Kerry debuted a new research report at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim this month on proactive health in the diets of US consumers. It revealed that people are looking for powerful, versatile ingredients and taking their health more seriously.
Health-conscious adults said they are proactive with their health (69%) and want to ‘future-proof’ themselves from both short and long-term health concerns. Kerry surveyed them about this behavior “to more deeply understand consumer acceptance, knowledge and expectation from added functionality and functional ingredients.”
Prioritizing experiential nutrition
It’s common for people to shift their health concerns throughout the course of their life, and the study reveals that while weight management is the overall most popular concern, as consumers approach 50 they also put a great emphasis on cardiovascular health. More Baby Boomers also believe that a healthy diet is important to maintain good health (95%), compared with millennials (88%).
But what millennials are interested in is what Kerry calls ‘experiential nutrition.’ They are looking for impactful benefits from what they put in their body, and they want them immediately. Stress, energy, sleep and digestion are all considered experiential categories of nutrition that are prioritized by health-conscious consumers.
“Despite sleep and mood being high priorities for consumers, many find the need to use medication rather than foods or supplements, signifying an opportunity for the food and beverage industry to find improved food and beverage solutions for these benefits,” the report said.
Reviving declining categories
There are three main tools that consumers use to help them get their desired health benefits--dietary supplements, nutritional beverages and yogurt and other dairy products. Supplements and beverages are often closely related to each other, but dairy represents a unique category.
Michael Kemp, nutrition manager at Kerry, spoke to this publication at Expo West about the opportunities that the functional health trend is providing.
“I think dairy is really interesting because though the industry has declined over the last decade, it seems apparent to me that consumers still look to it as a potential superfood and as the go-to delivery platform to get the nutrition that they need,” he said.
This can be achieved through fluid dairy as well as other forms like yogurt, smoothies or cheese. Consumers link these foods with health benefits, along with other categories like vitamins and supplements, nutritional beverages, protein powders and granola bars.
Kerry believes there is a unique opportunity within declining products like breakfast cereals, smoothies and juice to “revive participation with added functionality.” Similarly, indulgent products like cookies, snacks, chocolate and RTD coffee and tea “have an opportunity to
reinvent with added functionality.”
Consumers are already showing that it’s a viable path for brands to explore, as 40% reported an interest in coffee that promotes brain health and 33% are interested in seeing probiotics in coffee.
The 'big five' versatile superfoods
Kerry analyzed 85 different ingredients in the study as they pertain to health benefits, and a few major standouts in both food and drink have superfood status. Kemp said there are five that cut across almost all health categories--green tea, apple cider vinegar (ACV), ginger, ginseng and turmeric.
According to Kerry, turmeric has increased on restaurant menus by 46% in the last year and grown in retail product revenue by 179% since 2016. It’s used for bone, joint, gut and brain health and its flavor has been a hit with protein drinks, smoothies, teas and other RTDs.
Botanicals, adaptogens and nootropics in general have experienced a sharp rise in popularity as ingredients. Ginseng is particularly big in China, and is well-known for assisting brain health, immune support and mood management. Green tea is considered one of the most versatile superfoods and is used for everything from anti-aging and blood sugar to gut and heart health.
ACV has experienced 86% growth vs four years ago and is good for lowering cholesterol, and managing blood sugar and weight. Ginger now appears on 55% of all US menus and support the immune system, digestion, bone health and energy.
Consumers are focusing on high-functioning ingredients, and Kerry determined a top 20 list for the best ones. The top ingredient perceived to deliver functional benefits is omega-3 fatty acids, like fish oil. Green tea, honey, coffee and probiotics round out the top five.
ACV, oats, garlic, grapefruit, dark chocolate, ginger, ginseng, melatonin, avocado oil, chamomile, spinach, ginkgo biloba, coconut oil, lavender and blueberries make up the rest of the list.
Top concerns and speed to market are key
As more unexpected products like sparkling beverages and chocolate enter the category, the functionality lines are blurring and the marketplace for these products is rising around the world. But Kemp thinks the US has a leg up on other places, with consumers more willing to try exotic ingredients for better benefits.
“Typically America leads the way and we act like velcro to the rest of the world. We pull them along whether they like it or not. Other parts of the world might not be there yet, but they will probably be very similar,” he said.
The Kerry report advises companies to consider products that aid in the top concerns in order to stay competitive--stress, energy, sleep and digestive health. Beauty and immunity management are also still young categories in the US market, and would offer differentiation.
“Beyond flavor exploration, limited release items and furthering nutrition, there is merit in offering additional functionality where consumers are pleasantly surprised and have relatively lower barriers to trial. Speed to market will be crucial to stay in the game and ahead of the game,” Kerry said.