The rise of functional drinks and nootropics: What are consumers looking for?

By Richard Horwell, Brand Relations

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Functional drinks nootropics

Consumer buying habits are changing. In the past, it was about buying into a lifestyle that a snack or drink’s brand offered, rather than the actual product itself. Now, consumers are much more focused on health and functionality, writes Richard Horwell of Brand Relations in this guest article.

Now consumers are looking for products that will add value to their life. So, when creating a new F&B brand, you need more than just great taste and eye-catching packaging, you need to provide functionality and health benefits. It’s about the product providing something extra.

Brand loyalty is now linked to brand benefits and transparency. Consumers are looking for, and then sticking with, products they can trust to deliver on the claims they make.

It can be a challenge for new start up brands, without the years of trust-building to capture the attention of the millennial consumer. To do this you now need a functional drink, one that has added benefits. These are the drinks that are attracting consumers and enabling brands to charge a premium.  

Functional benefits

Functional snacks and beverages are those containing non-traditional ingredients like minerals, vitamins, amino acids, dietary fibres, probiotics, added raw fruits, etc.

This encompasses energy drinks, sports drinks, and bottled water with added vitamins.  You could argue that energy drinks were some of the very first ‘functional’ drinks. However, these don’t give you an added ‘health’ benefit. In fact, many could be classed as unhealthy as they contain large amounts of sugar and caffeine.

Today’s consumers are beginning to steer away from high sugar and caffeine drinks and instead opt for a favourite barista coffee where they not only get a drinking experience but can regulate their caffeine and sugar intake.

Although this has shifted slightly with people working from home, once offices open again, I believe people will go straight back to their coffees for the pick-me-up caffeine fix they deliver. 

All the drinks in the functional category aim to have some sort of effect on you other than just hydration. For example, Kombucha, Aloe Vera, Coconut Water, Green Tea and Moringa Tea – these are all examples of the new breed of functional drink flooding the market.


'The beauty of the nootropics category is its natural evolution from energy or stimulation drinks – without relying only on caffeine to provide the boost'

The new trend that is just starting is the Nootropics category. Nootropics are supplements that claim to improve cognitive functions such as mood, memory, creativity or motivation in healthy individuals.

The two most common types of nootropic products on the market currently are aimed at either improving focus or calming the mind. The former is particularly marketed as a natural stimulant for purposes such as gaming, sporting or working. 

The beauty of the Nootropics category is its natural evolution from energy or stimulation drinks – without relying only on caffeine to provide the boost.

They’re a careful balancing act of different nootropic ingredients which help smooth the caffeine spikes with calming ingredients such as L-theanine – a compound believed to be great for improving mood and sleep and reducing stress; the opposite effects of caffeine creating the perfect Yin and Yang balance.

With the increased interest in natural ingredients such as Ginseng, known for its antifatigue and immunity properties as well as boosting energy, brands are now steering away from caffeine creating diversity in their flavours and ingredients that appeal and excite.

The demand for Nootropics isn’t just within the energy market, it also sits neatly in the realm of calming drinks that aid clarity. A market that is increasing.

For example, according to Mintel, 29% would like more information on improving their mood, with levels of anxiety significantly raised since the COVID-19 outbreak. Instead of turning to prescriptions, consumers are reaching for natural remedies such as Ashwagandha, which claims to help fight depression, improve mood and even reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress.

Another popular ingredient in Nootropics is Passionflower, believed to help combat insomnia and stress. For the busy consumer, having a natural product they can use, on a daily basis, to support how they deal with everyday life is more relevant than ever.

What was once contained within a small capsule or in a tea format is now the beginnings of a whole new category of drink, bringing to the market products that innovate and give consumers the remedies they seek to support their daily routines. 

COVID-19 has made healthy drinks, that offer a function and benefit to the consumer, more important and popular than ever before. In my opinion, functional drinks are here to stay and will be the fastest growing market in years to come. This is where the business opportunities lie. Every year, I see new brands with innovative ideas walk through my door. It’s exciting to think what the future will hold for this market and what new products will launch in the coming months.

About the author: ​Richard Horwell is the owner of Brand Relations, a specialist food and drink marketing and branding company based in London. Over the last 10 years, Brand Relations has been behind the launch and development of over 80 brands in the UK. Richard has also built up and sold companies of his own in the Food and Beverage sector. He has over 30 years’ experience in marketing FMCG brands around the world, having lived and worked in the US, Australia and the Middle East.

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