KANSAS CITY — The functional food category in North America has advanced in fits and starts over the past two decades. Many product introductions have gained traction only to be undermined by consumer sensitivity to price or interest in food and beverages positioned as organic, non-G.M.O. or clean label. The breadth of functional products exhibited at this year’s Natural Products Expo West trade show in Anaheim, Calif., indicates interest in the category may be on the rise again, but with a twist.
Past functional food development has focused principally on a handful of areas: digestive health, immune system function, cognitive health and heart health or relief for aging joints. While each remains an important area of interest in the category, many of the new functional products exhibited at Natural Products Expo West this year target improving the consumer’s overall mood by balancing energy, reducing stress and helping with sleep.
Research presented at the show by the ingredient supplier Kerry Group highlights consumer interest in mood-improving products. In a survey of 1,001 consumers Kerry described as primary shoppers, respondents ranked weight (51%), stress (51%), energy (39%) and sleep (38%) as their top four personal health priorities.
Kate Toews, regional business president of beverages for Kerry, said she was surprised by how important mood management was for consumers. The consumer research showed that for sleep and mood, many consumers use medication rather than food or supplements to address the issues.
“I think that’s an exciting opportunity for brands,” Ms. Toews said. “It’s very new that it would be that high on the consumer agenda. A lot of new food ingredients and brands are looking to deliver on that promise.”
Many of the new functional products exhibited at Natural Products Expo West this year target improving the consumer’s overall mood.
Mood enhancement was showcased in numerous products by exhibitors at Natural Products Expo West, both large and small. Nestle USA, for example, exhibited its Goodnight snack clusters. Formulated with magnesium, L-theanine and casein protein, the item is designed to help consumers sleep better. A Texas-based start-up named Stay Cool offered its eponymous beverages formulated with kava, an ingredient the company says provides a calming effect.
Mondelez International, Inc. announced during the show its investment in Uplift Food, New York. Uplift formulates an ingredient with prebiotic fiber, probiotics, pumpkin seed protein, mushrooms, green banana flour and sacha inchi seeds it markets as a “good mood food.” The company sees a healthy gut as a precursor to improved mood.
Carlotta Mast, senior vice-president of content and insights at New Hope Network, the producer of Expo West, pegged the size of the functional food market at $68 billion in 2018 and said it grew approximately 7.5 per cent compared to 2017. The growth underscores consumer interest in using food as a tool to improve health beyond basic nutrition.
Looming large in functional food discussions is the prospective impact of cannabidiol (C.B.D.) on the category. Currently existing in a legal and regulatory grey area in the United States, the perceived benefits of C.B.D. align with the benefits some consumers say they are seeking in functional products. It is this alignment that will only add to the resurgent momentum of functional foods going forward.