Global cases of anxiety and depression jumped 25% in the first year of the pandemic.1 It’s a startling fact but one that explains why, in 2022, consumers are prioritising mental well-being as much as physical health, reports Sophie Zillinger Molenaar, Global Marketing Lead, Biotis, FrieslandCampina Ingredients
Today, consumers are prioritising holistic health as they increasingly focus on the inextricable link between mental and physical well-being. This all has, of course, led to a significant shift in the way we talk about — and support — mental health.
Once-taboo topics are now being discussed more openly, the prevalence of mental health issues is more widely understood and our physical status is championed as a key contributor to good mental health. It’s no surprise then that 53% of consumers are taking proactive steps to improve their mental and cognitive health.2
This is good news for the nutrition industry; when it comes to brain health supplements, increased demand is leading to an expected CAGR of 8.3% from 2022 to 2030, showing clear growth and plenty of potential within this market.2
But in an ever-crowded marketplace, how can brands formulate mental well-being solutions that stand out? And what scientifically backed ingredients can help brands to promote the efficacy of their products?
Although growing research sheds light on the relationship between physical and cognitive health, clinical studies have also been highlighting the important role that the gut can play in overall health — potentially unlocking significant opportunity for brands.
Gut-brain axis: on consumers’ minds
In recent years, scientific research has made it increasingly clear that overall health can be greatly affected by the composition of our gut microbiota. Specifically, research into the gut-brain axis — an intricate communication network that connects the gut and the brain — could be a potential game changer when managing mental health symptoms.
And it’s not just scientific research that’s beginning to unravel the importance of gut health — consumers are too.
Fuelled by interest in holistic health, today’s tech and research-savvy consumers are educating themselves on the benefits that a healthy gut can offer. Now, not only do 64% understand the concept of bacteria within the digestive system, but two in three also recognise that gut health is the key to achieving overall well-being.3
As a result, consumers are seeking gut health solutions to support more than just digestion. In 2021, 66% of consumers were interested in digestive health products, even if they weren’t suffering from digestive health concerns.4
This not only signifies a shift towards making proactive changes to support physical and mental health — it also provides an opportunity for brands to create innovative products positioned around both the physical and mental benefits of a healthy gut.
Formats and flavours: what’s trending in mental well-being?
Regular exercise and eating healthily can help to combat some mental health symptoms, such as feelings of stress. But with today’s increasingly busy lifestyles and consumers trying to juggle many different responsibilities — family, social and work — it can be incredibly difficult to find the time to focus on nutrition.
In fact, with 24% of consumers skipping breakfast and 26% missing lunch at least three times a week, convenience is key when it comes to formulating cognitive well-being products.5 And snacks and drinks that pack multiple different benefits can give consumers the nutritional boost they need, quickly.
However, it’s essential that these products aren’t just functional; they must taste good too. One reason for drinks being popular in the cognitive well-being space is that they can easily be infused with flavours that people associate with calming feelings, such as florals and botanicals.
And as 71% of consumers find food and drinks positioned around improving cognitive health attractive, we can expect to see more tasty products such as chocolate bars with relaxing label claims appear on shelves — tapping into the time-old tradition of using chocolate as a relaxing treat.6
Supplements, too, are seeing growth in popularity, partly because they are easily incorporated into daily routines; 21% of consumers are already using nutritional supplements to boost their health.7 Nutritional gummies, in particular, are set for a popularity boom, with an expected CAGR of 4.88% from 2022–2027.8
Developments in ingredient science — such as novel, high-purity prebiotics — are enabling brands to create on-trend and innovative formats including gummies, capsules and tablets.
Although smaller applications were traditionally difficult to formulate, research has highlighted that galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) are effective in a 2 g dose, making them an ideal way to meet consumer demand for convenience.9
In focus ingredients
To create on-trend cognitive well-being applications, brands need to use ingredients that consumers trust. Natural, recognisable and non-addictive products are hugely important to consumers … and demand has grown sharply in recent years.
When it comes to creating appeal through ingredient claims — particularly if using an emerging or unfamiliar ingredient — it’s essential that brands choose those with strong scientific backing and take the time to educate their consumers about the product’s benefits.
For gut health products, probiotics are the reigning leader, with 84% of consumers already aware of probiotic ingredients and their benefits.4
But emerging ingredients are stepping up to the plate. For example, prebiotics such as GOS are increasingly popular thanks to their efficacy; they have been shown to increase the relative abundance of Bifidobacteria in the gut, which has, in turn, been shown to correlate with a reduction of stress and anxiety symptoms via the gut-brain axis.
And because health-conscious consumers are staying on top of the latest ingredient research, awareness of prebiotics is on the rise. Today, more than half of consumers now have an awareness of prebiotics as a beneficial gut health ingredient and 15% are aware of synbiotics, which combine both pre- and probiotics.4
For brands, there’s an undeniable opportunity to tap into this awareness of prebiotics to create on-trend, easy-to-consume and efficacious products that are proven to deliver the health benefits consumers want.
Prebiotics can easily be formulated into functional foods with ingredients such as protein to promote both physical and mental resilience or combined with vitamins and minerals to make relaxing RTDs to support better sleep.
What’s next for cognitive well-being?
With consumer interest in mental health on the rise, there are plenty of opportunities for brands to create solutions to meet growing demand. Looking ahead, we are likely to see even more interest in products that can support cognitive well-being, as well as combined applications that support other aspects of mental and physical health.
But formulating on-trend, easy-to-consume and scientifically proven products that stand out in a busy market is no small feat. Trusted and reputable partners can not only provide brands with high-quality, efficacious and clinically researched ingredients, they also know what consumers want next from cognitive well-being products.
Together, these elements will empower brands to create nutritional mental well-being solutions that could make a real difference to consumers’ lives.