With 42% of consumers in Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa feeling unable to break away from daily pressures, there is growing demand for food and beverage products that support mental wellbeing
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KerryDigest Fast Facts:
- COVID-19 may have contributed to rising stress levels, but consumers were already experiencing less than optimal cognitive health before the pandemic.
- Poor cognitive health can increase a person’s vulnerability to disease and illness, due to its direct impact on the immune system.
- As consumers take an increasingly proactive approach to improving their cognitive health, they are exploring products that promote mood, good sleep, focus and stress relief.
- There is potential for nootropics and adaptogens in mental wellness nutrition. Psychobiotics, although relatively new, is also showing promise in helping to alleviate anxiety and depression.
KerryDigest Full Scoop:
Physical wellness and health issues such as diabetes and obesity often overshadow cognitive concerns like mental fatigue and mental wellbeing. But with cognitive health problems on the rise, and the pandemic blurring the line between work and life, consumers have started to realise that mental health is critical to their overall wellbeing and quality of life.
This shift in consumer perception towards mental wellness is driving the health and wellness trend of self-care and everyday wellbeing, and is influencing food and beverage purchases. We outline key findings about the state of mental wellness in Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa (APMEA) and highlight how nutrition can play a supportive role.
Stress and poor sleep were common even before the pandemic
While COVID-19 prompted people to be more conscious of their mental health, studies show that consumers globally were not satisfied with their cognitive health even before the pandemic.
A 2020 mental wellbeing study by FMCG Gurus concluded that feelings of stress and sleep disruptions—which can contribute to cognitive health issues—were already common across the globe due to people’s inability to manage and cope with daily pressures.
In a 2020 Innova Market Insights study on mental health, about half of consumers surveyed in India reported experiencing stress at least once a day, and over 60% of consumers in Indonesia and 40% in China experienced stress at least once a week.
Disrupted sleep is a vicious cycle that starts with difficulty sleeping, leading to inadequate sleep, and then feeling tired and fatigued in the day. In the FMCG Gurus report on mental wellbeing, 42% of people in Asia Pacific found it difficult to sleep once in bed, higher than the global average of 40%. The pandemic exacerbated this, with 79% of global consumers polled struggling to sleep at night because of worries about the health and wellbeing of their loved ones and 44% of consumers in Asia Pacific averaging less than six hours of sleep each night.
But why are stress and sleep so important to overall mental wellbeing? Respondents cited that their mood, mental state and clarity, energy and sleep were most affected by stress — and all these factors can affect a person’s health and immunity such as by increasing vulnerability to disease and illness. Kerry’s APMEA Beverage Trends 2021 report also reveals growing awareness of the connection between mental wellness and good health, with three in every four consumers saying that positive mental health supports a strong immune system.
Adaptogens are natural, non-toxic herbs and roots commonly used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine that are believed to strengthen the body’s ability to adapt to extreme stress, and thereby improve overall quality of life.
According to Avinash Lal, Market Research and Consumer Insights Director at Kerry APMEA, interest in adaptogens including basil, ginseng, ashwagandha and ayurvedic solutions is on the rise. An Innova Market Insights report on mood cites traditional adaptogens such as ashwagandha as becoming mainstream ingredients in mood-regulating supplements and foods.
Work obligations and technology are affecting mental state
As people try to cram many activities into the day and keep up with a never-ending to-do list, they struggle to relax and unwind, which adversely affects their cognitive health.
One of the biggest struggles for consumers is finding a good work-life balance, as traditional work environments evolve. Even before the pandemic, people were bringing work home: According to the FMCG Gurus report on mental wellbeing, 44% of consumers in Asia Pacific and 43% of those in the Middle East and Africa did so, and many reported checking work emails outside of work hours.
As a result, people felt that they were not enjoying enough downtime, with 30% in Asia Pacific and 28% in Middle East and Africa being unhappy with the amount of relaxation time they had.
This was aggravated when the pandemic hit and work-from-home arrangements became the norm, ultimately leading to longer work hours and more stress. In a survey conducted in Singapore by the National University Health System’s (NUHS) Mind Science Centre in May 2020, 51% of people working from home reported feeling stressed, compared to only 32% from the group working on the front lines of the pandemic.
However, outside of work, distractions such as social media and reliance on digital devices also prevent consumers from completely relaxing. Time spent on these activities coupled with blue light from devices can overstimulate the brain and affect one’s ability to mentally “switch off” and get enough restful sleep.
In the FMCG study, around 47% of global consumers said they stay up late binge-watching shows on streaming devices and 39% said they lose track of time when on social media. Ironically, 27% said they use their smartphones and laptops whilst in bed although they are fully aware that they should be trying to sleep.
With the stressors and distractions of modern lifestyles compromising mental and overall wellbeing, consumers are now sourcing for food, beverage and healthy lifestyle products that can help alleviate their conditions. In Asia Pacific, 65% of consumers want products that improve sleep quality and 63% want products that reduce stress levels. In Middle East and Africa 86% of people are interested in products that contain a natural energy boost.
Amidst feelings of fear and uncertainty, consumers are drawn to products they perceive can help increase feelings of happiness and joy and are seeking solutions through food or supplements. Innova Market Insight’s mental health research found that happiness was the leading mental health claim on foods and beverages for regions including Asia (64%), Australasia (33.1%) and the Middle East and Africa (63.5%).
Kerry’s Future of Food Insight Study points to three major trends – feeding the mind, redefining value and health and wellness – all of which are linked to boosting immunity, which is propelling the market in Southeast Asia.
The ‘feed the mind’ trend stems from rising attention on mental and emotional health, with consumers identifying happiness and comfort over mood, and relaxation and clear thinking as important aspects of food and beverage choices. Of note: three in every four consumers say good mental health is linked to a strong immune system.
There is space for nootropics to boost a healthy mind
Increasingly, products that help support brain health and overall mental wellness are in demand.
According to Lal, the pressure of having to constantly perform at ‘peak’ abilities will further drive consumer interest in energy drinks that can help them stay alert, focused and sharp. This demand for mental acuity can be seen in recent launches: nearly 70% of products that support mental acuity and 60% of products for focus also display claims for energy and alertness, according to Innova Market Insights.
According to Kerry proprietary insights from a 2020 study, APMEA is the biggest region for energy drinks in retail sales volume, with a projected 5% CAGR from 2019 to 2022. While traditional energy drinks are often high in sugar and artificial ingredients, there is potential in this space for healthier alternatives such as drinks that include nootropics. In fact, new product launches touting adaptogens and nootropics have risen significantly over the past five years.
Some research suggests that nootropics have the potential to support brain health, memory function and attention span; boost energy; and enhance relaxation. Commonly used nootropics include traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) herbs, supplements such as Omega 3, gingko, fish oil and foods like extra virgin olive oil, spinach, almonds and turmeric.
Consumers in APMEA have long use nootropics as natural kitchen ingredients, although they may not be fully aware of their health benefits. According to Lal, it’s important to educate consumers on what nootropics are and what they can offer. For example, as consumers have learned more about the nootropic turmeric, there’s a gradual increase in its popularity for its perceived immunity benefits. While there is potential for innovation in nootropics within nutrition to support positive mental state, Lal says more clinical trials need to be done on nootropics before these claims can be declared with credibility.
Psychobiotics may support mental wellness in the future
Growing research on the gut-brain connection is showing promise in the mental wellness and nutrition space. An article published by the Kerry Health and Nutrition Institute (KHNI) called the gut the body’s second brain because of its ability to produce the same amount of dopamine—the ‘high’ hormone—as the brain and almost as much serotonin, the ‘happy’ hormone. Additionally, the gut plays a large role in supporting immune health.
Consumers are taking notice: 47% of global consumers surveyed in the Innova report on mood associate a healthy digestive system with improved mood and emotional wellbeing and 46% believe it can reduce stress.
Psychobiotics’ is a newly coined term for live bacteria such as probiotics that, when consumed in adequate amounts, may have positive effects on mental health.
A number of human studies have shown preliminary evidence that altering the gut microbiome with a Mediterranean style diet or probiotics may improve symptoms in mental health conditions such as low mood and depression,” says Aoife Marie Murphy, PhD, Kerry APMEA Applied Health Nutrition Business Development Manager.
Although research is at early stages, results suggests psychobiotics may have potential in the treatment of a wide range of mental health concerns in the future, including anxiety and depression.
The holistic ‘aging well’ segment is a growing market
Although frequent stress affects consumers younger than 35 more than seniors aged 55 and above, according to Innova Market Insights, seniors are showing a growing interest in products that take a holistic approach to wellness, and not just products that help prevent cognitive decline.
In addition, findings from an Innova study on ageing well showed that 68% of seniors are concerned about their personal health in light of COVID-19. This is supported by the 32% average annual growth from 2017 to 2020 in new product launches with ‘aging well’ claims, with Asia taking the lead.
The number of people aged 65 or older is projected to rise from an estimated 524 million in 2010 to nearly 1.5 billion in 2050. Along with an ageing population comes an increase in the prevalence of age-related cognitive decline and disease states such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Dementia is a progressive debilitating cognitive disease that mainly affects older people. Predominant symptoms include loss of memory, language problems, difficulties in performing daily activities and psychological changes. Alzheimer’s disease is the most recurrent type of dementia. In 2014, there were approximately 5 million individuals aged 65 years and above diagnosed with dementia. By 2060, nearly 15 million individuals are expected to be diagnosed with dementia.
While B vitamins and vitamins A, C, D, E and selenium may support cognitive function, a KHNI report on nutrition and the brain suggests that Omega-3 fatty acids could be important for cognitive health as they are a major structural component of brain tissue. New research shows that there is potential in berry-derived flavonoids in preventing cognitive decline, with growing evidence that flavonoids can help maintain cognitive function during ageing and delay the start or slow progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
More trials and research need to be done to establish whether Omega-3 fatty acids or flavonoids may have a direct effect on brain health. If successful, fortifying foods with these key nutrients could meet the holistic ageing well health needs of seniors.
As consumers develop greater awareness of the connection between immunity and gut health to overall mental wellness, there is room for food and beverage players to leverage the trend to target the older demographic looking for all-round products that can help them age well and continue to enjoy quality of life.
While some consumers still struggle to talk about mental health problems openly, they are beginning to understand that mental health issues can lead to more serious health problems. This shift in perception of the implications of cognitive health will continue to shape progress in innovation and nutrition that support a clear, healthy mind. To learn more about ingredients that are scientifically supported to help, contact us.