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Functional food can tap into ‘long-term, proactive’ approaches to health [Interview]

Article-Functional food can tap into ‘long-term, proactive’ approaches to health [Interview]

A rising and proactive interest in holistic health is providing ample opportunities for health ingredients with the right positioning, according to Mike Hughes, Head of Research and Insight at FMCG Gurus.

“Consumers have re-evaluated their health as a result of COVID-19 and the new normal,” Hughes said. “They will be taking a long-term and proactive approach to health maintenance and, as a result of this, will be seeking out ingredient-led claims more to deal with a variety of issues such as digestive health, emotional well-being, and immunity.

“This is going drive opportunity for innovation across the functional food, drink and supplement market – opportunities to further promote the benefits of tried-and-trusted ingredients and also introduce consumer to new and innovative ingredients.”

With a wealth of functional ingredients available, it can be daunting knowing which one to incorporate into a product. Brands need to consider the specific health benefit they are looking to impact, said Hughes. Nevertheless, the concept of holistic health – being conscious of how physical, mental, and emotional health are intertwined and can influence each other – is creating interest in ingredients that benefit overall well-being.

“Ultimately, consumers are adopting the notion of holistic health,” Hughes said. “So, the average consumer doesn’t want to just address one specific area of health. […] They will ask, how do I improve my health and wellness in general and, as a result of that, I aim to improve my digestive health, emotional well-being, immunity or joint and bone health as a result. So, the ingredients that appeal will be those that offer a variety of benefits simultaneously.”

Which ingredients?

Since the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, UK-based FMCG Gurus has seen a rise in consumers seeking out known nutrients such as omega-3, calcium, vitamin C and D, protein, and probiotics.

“At the same time, there’s a whole host of opportunities for innovation with ingredients that consumers are less familiar with. The postbiotics market is growing, for instance – very slowly as it is niche at the minute – but, nevertheless, it is growing.

“There are also opportunities to educate people about ingredients such as lactoferrin, which is associated with immune health, as well as botanicals that are associated with aiding sleep. Ashwagandha, for instance, is a natural remedy associated with relaxation. There is real scope for a variety of ingredients to become popular and influential.”

The right positioning is crucial

Manufacturers must also know how to position ingredient so they resonate with consumers. Providing scientific evidence to back up health claims is important while for new, emerging ingredients, consumers may need reassurance on issues such as provenance, the safe history of use, or sustainable sourcing.

Brands should not shy away from sharing information to raise awareness about the ingredients they use and why, especially for ones that may be unfamiliar to the mainstream consumer, like ashwagandha or adaptogenic mushrooms, such as reishi or cordyceps.

“I think brands can overestimate consumer awareness and savviness towards some of these ingredients. Consumers are doing their own research but they are more likely to do it with tried-and-trusted ingredients,” Hughes said.

“People don’t really go to the doctor to talk about diet plans or healthy ingredients. Brands’ websites are important but […] they could also look to social media and influencers to communicate this information. What’s really important, however, is ensuring that information is credible and not being communicated in a misleading way.”

Making indulgent products better-for-you

FMCG Gurus has noted demand for healthy ingredients in a wide range of food and drink categories, particularly in products that are already perceived as being ‘better-for-you’, such as dairy, cereal-based products or chilled juices.

“But we are also seeing a rise in demand for functional ingredients in impulse categories, such as snack bars and soft drinks,” Hughes added. “This is [because] consumers can often feel that the products they turn to on-the-go, and their diet in general, are unhealthy. Time-scarcity is a reason for this, and they want their consumption occasions to become more considered, meaning they want functional ingredients in these categories.”