These were the insights provided by Emma Schofield, associate director, global food science, at Mintel, during Vitafoods last week (October 7).
In an online presentation, the data analyst ran through the biggest trends impacting purchasing decisions today and the new and upcoming ingredients which consumers will likely start to look out for within health products.
An obvious trend is the increased focus on immune health supporting products.
Mintel research in March 2021 found that 28% of French, 32% of German, 42% of Italian, 50% of polish and 41% of Spanish consumers have been consuming more food and drink products that supports their immune system since the pandemic began.
And Schofield agued this is far from a passing fad, stating "Immune health has the potential to become even more relevant to consumers even after the pandemic does subside."
Within this trend, she said consumer interest in natural ingredients has led to growing interest in botanicals with immune health benefits, such as ginger and medicinal mushrooms. Mintel data shows that 54% of Spanish consumers agree (May 2020) that plant or botanical ingredients can have medicinal benefits and 38% of German consumers agree (July 2020) that natural ingredient are a top factor for them when shopping for food.
Schofield said: “While a large number of consumers have agreed that in the 12 months leading to August 2021 they have taken Magnesium (67% of German respondents and 73% of Polish respondents), a notable proportion have also taken turmeric (26% of French and 23% of Spanish consumers) and garlic (36% of Polish and 29% of Spanish consumers) even if they don’t have proven health benefits from a regulatory perspective.”
Often, these botanical ingredients are used in conjunction with other more conventional micronutrients with a more established link with immune health. For example, Alpro Daily Immunity Super Oat Drink with Extract of Echinacea also contains vitamin C, providing the immune health claim.
Other ingredients which consumers consider relevant to immune health are gut health supporting ingredients. Mintel data from May 2020 shows that 65% of Polish, 52% of Italian and Spanish, 49% of French and 47% of German consumers agree that consuming gut friendly ingredients can support their immune system.
But in terms of ‘what’s next’ in this space, Schofield said postbiotics may emerge as the ‘next’ ingredient in the gut-immune space.
“We can see they are being used in a similar way to probiotics in terms of the health benefits being claimed. They have potential to emerge and grow in the immune health space.”
"Eye health has long been relevant to our ageing population but our increasingly virtual lives suggest new opportunities for eye health," said Schofield.
In fact, 25% of UK consumers aged 16-24 are interested in trying sports/energy drinks that support eye health (May 2019).
Giving some idea of the ingredients already widely associated with eye health, Mintel data shows 46% of products launches with an eye health claim between 2016 and 2020 contained vitamin A, 41% contained vitamin E, 37% contained vitamin C, 30% contained zinc, 17% and contained omega-3 fatty acids.
Making these ingredients even more relevant, Schofield pointed out that many brands are pairing these with ingredients for brain health in order to create a product which supports gamers and others spending a lot of time at their screens.
She concluded that Marigold, a plant source of lutein, is an ingredient to watch in this space, as only 12% of eye health products launches between 2016 and 2020 contained lutein but awareness of this natural ingredient is growing.
As has been reported fairly extensively, mental health has entered the spotlight since the pandemic began and Mintel data shows a fairly high proportion of consumers link food to mood - 25% of German consumers agree the pandemic has increased their interest in food and drink offering an emotional benefit, while 21% of consumers in that country agree their motivation for using functional food and drink is to reduce stress (Sept 2020).
In terms of what’s the next ingredient to watch in this space, Schofield says Magnesium is being seen as the mindfulness mineral of the moment and L-Theanine is the amino acid with ammo.
She added that there are also opportunities for natural energy-boosting ingredients, such as ginseng, which offer a mental boost without the negative side effects of caffeine or sugar.
Another area of health highlighted during the pandemic is weight management. In fact, weight management was the top food and drink aspiration for consumers across European countries in March 2021, as around half of consumers said they would like their diet to help them manage their weight – ranking it more important than locally sourced, more nutritious or even higher quality food.
In terms of big ingredients to watch in this space, Schofield said fibre is gaining attention for its weight management benefits, with a number of functional food and drink products already adding it to their products and calling it out on front of pack, especially within breakfast related products.
But she said the big new areas of opportunity are beyond the breakfast aisles.
“We can look to APAC for inspiration on how to expand the use of this ingredient within less expected categories and how to promote them to a different type of consumer so they aren’t just about embarrassing digestive health problems,” she added.
Eyes, skin and joints are some areas that consumers have long been concerned about degenerating as they get older but nowadays many European consumers believe there is a link between diet and skin (39% of French consumers and 49% of German consumers), in some cases they even see diet as having a bigger impact than the weather (30% of French consumers and 41% of German consumers).
Schofield said Hyaluronic acid is an up and coming ingredient that fits in nicely with consumers looking to support the health of their eyes, joints and skin.
"Launches with hyaluronic acid are currently scarce but have a potential to grow to help promote ‘inner hydration’. Often this ingredients is paired with vitamin C or collagen, which are both established ingredients with a link to beauty-from-within."