Mental health is a growing concern in the wake of COVID-19. We explore the wellbeing ingredients being used in food and beverage products across Europe
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KerryDigest Fast Facts:
- Prior to the COVID-19 virus, mental health and wellbeing were under strain in Europe and Russia. Since the pandemic, the number of people reporting poor mental health has tripled.
- Consumers are making choices to support their mental wellbeing, including decisions related to food and beverage consumption.
- We review the scientific support behind ingredients consumers perceive as being most beneficial to their mental health.
KerryDigest Full Scoop:
Maintenance of mental wellbeing is a challenge recognised worldwide and was top of agenda for governments and industry well before the coronavirus pandemic emerged. The virus has served to intensify the issue, and in Europe and Russia, consumers are now more selective about the food and drinks they consume, with an eye to their mental health.
According to research detailed in a recent whitepaper released by Kerry, ‘Creating Functional Beverages for Mental Wellbeing’, 65% of Europeans are now more concerned about their general health and 43% indicate that their need for calm and relaxation has accelerated because of the pandemic. Half of those surveyed across Europe say mental health is a more important concern for them since the emergence of the virus.
COVID-19 heightened the risk factors generally associated with poor mental health, such as financial insecurity, unemployment and general anxiety, while seriously curtailing protective factors such as social connection, employment and educational engagement, access to physical exercise and health services and daily routine.
This created the perfect storm for a spike in mental health ailments across Europe during the last two years. The OECD recently released statistics that showed that one in 10 Europeans took time off work due to depression pre-pandemic. During the pandemic timeframe, the number of people reporting poor mental health tripled. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), from March 2020 onwards, the prevalence of anxiety alone doubled in Belgium, France, the Czech Republic, Sweden and the UK.
There are other indirect indicators. For example, the economic burden of mental health is projected to rise globally to EU€14.5 trillion by 2030, which may prove to be a conservative figure if the challenge is not met. Ready or not, food and beverage brands are now being challenged by consumers to create products they feel support a range of mental health and wellbeing issues.
Consumers purchasing products that support their mental health
Understandably, immune health is the number one priority for consumers at the moment, with mental health second on the list. However, in the longer-term, the more sustained response looks set to be towards products targeting emotional and overall wellbeing.
The spread of COVID-19 has raised public awareness to matters of mental wellbeing, and the increase in scientific initiatives dedicated to meeting consumer demand for food and beverages that can feed into better mental health.
A more knowledgeable consumer, educated about the relationship between health and nutrition is driving change. According to a survey by Euromonitor International, fortified and functional food registered 1% growth to reach US$168.1 billion in 2019, with expected growth of 2% between 2019 and 2024.
Brands are adding functional ingredients to a growing range of beverages, including sparkling water and energy drinks. A recent global market report from Innova found that between 2016 and 2019 (before COVID-19 further increased awareness), product launches with an immunity claim grew by 9% in the juice category, 43% in flavoured bottled waters and 32% in energy drinks.
In addition, brands are positioning products aimed at meeting needs for improved sleep, mood, focus and cognition. Many consumers want their choices to be what they consider “natural” and to also be delicious. The healthiest drink made with an abundance of natural and functional qualities won’t capture consumer loyalty unless it tastes good.
“For younger audiences, health priorities extend towards mental health, with 54% of people under 40 years of age claiming to have stressful lifestyles,” says John Kelly, Senior Strategic Marketing Manager, Kerry Europe and Russia. “With less certainty about what the future holds, this cohort is the most likely to attach high importance to mental health issues since the start of the pandemic and express positive interest in products that can help.”
6 ingredients preferred for functional beverages aimed at wellbeing
As consumers become more fluent in nutritional language and ingredients, one challenge for brands is ensuring the functional ingredients they select are supported by science. A recent report found that almost half (49%) of global consumers want more information about the nutritional value of products, and Kerry research suggests that people make purchase decisions by looking for ingredients they recognise or that are supported by scientific data. Investing in the science is crucial to the success of a brand as consumers are prepared to pay more for beverages with a proven functional benefit.
The following ingredients are increasingly perceived by consumers to be beneficial for wellbeing and even mental health.
In many cases, scientific support for these ingredients is growing, so be sure to check with your regulatory department to see which claims and callouts (if any) are allowed in your market.
Many studies conducted over the past decade suggest that ginseng has a range of positive effects on the human body. Ginseng is reported to improve memory, and recent studies have highlighted its potential use in the prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and allergic asthma. However, the mechanism underlying the effects of ginseng on these stress-related diseases has not been completely established. Ginseng is also potentially an effective candidate for easing stress and may improve the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Cacao beans and products derived from them are rich sources of beneficial plant compounds, particularly flavanols, which are reported to have antioxidant and heart-protective properties, among other health benefits. Cacao products also contain tryptophan, which is an amino acid the body uses to make serotonin, a brain chemical that helps inspire relaxation.
Turmeric is a common spice that contains the nutritional compound curcumin. In India, turmeric was traditionally used for disorders of the skin, upper respiratory tract, joints and digestive system. Much research has been done on turmeric and curcumin and the studies are ongoing. Some of the science suggests it may contain anti-inflammatory properties, while others claim it can reduce symptoms of anxiety and lower cognitive decline with age.
Because they can provide support for both digestive and immune health, probiotics tap into consumer demand for both trending need states. The link between gut and mental health and cognitive health is a strong factor here, as we know this has been an area that consumers actively want to address. When planning to use a probiotic in food and beverage applications, manufacturers should consider the probiotic’s strain characteristics and choose one that is backed by robust scientific research. Research shows that Kerry’s BC30® probiotic can help provide the beneficial bacteria that may safely support your digestive health and immune system.
Gingko biloba has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Often associated with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory claims for the brain, some research links gingko biloba with improved brain function and reduced anxiety.
Botanical extracts and products can be made from plant leaves, roots, stems and flowers. To learn more about consumer perceptions of botanicals, Kerry recently conducted a survey of 6,500 people worldwide and found that many of the respondents linked botanicals to mental wellness and cognitive and energy support. The resulting whitepaper, Kerry Botanical State of Mind also found that one third of consumers believe botanicals help with stress and mood management as well as cognitive brain health.
The functional beverage market is on the rise and presents a massive opportunity for growth. Our latest whitepaper carries the most up-to-date insight on this exciting area of innovation. To learn more, download the Creating functional beverages for mental wellbeing whitepaper or contact us.