Special Edition: Functional Foods

Millennials driving next generation of functional foods

By David Anderson

- Last updated on GMT

Millennials driving next generation of functional foods

Related tags Functional foods Nutrition Marketing

The demands on brands and suppliers to fulfil consumer’s desire to eat healthy foods has never been higher with switched-on millennials becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of functional foods through social media.

The health benefits of well-known vitamins, minerals and calcium are known to consumers thanks to mainstream media coverage while the public’s obsession with living healthy lifestyles has meant that the benefits of probiotics, prebiotics and omega 3 fatty acids are on the rise.

That said, as ingredient suppliers strive to develop new health-giving products, marketers are minded that today’s consumers are much more likey to be enticed by buying everyday products and ingredients they understand, as opposed to scientific-sounding ingredients they may not.

One simple rule of thumb for functional food brands to follow is that today’s consumers won’t be compromised when it comes to taste and long gone are the days when consumers expect foods which are good for them to be unpleasant tasting, experts say. 

Jerry Naish, marketing manager, Yeo Valley said: “We feel that taste and provenance should go hand in hand. Eating well should taste good, and feel good.”

Weight management, satiety, nutrition and energy are commonly viewed as the key drivers behind the rise in functional foods with baby boomers and the health-engaged and exercise-conscious continuing to be important drivers for the growth in functional foods.

But experts believe that millennials are now likely to be the biggest spenders on foods fortified with calcium, fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Alice Dolling, insight account analyst at retail consultancy him! told Nutra Ingredients: “Younger people are more concerned about becoming healthy. They are always looking at their phone, looking at Instagram, looking at health bloggers. They have a much broader idea of what health is [compared to the older generation] and I think suppliers are having to try and answer to that.

“A lot of consumers are expecting suppliers to be the ones who spur their health on. Consumers are putting the burden on suppliers instead of themselves.”

The term functional foods may have become ingrained in the public consciousness in a positive way, but experts warn that it is important for functional foods brands not to lose sight of what consumers want.

Emma Gubisch, marketing insight manager, Leatherhead Food Research, told Nutra Ingredients: “Starting with the consumer need, such as the desire for fresher products or the desire for foods which make people full for longer should be the starting point for any product developer. This will ensure products are developed with the consumer in mind.”

Leatherhead has the following recommendations for product developers when innovating products:

In line with the food industry, an understandable marketing message is fundamental to functional foods becoming more mainstream and Gubisch advises five rules for functional food marketers to follow so the marketing message is not cluttered and confused and consumer demands are met.

Gubisch advises that product benefits need to address a specific consumer need; functional benefits need to be a good fit with the product’s characterisation; benefits need to be accurate and truthful; benefits need to be clearly communicated; and multiple messaging can be confusing.

But while the rise of functional foods is dependent on consumers understanding the ingredients they are eating, marketers, particularly in the EU, are to a degree hamstrung by a tightening of EU rules which have put a handbreak on promoting potential benefits of certain products and ingredients.

Dilemmas over what and what can’t be said on labelling, as well as a vast array of healthy products, can be confusing for consumers.

Naish said: “Being aware of what you consume has never been more important as there are so many options available, and there have never been more ingredients available to food producers.

“Understanding what your food is made of and making positive choices is becoming ever more confusing.”

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