Emotional brain food for madam, and the caffeine source for you sir

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Caffeine

EFSA claims don't carry much weight in cognitive ingredient survey.
EFSA claims don't carry much weight in cognitive ingredient survey.
When it comes to cognitive health products, women look for emotional ‘brain food’, while men look for caffeine sources, according to a survey of German students.

While the respondents – all aged between 20 and 30 years old and from nine different German universities – said they gathered most of their information from the internet, the survey revealed they still preferred more traditional points of sale like pharmacies and drugstores, while male consumers also preferred supermarkets.

The research conducted by Swiss-German ingredients supplier Vital Solutions found that of the 409 students surveyed, 84% said that cognitive health was important to them and 61.9% said they believed nutrition and diet had an influence on this performance. Yet what form they preferred to receive these benefits in, and even what colour they associated these benefits with, differed. 

What works for you?

The company, which manufacturers a lemon balm extract Bluenesse, found that 73.3% of the 169 male respondents and 64.2% of the 240 female respondents believed that products for cognitive performance worked.

Presenting the findings at Vitafoods in Geneva, the company’s founder Dr Sybille Buchwald-Werner said this figure suggested more marketing from firms was required.


The majority of women (67.7%) said they had tried sweets like chocolate for cognitive improvement, while the largest percentage of men (59.5%) said they had opted for coffee in the past for this functionality. Nearly double the amount of men (45.8%) compared to women said they had already tried energy drinks for this purpose.

Buchwald-Werner said this, and the type of products accepted by consumers already, raised questions about where approved health claims fitted into product strategies. The vast majority (78.3%) of the students were most attracted by the 'self-phrased claim' "helps for improvement of alertness and concentration"​.

Meanwhile the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) health claim "helps for decrease of tiredness"​ was selected by 37.3% of the respondents, with all other EFSA claims being selected by less than 10% of the students. 

“The question is how can marketing be planned around claims not understood?”​ she said. “Or the question is do we need a claim if they are not understood and if a good marketing story is enough if products work and consumers feel good about it?”

“It’s always better to have one, but a claim alone is not going to guarantee success."

Tea or coffee? Chewing gum or tablet? 

When asked which delivery format they would prefer to receive a cognitive ingredient in, the majority of women (44.4%) said hot drinks, while 38.9% of men said fizzy tablets to dissolve in water. The second most selected format for men was cold drinks (37%).


Buchwald-Werner said the company had been surprised to see that chewing gum was selected by a similar amount of male and female respondents (31.5% and 35.8%, respectively) when asked which delivery format they would prefer.

The most important cognitive effect for both men and women was the ability to concentrate for longer and work faster and in a more structured way. While these points were similar, nearly 20% more women than men said that they sought something for relaxation. 10% more men said they looked for something to make them better at remembering names, although this was a relatively low priority for both.

"So positioning for women would be more emotional,"​ she said. "For the females it seems more about getting good results, whereas the males were more self confident maybe." 

Over half the participants said they associated the colour green with cognitive performance, with 28% selecting blue and 27% yellow. 

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