Four Sigmatic Foods offers a hot cocoa mix made with reishi mushrooms.

ANAHEIM, CALIF. — Though still relatively unfamiliar to consumers, adaptogenic herbs are expected to flourish in food and beverage products. Linked with stress reduction and supported by traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, ingredients such as ginseng, Peruvian maca root, ashwagandha, licorice root, holy basil, and medicinal mushrooms, including cordyceps, reishi and chaga, were featured in new product innovation at Natural Products Expo West, held March 10-13 in Anaheim.

Carlotta Mast, New Hope Network
Carlotta Mast, executive director of content for New Hope Network

“One place where we’re seeing a lot of evolution is around products that are incorporating adaptogenic herbs because more and more folks are looking for products that will help them deal with stress and stress management,” said Carlotta Mast, executive director of content, New Hope Network, during a state-of-the-industry presentation at Expo West. She cited as an example a hot cocoa mix made with reishi mushrooms from Four Sigmatic Foods, West Hollywood, Calif., which touts the benefit of “chill out vibes” on its packaging.

“This is a great product that offers these kinds of benefits in a superfood format,” Ms. Mast said.

Also speaking at the presentation, Maryellen Molyneaux, president, managing partner, Natural Marketing Institute, said adaptogenic herbs are a “really opportunistic area for the industry.”

Maryellen Molyneaux natural marketing institute
Maryellen Molyneaux, president and managing partner of the Natural Marketing Institute

“Consumers of all ages are really looking for solutions. Seventy-seven per cent indicate that relieving their stress would increase the quality of their life,” Ms. Molyneaux said. “We all know that post-recessionary times are very hard for many people… It’s not unusual today to hear how stressed out consumers in general really are. Thirty-three per cent indicate their stress levels have gotten worse in the last 10 years… and more than half of millennials say their stress is so very high, and they’re looking for solutions.”

Eric Pierce, director of business insights, New Hope Network, said based on consumer research of purchase intent, adaptogenic herbs show a strong ability to resonate with mainstream consumers.

Eric Pierce, New Hope Natural Media
Eric Pierce, director of business insights for New Hope Network

“As we look at the concepts and how individual concepts perform (we learn that) most consumers aren’t yet familiar with the idea of adaptogenic herbs,” Mr. Pierce said. “To the extent that a (product) concept connects to the idea of stress or a more recognizable ingredient, those perform well.”

Ginseng, for example, is perhaps the most familiar adaptogenic herb and was featured in several new beverages at Expo West. Associated with increased energy and immunity support, ginseng stars in organic energy drinks from Hiball, San Francisco, and EnerBee, Miami, as well as a variety of ready-to-drink decaffeinated tea from Bruce Tea, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“If you are marketing an adaptogenic herb product, tap into the more recognizable things in order to (attract) the mainstream consumer,” Mr. Pierce said. “Use a recognizable format and…connect the consumer need for help managing stress.”

Another exhibitor at the show, San Francisco-based Rebbl offers ready-to-drink elixirs and tonics made with organic ingredients and “super herbs” to improve energy levels and reduce stress. Varieties include maca mocha and ashwagandha chai.

Rebbl offers ready-to-drink elixirs and tonics made with organic ingredients and “super herbs."

Maca, reishi and chaga mushrooms are featured in a line of meal replacement beverages from TruVibe Organics, Sparks, Nev. RePear, a pear juice drink from Cansi US Inc., San Mateo, Calif., includes licorice root, which is said to stimulate adrenal function.

Adaptogenic herbs span beyond beverages, too. Navitas Naturals, Novato, Calif., debuted a line of organic nut and seed bars, including maca as an ingredient, which is said to increase stamina, fight fatigue and combat stress. A new range of “superfood” popcorn from Living Intentions, Richmond, Calif., contains such adaptogens as maca root and ashwaganda extract.

Adaptogenic herbs are part of a larger trend of consumers embracing the diets and ingredients of ancient cultures, Ms. Mast said.

“More and more consumers, as their trust in the products they buy perhaps wanes, are paying more attention, reading food labels, doing research and scrutinizing their purchases,” she said. “They’re looking for products that get back to a simpler way, a pre-industrialized food system that focuses on whole nutrient-dense ingredients and a closer-to-nature approach to processing.”