, said to help consumers to relax.

“Brands can also enhance their emotional connections with consumers by creating rituals for food and drink preparation, presentation or consumption that offer escape, calm and other emotional connections,” adds Mansour. “For example, the ritual of tea ceremony can be an opportunity for mindfulness and help people find a moment of calm in their hectic day.”

Building consumer trust

Many consumers however are distrustful of functional food and drink claims. Mansour points out that 40 % of Germans don't believe that functional food and drinks will deliver the promised results, while 53 % agree that functional claims in food and drink products are just an excuse for companies to charge a higher price.

“This poses a key challenge for manufacturers,” she says. “Highlighting that health claims are based on science is a means of building trust. Focus also needs to be placed on communicating functional benefits in an easy-to-understand and, most importantly, tangible way. Efficacy is the unique selling point of functional products. If consumers are struggling to see a tangible difference in how they feel, they will struggle to justify the purchase of these typically pricier products.”

Mansour suggests that herbs linked with calm will appeal to consumers. She notes that consumers are looking for tasty, natural products they believe offer health benefits, and often see herbs and spices as 'super foods'.

“While scientific evidence is inconclusive for herbs and spices, brands can enjoy an implicit health halo,” she says. “Besides chamomile and lavender, these are, for example, Saffron or Ashwaganda. Cannabidiol (CBD) from alternative sources to cannabis, such as orange peel or hops (however, their status as CBD-containing ingredients has been challenged) and adaptogens are also ingredients to watch.”

Emerging new opportunities

The largest share of products with a functional claim regarding stress and sleep are hot beverages, such as tea.

“There are many other categories that could tap into a mood halo,” says Mansour. “Examples include table sauces, which could use taste enhancing herbs to create a link with relaxation, and sports nutrition products, as many exercise to reduce/relieve stress. Non-alcoholic drinks, e.g. carbonated soft drinks, juices or dairy drinks offering stress relief also have great potential.”

As consumers increasingly become more health conscious, Mansour predicts that mental wellbeing will continue to become increasingly important. Demand for products that help consumers to relax and unwind are therefore set to grow over the long term.

“While we are expecting to see more innovation on product and ingredient level with relaxing benefits, marketing and communication will play a key role too,” she adds. “Manufacturers and brands can tap into the habitual nature of eating and drinking. For example, the daily coffee or tea break can be paired with a quick breathing exercise. And although functional foods will play a major role in the area of stress reduction, the importance of comfort foods should not be underestimated. After all, many consumers can relax very well with a piece of chocolate, for example.”
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