Consumers are looking to take control of their health in new ways. The global pandemic has heightened consumer concerns about their health and mental well-being, and there is a growing demand for functional foods and beverages to address specific health concerns. Whether people are looking for improved immunity, better sleep, an uplift in mood, or stress management, they are looking less to supplements and more to food to be their medicine. Snacks are typically the go-to meal occasion to provide these benefits, as 64% of global adults say that snacks have provided nourishment for their mind, body, and soul during the pandemic, according to Mondelēz International's 2020 State of Snacking report. Imagine if a snack could offer nourishment and help manage and lessen responses to stress. NZMP is addressing this consumer concern, and the rising demand, with their latest ingredient innovation: milk phospholipids.
Your brain on stress. As studies have shown, over the past year stress has been hitting the world harder than ever before. According to Euromonitor’s 2020 Health & Wellness survey, nearly half of Americans say that they are actively treating stress and anxiety or are working to prevent it. Where it's acute or chronic, stress can result in a range of feelings such as depression, irritability, sadness, or even anger. A study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley examined the effect of stress on the brain and discovered that there are long-term effects for people who suffer from high levels of stress. They found that chronic stress generates long-term changes in the brain’s structure and function. This may explain why those with chronic stress might be more likely to experience alterations in cognitive function such as memory, focus, or mood disorders.
Looking to snack time for stress relief and comfort. The demand for easy and quick snacks for the family was rising even before the pandemic. As life has moved many into home offices, people are now looking to snacks as a go-to meal instead of a bigger sit-down meal occasion. According to Mintel’s 2019 Better for You Snacking Report, 60% of people are interested in snacks that offer health-related benefits. “People often address their emotional hunger with foods that they might find comforting. With stress or a negative mood, the tendency to grab a ‘junk’ food item, or a drink that’s high in sugar, and mindlessly eat is much greater than when we are fulfilling a physical hunger. We are seeing consumer demands focusing on food and beverages to improve their mental well-being,” says Leah Johnston, a registered dietitian representing NZMP. When stress or emotions hit during the day, consumers head to the kitchen looking for relief. Mintel’s report also showed that parents were more likely to snack to relieve stress due to juggling the responsibilities of work and home. Parents are looking for convenient snacks that provide nourishment and self-care, which are a key audience in the snack category.
The emerging focus on mental health is an opportunity for brands to expand their functional food and beverage portfolios with unique new ingredients. A global dairy ingredient powerhouse, NZMP recently launched Milk Phospholipids, an ingredient that has been clinically proven to aid in the management of stress and its side effects while also positively impacting cognitive function. As the building blocks of cell membranes, phospholipids have a key role in protecting the structural and functional integrity of the cells in our brain, though those levels decline as we age. For years, milk phospholipids have been added to infant formulas to support brain development and cognition. This led NZMP to investigate if the benefits of bovine milk phospholipids extend to working adults to help promote mental well-being. A 2019 study in Nutrition found an improvement in reaction time when shifting focus under stress after consuming milk phospholipids. Another study discovered that milk phospholipids can enhance the endocrine response to improve working memory during a stressful period when compared to a placebo. Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid class that is abundant in the brain and supplementation with 300mg has been associated with a more relaxed mood and lower production of stress hormones such as cortisol. There is even more to discover about the impact of milk phospholipids with emerging research in cognitive function and memory in the elderly.
During exploratory work, NZMP conducted a consumer study to assess the attractiveness, as well as measure the business potential, of various stress-busting snack concepts formulated with milk phospholipids. 59% of the respondents reported high or very high stress levels over the past month. For the consumer who feels the need to multitask to keep up with their daily demands, they often turn to unhealthy snacks to feel better — a stress-busting granola bar was an attractive selection for those desiring relief. These consumers were looking for a comforting, healthy snack that could also help them manage stress under pressure. The study found the most appealing attributes of the granola bar were the stress relief function, the convenience of a grab-and-go bar, healthy and natural ingredients, and the ability to snack without the feeling of guilt. With the introduction of the stress relief benefit, the Stress-Buster granola bar actually outscored a well-known “healthy grains” bar in every utility aspect: likability, uniqueness, relevance, and even believability. NZMP found that functional benefits have become equally important as the ingredients used and the taste.
In uncertain times, consumers look for new solutions. There is a novelty appeal, as stress management is a feature that is new in the cereal bar category. Granola and cereal bars are purchased more by adults aged 25 to 35 and this is even more pronounced for bars with a functional benefit, such as protein or energy. The uniqueness of the stress management functionality influenced respondents' willingness to pay a higher price for the granola bar. Purchase intent was largely driven by the respondents perceived level of stress and ability to cope.
As people were thrust into the unfamiliar, they reached for things that brought them a feeling of comfort for a few precious moments. And that's why NZMP is working to make those moments of calm even better with milk phospholipids that nurture the mind, body, and spirit.