“Mood and cognition was getting more traction even before the pandemic but with the pandemic having an effect on mental and physical health it brought these front of mind for many people and these issues haven’t gone away and I don’t think it’s going to stop.”
Stephanie Mattucci, food scientist and Director of Food Science at Mintel explained to listeners of Mintel's recent Little Conversations podcast.
She notes there are many different ways that people can support their cognitive health, whether it be with exercise, medication, socialising, better routine, or therapy, but food and drink is a new string in the bow that wasn't really considered until recent years.
Mattucci notes anti-oxidants, b-vitamins, and adaptogens as some of the key ingredients with which we have seen brain health focused food and drink innovation.
But she warns that the ‘newness’ of this health link and these ingredients could be off-putting for some consumers.
“It’s a bit scary to think about taking something to change the way the brain functions which can lead to some consumer push back."
For example, she points out that very few consumers know what adaptogens are or what health benefit they provide.
To appeal to those more cautious consumers, she suggests, “you can look at some of the more familiar or trustworthy ingredients with more science behind them.”
Speaking about some of the better known ingredients, Mattucci says ashwagandha is a ‘big one’ thanks to its roots in Ayurvedic medicine, its good scientific backing, and some approved health benefits related to stress reduction in some markets.
She also points out that Tulsi, aka Holy Basil, is another popular ingredient, suggested to have a positive impact on memory ad cognitive function.
Additionally, she noted maca and ginseng as popular ayurvedic plants.
Less traditional but still with their roots in traditional medicine are adaptogenic mushrooms which have become popular solutions to a range of cognitive health issues.
Mattucci notes these do come with formulation challenges thanks to their very earthy flavour. This may be one of the reasons these are regularly added to coffee, as this is a strong, dominating flavour.
Looking beyond plant-based ingredients, she mentioned choline as another big opportunity ingredient.
Choline is a nutrient that is found in many foods and the brain and nervous system need it to regulate memory, mood, muscle control, and other functions.
Yet Mattucci points out that many people are deficient.
“This is an exciting ingredient because many of us aren’t getting the minimum intake needed. A lot of the activity with this ingredient is in the baby food and pre-natal vitamins market but it’s a nutrient that can benefit throughout the lifespan so I think that’s a big opportunity for innovation.
"And I think that is probably seen as being more safe by consumers than some of the more novel ingredients.”
Room for all players
Ultimately, Mattucci says there is a bounty of opportunity for food and drink companies to innovate in this space.
“This is such a big space in terms of health needs, from general cognition, to specifics like sleep and stress, there’s niche ingredients, like adaptogens, and there’s well established ingredients like vitamins. So there’s room for all companies to play in this space from a number of different points of view.”
But she points out that companies should avoid trying to be everything to everyone.
“You have to consider your consumers and your product format and make sure the health benefit you are offering makes sense.”
Want to learn more about supplements for cognitive health? Join our FREE webinar entitled 'Mind Modulation: supplements for sleep and stress' on September 21st to learn about some of the latest research and innovation in this space.