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Are consumers ready for brain health claims?

Article-Are consumers ready for brain health claims?

© AdobeStock/Syda Productions Could probiotics help slow age-related cognitive decline?
Interest in products that boost brain health is on the rise – but there is some way to go before the category can compete with more established segments, say industry analysts.

Focus and productivity are poised to become the next benefits that consumers will seek from food and drink, according to Stephanie Mattucci, director of food science at Mintel, who identified B vitamins, choline, adaptogens, and natural caffeine as ingredients to watch in the next wave of functional food and drink launches.

“Brands have an opportunity to help consumers optimise their mental performance, but there is work to be done,” she told an audience at IFT FIRST 2023.

Optimising brain health is an emerging trend

With 40% of US consumers saying they would like their diet to help maintain healthy brain function, there is an opportunity for brands to create products that bring mental and cognitive benefits.

However, interest in brain health claims is lower than it is for other, more established areas, especially those relating to immunity and cardiovascular health.

Half of US consumers say they would like their diet to strengthen their immune system or help maintain a healthy heart, according to Mintel – but just two in five say they would like it to boost brain function, while fewer than a third say they would like it to improve their mood.

Build trust with recognisable foods and nutrients

Mattucci suggested that consumers will need encouragement to try brain health products, which brands could foster by using familiar nutrients to introduce them to this emerging category.

“Food and drink brands looking to optimise mental performance ingredients and benefits must first tap into the familiar,” she said. “Brands need to reassure consumers about the concept of eating for their brain by starting with foods and nutrients consumers know and feel safe consuming.”

She pointed to an opportunity for brands to develop synergistic products, pairing ingredients that can help consumers cope with stress – such as adaptogens – with others that boost mental clarity.

“This leads to [another] area of opportunity in the space – harnessing the synergistic power of blends with the goal of reducing undesirable side effects and optimising cognitive benefits,” Mattucci added.

Alternative caffeine sources to win over concerned coffee drinkers

Caffeine is one such familiar ingredient: 55% of US consumers eat or drink products containing caffeine, with 83% of them consuming these at least once per day.

While coffee dominates in brain-supporting launches – 14% of global food and drink products with caffeine-related ingredients launched in the past five years carried a brain or nervous system claim – new sources of caffeine, such as guarana, yerba mate, and guayusa, are emerging.

Often positioned as “natural caffeine”, these can win over coffee drinkers concerned about the drink’s side effects.

“Consumers value caffeine's mental energy boost but express concerns about its overall health impact, creating opportunities for new caffeine ingredients and blends that offer sustained energy and fewer side effects,said Mattucci. “Brands that educate consumers about these less familiar sources of caffeine stand to benefit. Quantifying the amount of caffeine per serving or explaining that blends help reduce side effects and introduce new benefits builds trust and engagement between consumers and the brand.”

Tap into familiarity of B vitamins to lend products credibility

B vitamins can be a safe choice for consumers, especially if brands continue to build on their connection with energy and overall health, Mintel research suggests; they are already widely used in products with an energy claim.

In the past five years, nearly half (45%) of global food and drink launches with a brain or nervous system claim contained a B vitamin, according to Mintel data, as did two in five (37%) launches with an energy functional claim.

“Natural sources of B vitamins can be positioned as safe nutrients for mood and cognitive health,” said Mattucci. “B vitamins support metabolism and contribute to the body's ability to produce energy as well as support neurotransmitters, which play a key role in mood and mental health.

“Brands that tap into the familiarity of B vitamins can lend credibility to their products with other brain-boosting ingredients."

Choline’s potential as a cognitive anti-ageing ingredient

Choline – found in foods including eggs, liver, and red meat – is an essential nutrient throughout the lifespan, playing a crucial role in nerve conduction and cognitive functions, such as memory. Most commonly found in products for babies and children, it has potential as a cognitive anti-ageing ingredient: 57% of US adults are interested in functional beverages that enhance cognitive health.

© AdobeStock/kucheravAre consumers ready for brain health claims?

As many as nine in 10 Americans are not getting enough choline in their diet, according to a study in Nutrition Today, despite the fact that it taps into several health needs, including brain health, liver support, and relaxation.

However, its prominence in children’s foods offers brands an opportunity to reassure consumers that choline is safe for adults, too.

Adaptogens for stress relief, energy, and memory

Adaptogens – botanicals that can help the body restore balance and cope with stress – have yet to reach their full potential in food, drinks, and supplements: just 7% of US consumers currently eat or drink products containing adaptogens.

Beverages pave the way for innovation in this segment, accounting for 82% of global adaptogenic food and drink product launches in the past five years, driven by launches of teas and nutritional or meal replacement drinks.

Mintel identified adaptogens to watch as including ashwagandha, known for promoting balance within the body; holy basil, or tulsi, an Ayurvedic herb that may have positive effects on memory and cognitive function; Schisandra chinensis, an adaptogenic berry used in Traditional Chinese Medicine that offers energy, liver, and blood glucose support; and brahmi, also known as Bacopa monnieri or water hyssop, an Ayurvedic herb often used for memory.

Other ingredients to be considered include maca and ginseng for energy; and rhodiola and lion’s mane for mental clarity.