What’s driving growth in functional food and beverages? A convergence of nutrition, convenience and taste

By Maggie Hennessy

- Last updated on GMT

What’s driving growth in functional food and beverages?

Related tags Functional foods Functional food Nutrition

With the global market for functional foods and beverages on track to reach $176.7 billion this year, this booming category now accounts for 5% of the overall food market and is driving growth for the food industry as a whole, according to Euromonitor. 

But what’s the impetus behind the success of this market? Consumer products consulting firm Abunda analyzed a set of factors including lifestyle trends, consumer perceptions (from primary and secondary data), demographic data, product sales and ethnographic research and determined seven consumer platforms as “significant” drivers behind the functional food and beverage market, according to Abunda founder and director Peter Leighton. 

Leighton developed a forward-looking trend analysis he calls “cross impact analysis”, to assess the relationships among hundreds of micro trends. By mapping them, he found that some feed into bigger, macro trends, which in turn “affect consumer attitudes and behaviors,”​ he told NutraIngredients-USA. He compiled the findings in a report titled How to Succeed in Functional Foods: 7 Consumer Platforms.

“Consumers don't think in terms of ‘functional foods’; but more in terms of, ‘I like that product,’ or ‘That's a better choice than x’,” ​he said.

Indeed, although each category demonstrates consumers’ growing demand for food and drink with inherent (or added) health benefits and claims, Leighton said it still comes down to individual preferences that have their basis in a set of common factors such as taste, price, validation, experiential nature of a product and simplicity of the concept.

The seven functional foods platforms driving success in this growing market are as follows.

Lifestyle antidote:​ Many consumers are looking to foods as a health solution for managing chronic conditions, such as diabetes, CVD or obesity—examples include pomegranate juice or beverages or bars fortified with vitamins and added fiber. But when it comes to these foods, taste is key, Leighton noted. “If a functional food tastes as good as a non-functional alternative, and it's not priced too high, adoption will likely pursue intent,” ​he said.

Better breakfasts:​ Roughly 31 million Americans don’t eat breakfast, according to the report. Consumers are looking for convenient, fast breakfast options that provide the right combination of nutrition and taste.

Cosmeceuticals:​ With a growing penchant for self-directed health care (think WebMD), consumers are seeking new functional ingredients for topical use and supplements that provide anti-aging and other solutions. In 2011, skin and hair care cosmeceuticals in the US accounted for $4.7 billion and $3 billion, respectively.  

Healthier snacking:​ Consumers refuse to give up snacking—evidenced by the projected value of the global snack foods market in 2015 of $334.7 billion—but they do want to feel better about the snacks they eat, according to the report. Indeed, 74% of consumers surveyed believe ​natural​ means ​healthier​. When it comes to snacking, guilt reduction is key.

Boosting reality:​ Nutraceuticals that pack an “experimental punch”, such as energy or mood alteration always get a strong consumer response; the challenge comes through the inherent paradox that the more experiential the product, the more likely it will face regulatory hurdles.

Trend monger:​ From esoteric kimchi brands to forbidden rice, foods that provide a unique ethical or cultural story can become something of a statement or even a “badge of sophistication” for consumers—if they’re fair trade, heirloom, identity-preserved, all the better.

Eco warrior:​ One step beyond the trend monger, a growing spate of consumers use food choices as a means of activism. Thoughtful ingredient sourcing (with small carbon footprints), manufacturing practices and packaging all factor into products that help drive social change. 

Functional foods will continue to influence mainstream products in the near term, as consumers seek more and better options to meet their needs, Leighton said. “Generally I see the category influencing mainstream products in a positive way; overall products are becoming 'healthier' to deliver what consumers are seeking.”

“And on the other end of the spectrum I see therapeutics and supplements morphing into food and beverage delivery systems, and we are likely to see an explosion in the category of ‘Medical Foods’. But the sweet spot in the middle will see innovations in delivering unique, natural, scientifically functional products that are delicious and convenient,”​ he added.

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