The future of functional food

Memory loss and eye health are two of the most pressing future health concerns among today’s consumers, presenting an opportunity for companies competing in the nutrition and over-the-counter health space, according to the market research firm Canadean, London.

Released this past July, a Canadean report, titled “Top trends in health care and O.T.C.: Exploring the over-the-counter medication; vitamins, minerals and supplements; functional food and drink; and sports nutrition categories,” found that almost a third of consumers globally are concerned about experiencing memory loss in the future, and 27% are concerned about sight degeneration, putting such concerns above diabetes and cholesterol in terms of consumer worry. There is a clear opportunity for manufacturers to respond by incorporating cognitive and eye health benefits into food, drinks and supplements, the report said.

Lean Cuisine, functional foods
In July 2015, Nestle USA, Solon, Ohio, “rebooted” the company’s Lean Cuisine line and shifted the focus away from diet to more chef-inspired, ethnic dishes that offer consumers a variety of attributes.

“As well as addressing current health needs, consumers are increasingly looking to the future, proactively seeking products that will reduce their risk of potential health problems,” said Melanie Felgate, senior consumer insight analyst for Canadean. “With memory loss and eye health the top concerns, manufacturers in the functional nutrition and health care spaces should focus on these key areas of innovation.

For example, cholesterol-lowering spreads are commonplace, but what about everyday products that improve cognitive function? Coffee Blenders Think Cup in the U.S. is an example of a brand already doing this, producing coffee pods with ginseng which, the brand claims, is clinically proven to improve memory.”

In terms of the administration of health-enhancing ingredients, consumers prefer food and beverages over pills. Only 14% of consumers globally said they consider traditional pills and tablets to be the preferable consumption format, with the majority opting for food and beverage applications. Just 18% of the survey respondents consider pills and tablets to be the most effective consumption format, compared to 49% and 24% for food and beverages, respectively.

“This preference for, and perceived effectiveness of, food and drinks in comparison to pills, stems from boredom with traditional formats as well as the belief that food and drink can offer comparable health benefits to non-prescription medicines,” Ms. Felgate said.

Manufacturers also may benefit from personalizing health products. Globally, 41% of consumers have a favorable perception of products personalized to their needs. The sentiment increases among the most health conscious consumer groups, such as frequent exercisers and those who claim to actively use food and drink to improve their health, highlighting the necessity for brands in the health space to take a more personal approach.

“The need for innovation ever-more closely aligned to individual consumer requirements is growing, as the personalized health trend persists,” Ms. Felgate said. “Brands could personalize products by appealing to consumers’ specific age and gender, lifestyle preferences, or even blood type or DNA. We are already seeing brands like ManFlu — a range of cold and flu remedies for men — capitalize on this space, but in the future personalization will become increasingly more closely tailored to an individual’s own needs.