CHICAGO — When in crisis, consumers crave comfort. The pandemic has pushed stressed shoppers to stockpile familiar vices like indulgent food and alcohol, for now reversing what had been a steady decline in alcohol consumption. Yet there is nothing like a health crisis to underscore the importance of health and longevity. As consumers’ quest for self-optimization enters a more mature phase, living healthy will focus less on restrictive diets and more on balance, bridging the traditional divide between comfort and wellness categories. This evolved consumer mindset provides an opportunity for emerging brands to create products that elevate daily routines, optimize mental health and lift spirits in more effective ways.
The beverage space already is responding by bringing unique non-alcoholic drinks to the market. Emerging brands like Seedlip and Partake Brewing offer alternatives to alcohol’s depressive effects with alcohol-free spirits and craft beers, providing sophisticated flavors for sober-curious movements like Dry January and Zero Proof. Big brands like Molson Coors and Anheuser-Busch also have been expanding their portfolios to include these new categories.
However, the food and beverage space has a lot more to offer, especially in these trying times. As feeling good and optimizing mental health have become the new cornerstones of wellness, innovative brands are developing approachable solutions that fit into consumers’ daily lives. Recognizing that traditional wellness brands have created an environment where consumers are pressured to “outwell” one another, Jen Batchelor, founder of Kin Euphorics, discovered an opportunity to make room for wellness in the comfort food category.
Ms. Batchelor coined the term “euphorics” to describe her healing botanical-spiked cocktails and nightcaps that raise the spirits without the regretful next-day hangover. Her unique blends of plant extracts, cognitive-enhancing nootropics and stress-relieving adaptogens help drinkers feel relaxed and mentally sharp. Most importantly, the beneficial properties are wrapped in the brand’s promise of kinship and conscious connection-making.
Connecting to the consumer is also how Four Sigmatic landed on its successful footing in the US market, bringing little-known healing mushrooms to Americans’ coffee cups. Tero Isokauppila, chief executive officer of Four Sigmatic, is a 13th-generation Finnish farmer whose philosophy is rooted in understanding the science behind the healing power of nutrient-dense foods. The brand’s line of mushroom coffee and wholesome hot chocolate mixes could have easily strayed into the unattainable wellness niche — but instead, they offer a fun upgrade to consumers’ favorite pick-me-ups. The brand has succeeded in promoting functional fungi, selling millions of mushroom packets per year, thanks to its adept use of conversational commerce to stay attuned to its market.
Brands like Four Sigmatic and Kin Euphorics have built trust with consumers, who have begun replacing indulgent legacy brands and traditional sources of temporary stress relief. Instead, they aim for long-lasting results with products that promote “getting enough sleep, reducing stress and eating healthy,” explained Mr. Isokauppila. Leaning into foods’ restorative nature also helps consumers shift from “fight or flight to rest and digest,” Ms. Batchelor said.
The brands help shoppers swap empty calories for functional ones by leading with their products’ actionable labels, such as Four Sigmatic’s rest-promoting mushroom cacao, Chill, and Kin Euphorics’ Dream Light nightcap mixer. Ultimately, they are offering a wellness upgrade to staple standbys with pure ingredients that support cognitive and physical comfort on a molecular level.
In a tough economic climate, brands may fear entering the wellness niche with its oft-exclusive price point. However, the current crisis presents a real opportunity to launch hybrid products that offer comfort along with genuine benefits in boosting immunity, reducing stress and promoting rest and relaxation. As the industry continues to navigate unknowns, entrepreneurs can pioneer new ways to treat consumers to a little peace of mind.
Natalie Shmulik is the chief executive officer of The Hatchery Chicago, a food and beverage incubator.