Following COVID-19, the next global pandemic is thought to be mental health. For example, the climate crisis is significantly impacting the younger generation's mental health state. According to Euromonitor, "The recognition of the importance of mental health is likely to lead to new demands for products and services in the coming years."
Over the first year of the pandemic, depression rates tripled, with psychological distress, depression and anxiety being prevalent beyond the initial lockdown periods. According to The Lancet, when looking into the future, 75% of consumers perceive the future as frightening, and 60% of young people feel extremely worried about the future.
Interestingly, the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer found 61% of consumers believe business is the most trusted institution. Yet, they find businesses are not doing enough for societal problems, making it clear whitespace for the industry to address. The nutraceutical industry has evolved, and consumers went from being offered ingredients to tackle physical health to holistic products that enhance optimal overall health. This is being pushed by consumers becoming more and more educated on their health—physical and mental. Consumers are also becoming more aware of the gut's role in their mental and emotional wellbeing. Maria Pavlivou, senior strategy consultant at the HMT, highlights that storytelling is critical for brand owners tapping into this trendy space; How your brand connects with your consumer target and how you make the consumer feel about their choice making.
Some of the most significant areas of concern for consumers moving forward include stress, sleep, and cognition; other areas include cardiovascular health, inflammation, and active lifestyle. When looking at mental wellness botanical ingredients and the effects of COVID-19, David Foreman, founder of Herbal Pharmacist, highlights the following:
Foreman notes that the ingredients highlighted on stress can also be carried over for the sleep optimisation section, though consumed during the day and not at night. He further highlighted that chamomile is the only ingredient that causes consumers to feel drowsy.
With so many potential ingredients, health claims pose a challenge. When developing a research trajectory around an ingredient or product launch, Iain Brownlee, associate professor at Northumbria University, showcased a variety of types of claims: nutrition claims, general function (health) claims, new function (health) claims, claims on disease risk reduction, child development/health claim, or claims limited by food group or composition. When accessing a health claim, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) considers the main questions:
- Is the claim around the food/ingredient sufficiently characterised?
- Is claim effect defined and of physiological benefit?
- What is the evidence?
- Totality and quality of evidence
- Mechanism of action
- Relevance of target population
- Outcome measurement
Interestingly, Brownlee shares that most claims submitted to EFSA fail in the first two assessment criteria. The criteria imposed by EFSA become complicated, especially from a randomised controlled clinical trial perspective and management. Focusing on mental health and cognitive health claims, Brownlee shares some of the new function claims approved, including 7 (out of 14) for reduction of tiredness/fatigue—B9, Mg, B2, B12, Vit C, Fe; 1 (out of 4) for increased attention—caffeine; and 1 (out of 2) for improved alertness—caffeine. He suggests that companies collaborate with independent organisations to prevent unbiased findings when developing new evidence. Other vital considerations toward health claims include consumers education, understanding and resonation.
Looking ahead, Brownlee shared that new opportunities for health claims lie with microbials (active and inactive) and targeted health outcomes, proprietary blends, single-source extracts, and well-defined isolates.