Gallup’s Global Emotions Survey recently described 2020 as ‘officially the most stressful year in recent history’, with a record-high 40% of adults worldwide saying they experienced stress during much of the previous day.
There is also frequent reporting of consumers heightened concerns around sleep health since COVID hit. And this has noticeably impacted consumers' purchasing decisions, with UK-based retailer, TheDrug Store, recently reporting that ‘mental health aids’ were among the most searched for terms on its eCommerce site.
Many players in the health and nutrition industry have found similar results in their own consumer research. Kerry Foods has just revealed its whitepaper named ‘Creating functional beverages for mental wellbeing’, which outlines consumer trends which the firm says indicate that now is the time for food and beverage brands to create mind health focused products.
“In our estimation, we are only at the very beginning, and with every new generation there will be an elevation in the importance of mental health and more proactive consumers who will seek out products to support it," the report states. "The opportunity to create credible and appealing products at this time is compelling.”
Kerry’s own data, from a survey of more than 2,500 people across the UK, Germany, Poland and Spain, shows three of the top five benefit areas rated more important since COVID-19 relate to cognitive concerns. 50% of consumers say their mental health has become of greater concern, 43% say their need for calm and relaxation has accelerated, and 42% say their brain health is of greater concern since COVID hit.
And for younger audiences, mental health is now the fastest growing issue of concern, with 54% of people under 40 claiming to have stressful lifestyles.
At the same time, the Nutrition Business Journal estimates the global functional beverages and supplements market will grow from $156.24 billion in 2020 to reach $179 billion by 2023, achieving 9.7% growth in 2020 alone.
Kerry's report states these figures 'demonstrate the magnitude of the problem and scale of the opportunity'.
But consumers have strong opinions on the specific ingredients that they believe will support brain function.
Ginseng, goji berry, cacao, turmeric, botanicals, and probiotics were all accepted as being useful calming ingredients by over 75% of consumers surveyed by Kerry.
Meanwhile, newer ingredients on the mass market are not so readily accepted but are making their way up the ranks, with CBD and ashwagandha both accepted as calming ingredients by 54% of consumers and nootropics and adaptogens accepted by 50% of those surveyed.
But Kerry argues the acceptance of these up-and-coming ingredients will grow rapidly as more brands introduce them and consumers become more familiar with them - a notion backed in a recent webinar hosted by market analysts MMR.
And for general brain health, omegas 3&6 are the most widely accepted ingredients (88%) followed by botanicals (83%), and ginkgo biloba (72%).
Again, less accepted ingredients include those newer to the market including resveratrol (43%), nootropics (51%), and MCT oil (52%).
In terms of specific mental health claims that consumers want to see, 65% of consumers say the most appealing mental health claim is ‘stress relief’, followed by ‘mental calming’ (62%) and ‘reducing anxiety’ (60%). And the brain health claims that consumers find appealing include: ‘improves memory’ (72%), ‘aid mental focus’ (68%), and ‘aid mental alertness’ (59%).
In summary, Kerry says the opportunity is huge for tasty beverages fortified with science-backed functional ingredients.
“Creating truly iconic liquids that support people’s mental health is the next golden opportunity for beverage brands – especially products that help the consumer understand the benefit at the point of consumption," the report states.
"Early entrants into this space are taking a number of approaches, with products designed to calm and promote sleep or improve alertness and focus. There is a proven link between stress and an inability to focus, so products that can support cognitive performance in areas such as alertness and concentration are starting to play a key role in category growth."