The evolution of consumers’ priorities toward the consumption of natural foods and beverages is the main contributor to the overall Health and Wellness (HW) market. Consumers are looking for minimally processed or unprocessed products in line with the clean label trend, with an increasing desire for whole foods, ancient grains, green tea, and plant-based proteins from nuts and seeds, as well as ingredients with particular health functionality. In addition, plant-sourced ingredients and algae such as spirulina are in hot pursuit, as they are perceived as natural in origin and environmentally sustainable, as well as healthier.
This trend is apparent globally, with an outperformance of Naturally Healthy (NH) and organic offerings versus Better for You (BFY) and Fortified/Functional (FF) products in both developed and emerging markets. This shows the move from artificially fortified foods and beverages and those with reduced salt, sugar and fat to more naturally nutritious offerings.
Fortified/Functional: Still Current
Although FF has slowed down, it is still important. Its performance is stronger in emerging markets, where consumers are increasingly looking for products with functional ingredients such as probiotics, omegas or vitamins as a means of minimizing nutritional gaps in their daily diet, or to boost their well-being. However, developed countries continue to innovate in this area, mainly around protein and plant-based ingredients, as well as in particular categories, such as FF milk formula, in which nutritional science is key.
Protein continues to be the hottest trend, and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. The increasing desire for protein-packed snack bars, flavored milk drinks, and indulgent products is a good example. It is important to note how protein has evolved, and including it in indulgence foods is such an advance. A good example in this space is a new brand ice cream, which is FF, high in protein and reduced in sugar, available in the U.K. This product follows the “healthy indulgence” trend and is marketed with an appetite suppression purpose, which has secured it a strong position in the market.
Naturally Functional: The Way Forward
NH bottled water is in high demand, being the largest category within this offering, valued at $61 billion in 2016; in particular, NH still, natural mineral bottled water is predicted to see 42% growth over 2016-2021. Many manufacturers are working on this area developing flavored and functional waters.
In addition, more consumers like the idea of plant-based foods with intrinsic protein, mineral or vitamin content, with no need to artificially fortify them. Ancient grain-based products are key within this trend, as well as vegetable-based savory snacks, which are becoming increasingly desirable, mainly among millennials. New offerings emerge, incorporating many prominent snacking trends at the moment, including novel ingredients such as sweet potatoes and chickpeas, containing no artificial colors or flavors, offering gourmet flavors, free from gluten and presented in thin profile.
Global Foods Trends: Key to Functional Products
When developing functional foods, it is important to bear in mind global trends that will determine the success of the product in the marketplace.
For instance, in the regular snacks category, there is increasing demand for naturally nutrient-dense foods, with a clear movement from conventional offerings, such as chocolate bars, sweet biscuits and packets of crisps to more healthy foods, such as dairy-based products enhanced with protein or probiotics as well as nutrient-packed cereal and granola bars containing seeds and ancient grains, including gluten-free ranges that are rich in vitamins and minerals.
Therefore, manufacturers are very much focused on these types of products for future development, not only adding ingredients with particular functionalities but also moving from frying to baking, creating healthier products, or also air drying, which helps to maintain the nutritional content of the ingredients used.
In addition, there is growing interest in snacks made of vegetables as their core ingredient (like beetroot, butternut squash and/or spinach crisps), as well as snacks made of nuts, seeds and pulses. These ingredients are also used in meat and/or dairy alternatives, following the free from trend that is growing very fast globally.
Adding botanicals to the list of ingredients is also a major trend, with preparations made from supergrains, superfruits or fungi rising in popularity in many food categories such as snacks, functional waters and hot drinks, among others. The use of jamun (black plum), moringa, goji berries, turmeric, maca and/or medicinal mushrooms like chaga are clear examples of this. Also, including organic ingredients adds a health perception to offerings.
Taking all of this into account, startups are constantly releasing new products with a natural image, backed by growing interest from investors, although this is distracting consumers from existing products. This has meant existing products have had to reformulate to keep up or else risk being shunned by consumers.
In addition, holistic and alternative medicine based on trends such as veganism, the Paleo diet (eating the same foods as our hunter-gatherer ancestors supposedly ate: fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood and nuts) or the consumption of raw or minimally processed foods are key focus areas for manufacturers when developing foods with added functional value.
Moreover, it is important not to lose sight of the story behind a product. Authentic foods and beverages speak to origin and tradition; products that are handcrafted, fresh and farm-to-table are also big news globally.
All of these trends are in line with the concept of “mindful eating”, which is one of the latest shifts in consumer food perceptions against the concept of dieting. Mindful eating is all about experiencing food more intensively. The approach involves bringing attention to all the smells, tastes and feelings that arise during the process of eating.