2021 Functional Ingredients Trends: Food As Medicine Becomes a Priority for Shoppers

January 14, 2021
by David

Functional Ingredients Become a Type of Medicine

The idea that a mindful diet can improve overall health is not exactly new—especially to anyone in the natural and wellness space. Last year, COVID led more shoppers to take this approach and consider the long-term health benefits of what they eat and drink. With a strong immune system and good overall health considered important defenses against getting sick—and something shoppers have control over—food with functional ingredients becomes a type of medicine.

“Consumers want more from their everyday products. They want products that give them a satisfactory taste as well as functional benefits,” says Hannah Polk, SPINS Associate Data Product Manager and registered dietitian. “As consumers head into the new year, there continues to be an importance placed on maintaining immunity health. This importance will lead to an increase in products with functional ingredients.”

As we approach a full year of pandemic-related restrictions and the rollout of a vaccine, no one can say how much of our pre-COVID habits will return in 2021. What we can see is how a focus on healthy foods and beverages fortified with functional ingredients will remain a priority for shoppers that brands and retailers should pay attention to.

What Are Immunity-Boosting Functional Ingredients?

Functional ingredients are ingredients that provide a health benefit to shoppers; they are often an added bonus to a product’s primary purpose.

For example, you can find water enriched with vitamins or chips that include additional protein sources. Customers concerned with their overall can reach for these items knowing that they’re staying hydrated and also getting an immunity boost. Even fiber-related sales could see a lift, as probiotics offer shoppers help with their digestive health while also building immunity.

Many immunity-focused functional ingredients saw strong gains in 2020, and they will continue to be popular with shoppers this year as well. Looking at percent growth versus the previous year, Items containing zinc were up 161% and calcium antacid grew 122%.

New Categories for Functional Ingredients

Food as medicine is branching out into more categories that allow shoppers to find new ways to stock their cupboards while fending off illness. Over the last year, shoppers have driven sales for these categories, with some seeing strong sales increases across SPINS Natural Enhanced Channel and SPINS Conventional Channel (powered by IRI):

  • Plant-based foods are credited with reducing cancer, health disease, stroke, and risk of diabetes.
  • Low glycemic and unsweetened foods reduce sugar intake, which can reduce health risks and help consumers
  • Microbiome (gut) health is increasingly linked to improved overall health, including immunity, anxiety, and diseases.
  • Nutrient-dense diets provide high doses of ingredients like proteins and ancient grains.

Mental Clarity and Overall Wellbeing

Stress is high for shoppers right now, with the ongoing pandemic as well as national politics, the economy, and personal events. Shoppers are looking for ways to tend to their mental wellbeing and limit stress as much as possible.

CBD, melatonin, theanine, and valerian are popular remedies for reducing anxiety and stress and helping with insomnia. For shoppers looking to combat fatigue, boost immunity, and enhance their mood, the go-to ingredients are chaga and reishi mushrooms, ashwagandha, maca, and holy basil. Expect supplements and products containing these functional ingredients to remain popular with shoppers.

“Despite its lack of FDA approval, I think CBD will continue to take off as word of mouth is spreading about the benefits for anxiety, pain, and other ailments,” says Laurel Jakubowski, Data Product Manager for SPINS. “I believe this trend will continue in smaller stores, and restaurants are popping up that add CBD into their foods or baked goods.”

How to Make the Most of Functional Ingredient Trends

For Brands: Evaluate your product offerings for items that offer functional ingredients and address shoppers’ immunity and wellness concerns. You might already be meeting their demand but haven’t messaged it to retailers or shoppers. This mindset is not disappearing anytime soon, so you have an opportunity to meet these needs immediately and in the long-term.

For Retailers: Walk down your food and beverage aisles to ensure functional ingredients and items focusing on immunity and wellness are incorporated throughout a variety of categories. Think about a wellness-focused shoppers trying to fill their cart—both in-store and online.

“Consumers want more from their everyday products. They want products that give them a satisfactory taste as well as functional benefits”

Hannah Polk
SPINS Associate Data Product Manager and registered dietitian