Grasp an Understanding of the Functional Food Trend

Shortly before the pandemic hit, functional food sales were at $63 billion and healthy food sales were at $42 billion in the States.

Functional foods were already gaining massive popularity and seems to have hit it’s tipping point since the lockdowns. The reason for this is because the virus has made people prioritize consuming foods with functional health benefits.

This trend’s growth is not solely caused by a public health crises but rather it has been catalyzed by it. In fact, it is on it’s way to becoming standard in the restaurant industry. Coinciding with the pandemic, the Hartman Group released a study on the popularity of functional foods. In the study, they stated that “…90% of adult consumers today look for functional benefits in their food, beverages, and, of course, supplements.

Following the Functional Food Trend

Functional foods offer more than satiation of appetite by providing health benefits. This is an overly-simplistic way of defining it however as the health benefits can be very specific.

Give or take 10+ years ago, most health diets were focused on weight loss. Now, people have become more educated on health and are seeking foods that specifically benefit sleep, memory, skin, stress relief and more.

With functional foods, it’s important to understand the underlying health-focused reason behind the trend. For instance, kombucha has been trending for it’s fermentation benefits and fermentation is associated with gut health. You don’t want to suddenly offer kombucha just to be trendy. Ideally, you would understand why people are seeking foods that promote gut health, so that you can market the benefits.

In this post we will look at the health trend behind functional food trends.

Promoting Gut Health

We are mentioning gut health first because it is perhaps the hottest health topic right now when it comes to food. This may be surprising considering that digestive health was not at the forefront of health concerns a few years ago. Regardless, it is continuing to climb in popularity with social media content for “gut health” having increased by 42% in 2020!

So why is gut health trending? Going beyond just digestion and absorption of nutrients, gut health impacts nearly everything. A compromised gut contributes to struggles in digestion, fatigue, hormone imbalances, skin problems, auto-immunity, migraines, and even mental health. This is not surprising considering the digestive tract is the pathway in and out of our body.

When the gut lining is unhealthy, specific particles belonging to the intestines may enter the bloodstream and spark an inflammatory response. Gut lining health is impacted by diet, medications, antibiotics and stress which explains why it desperately needs it’s moments to heal.

It’s for this reason why fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, and kimchi have been increasingly popular. Probiotics in fermented foods help kill pathogens and help create an ideal environment for the gut.

Since gut health is popular for more reasons than just improving digestion, restaurants can market menu items as being “probiotic-rich” or that it “improves gut health.”

Sharpening the Mind

The world has become busier, ‘hustling’ is seen as cool, and stress levels are at an all time high. In fact, stress and anxiety has become the new top health concern among households, replacing being overweight.

People are now actively choosing food that helps deal with stress, enhance memory, focus, and cognitive ability so they can optimize performance in their work and responsibilities. There is also the desire to retain mental capacity as age increases and minimize the risk of dementia.

Some functional foods that help boost the brain include:

  • Green tea
  • Walnuts
  • Sprouted grains
  • Sauerkraut
  • Ginger
  • Dates
  • Sweet Potato

Contributing to improved brain function is getting a good night’s sleep. According to a Packaged Facts report, “82% of adults have trouble sleeping at least once a week” and is resulting in increased demand for sleep-aiding food.

‘Moon milk’ which has tryptophan in it, is an example of a sleep-aiding functional food in demand. ‘Golden milk’ which contains turmeric, has also surged in popularity for it’s sleep-inducing benefits.

Back in 2018, golden milk had a 700% increase in search volume on Pinterest and according to Google trends (below) there was a recent spike in searches for it in 2020. Moon milk (blue) had a spike in May and golden milk (red) was trending high in July.

Moon milk (blue) had a spike in searches in May and golden milk (red) was trending high in July

Strengthening Heart Health

Heart disease is the #1 killer of adults and according to the CDC, 1/4 of deaths in the U.S are caused by heart problems. Based on this, it is no surprise that functional foods that boost heart health are in demand.

Some functional foods that help strengthen the heart include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids (fish, oysters, etc)
  • Soy
  • Blue berries
  • Nuts

The Functional Food Trend: Look for the Reason

Chances are that if you have just learned about kombucha or turmeric, you aren’t ahead of the competition. For all the functional food demands, there is a supply within the food and restaurant industry.

What really matters however is not the food itself but the underlying reason for the trend. A better question to ask would be “what health issue is trending and what foods help solve this problem?” With this approach it’ll be easier to adapt and you’ll be able to market the benefits effectively to diners.

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