Ones-to-watch: five health and wellness trends shaped by the pandemic

With the help of data gathered by FMCG Gurus and Innova Market Insights, Chris Lee, Managing Director, Informa Markets, takes a look at the trends driving the nutraceutical and functional food markets at Vitafoods Europe 2021

After 18 months of global upheaval, the coronavirus pandemic has reshaped what “good health” means to today’s consumers. New trends have emerged, whereas older ones have been accelerated at breakneck speed.

For most companies in the nutrition space, it’s been 18 months of pivoting, increased flexibility and keeping a keener eye than ever on the changing consumer mood. It’s certainly been challenging.

But, as the world slowly returns to normal, brands face new decisions regarding what steps they take next. Here are the top trends that companies should consider in the months and years ahead.

A positive and proactive mindset

If there’s one trend that has been catapulted forward as a result of the pandemic, it’s positive nutrition. “Healthy” consumers were forced to face their potential vulnerabilities, resulting in a global change in mindset.

Pre-COVID, interest in a proactive approach to managing health was already strong. But now, more than ever, consumers of all backgrounds are seeking solutions that encourage general well-being as opposed to “problem-fixing.”

In fact, last year, half of consumers were taking steps to maximise their overall health to reduce the likelihood of future health complications, a direct response to the uncertainty raised by COVID-19.

In fact, 60% say their top focus for the coming year is achieving good health, and 61% of supplement users do so because they want to improve their overall wellness.

Chris Lee

With so many people re-evaluating their lifestyles and the fact that we are not yet fully out of the pandemic, it’s safe to assume that this trend will continue.

For brands, the challenge is to identify the right products and positionings that will support consumers in this journey to overall positive wellness. Formulations should look to take a more holistic approach to the key health issues, and the benefits to overall well-being should be clearly communicated. Which leads us to …

Mind-and-body matters

A proactive and holistic approach to wellness doesn’t stop with the body. After an emotionally challenging year, matters of the mind are top of the agenda as consumers recognise links between mental and physical health.

More than half are planning to improve their mental well-being and cognitive performance in 2021 and beyond. Many are turning to natural, nutritional solutions as an alternative to pharmaceuticals to manage their mental health, presenting brands with opportunities to innovate with proven, on-trend ingredients.

Expect botanicals and adaptogens — which are often associated with calming effects — to grow in popularity, while ongoing research into mechanisms such as the gut-brain axis will push probiotics and prebiotics further into the spotlight.

Issues of immunity

All health concerns are not created equal, however. Naturally, one in three consumers’ immune health worries increased as a result of the pandemic, and three in five wanted food and drink to boost their immunity as a result.

The trend of increased immunity consciousness is set to continue for some time; as well as the unknown implications of long COVID, 58% of consumers are concerned about future waves of the virus, and 19% believe that COVID-19 will influence daily life for several years.

So, what do brands need to know? Again, the right ingredients are essential. Vitamin C and iron will remain popular — not least because of their proven efficacy and familiarity to consumers — but brands wanting to achieve differentiation should also explore the benefits of botanicals.

Peppermint, ginseng and even dandelion are tipped to grow in popularity as consumers research new and natural ways to boost their immune health in the future.

Sustainability stays

Sustainability was once a watchword that didn’t mean much to consumers in their everyday lives; now, however, it’s intrinsic to the way we live, the choices we make and even our health.

Consumers recognise how their health choices (such as diet) impact the planet and, with the threat of climate crisis looming ever nearer, they’re becoming increasingly aware of how the health of the planet impacts them.

“Eco-anxiety” is ensuring that consumers get more serious about sustainability and is inspiring more to act. For example, 48% of people say they have made a change to their diet to be more sustainable, and 69% of these people believe these choices have a positive impact on their health.

For brands, the opportunity is to bring together issues of mind, body and planet; in 2021, it’s impossible to maintain a “good for you” positioning while engaging in practices that cause any harm to the environment.

Personalised preferences

As people become more health conscious, the efficacy of generic, off-the-shelf products is falling into question; 64% of consumers tailored products to their individual preferences, beliefs and needs in 2020.

The driver? Overall wellness. Healthy ageing (75%), improved quality of life (71%), disease prevention (70%) and proactive health management (53%) are all reasons why consumers are interested in personalised nutraceuticals and functional foods.

And although personalisation isn’t new, it’s certainly in its infancy, making it a trend to watch in the future. Although today’s products simply target specific demographics, such as women or the elderly, the potential for advanced tactics such as microbiome or DNA sequencing are yet to be fully explored.

COVID-19 rapidly and radically changed consumer thinking, marking what is potentially a new era in how we both understand and deliver human health. Innovation and collaboration will be essential to transforming these trends into the foundation of a more connected, personal and sustainable vision of health and wellness.

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