As the post-pandemic interest in health and wellness continues to influence consumers’ food purchases, there is traction for functional foods catering to various benefits, from energy and immunity boosts and sleep aids to digestive health improvement and mood and beauty enhancement.
The growing awareness of the importance of good health has led consumers to scrutinise product labels, seeking information on ingredients, nutrition content, and health claims. In fact, 52% of Indian consumers expect a brand offering healthy food/drink to provide healthy ingredients, and 46% are keen on ingredient transparency.
As consumers become discerning about their food purchases, especially regarding products with health benefits, it is crucial to understand the ingredients that captivate consumer interest. This can inspire new product development and guide brands in spotlighting key ingredients on the packaging.
According to Mintel research, vegetables, fruits, and proteins are the top ingredients of interest in functional foods. vegetables, fruits, and proteins are the top ingredients of interest in functional foods. Not only are these ingredients familiar to consumers, but they also have an inherent health halo around them. This makes them the most suitable candidates to incorporate into foods with health benefits. Working women gravitate towards vegetables and fruits, while metro dwellers show keen interest in proteins. Furthermore, millet and ayurvedic herbs are emerging ingredients of interest.
Fruits and vegetables strengthen the healthy image of functional foods
Indian consumers appreciate fruit and vegetable content for their wholesomeness and the diverse range of health benefits that they can offer.
At least three in 10 consumers link fruit/vegetables with heart, immune and digestive health. Notably, the association of fruit/vegetables with gut health is stronger than that with fibre and probiotics, and the link with immunity is more pronounced than that with vitamin C and protein.
Indian brands can take inspiration from their counterparts in the Western markets in using fruit and vegetable content to improve the functional quotient of food products. For example, Wholy Greens Glorious Carrot Veggi Pasta from Belgium uses vegetables as a natural source of micronutrients. This product has carrot as a key ingredient, claiming gut, immunity, and energy benefits.
Mintel research also reveals that a combination of vegetables and protein will have a more significant impact, drawing the attention of nearly 3 in 4 consumers.
Fruits can be used as the sole ingredient, or a key ingredient, that contributes to micronutrient content and flavour.
In the US, General Mills Cheerios Apple Cinnamon Cereal has wholegrain oats and apple purée as key ingredients, with added vitamins and minerals. Similarly, Optimel Peach-Passionfruit Yogurt is a high-protein product for weight and muscle gain in Denmark. It has peach and concentrates of passionfruit, lemon, and peach juice to add to its health value and flavour.
Leverage interest in protein
Indians are keen to increase their protein intake, with 34% citing high protein content as one of their top three most important factors when shopping for food. Nearly half of respondents, particularly the young and affluent, want protein as an ingredient in functional foods.
More than a third of consumers enthusiastic about protein as an ingredient seek more information about the amount and source of protein. In offering protein-rich food products, brands can take the next step and highlight this additional information to engage with consumers, particularly metro dwellers.
The Health Factory offers vegan high-protein bread from plant-based sources, and Happy Jars Sprouted Dal & Beetroot Chilla Mix boasts 20g of plant protein with claims of multiple health benefits.
Traditional ingredients are emerging
Ayurvedic ingredients are gaining traction, with over a quarter of Indians saying they intend to spend more on food and drink products with such ingredients. For instance, 34% of consumers, particularly the financially healthy segment and those living in West India, are keen on functional foods with ayurvedic herbs.
In line with Mintel Trend Culturally Connected, traditional food and ingredients, as they would’ve been prepared in ancient times by Indian ancestors, can be used to deliver health benefits, and be a source of comfort.
Local brand Vedically offers Ashwagandha Organic Ghee, which is said to have more benefits than regular ghee and claims to reduce stress and anxiety while boosting immunity and vitality. Family Fit Sugar by Guud is made of cane sugar fortified with soluble dietary fibre, a herb blend, Stevia, and magnesium. It claims to positively impact digestive and bone health, detoxing, and blood sugar and weight management.
Millets are making a comeback as consumers begin to recognise the benefits of traditional eating. Grami Superfoods Renergee Spinach Flavoured 9 Millets Instant Soup claims to be the world’s first millet-based soup. It maintains satiety, helps in weight management, and is high in protein and natural dietary fibre, making it a natural energy booster.
Consumers seek scientific validation and trust
Today, consumers rely more on scientific evidence than reviews, brand assurances and celebrity endorsements. For brands, value in terms of efficacy can be communicated via different routes.
Products that furnish science-based or clinically verified facts and figures are more likely to win consumers’ trust. For example, Cholesterol Lowering Original Spread (New Zealand) is a vegan-friendly spread with plant sterols clinically proven to lower cholesterol by up to 10%.
What we think
As consumers prioritise holistic wellness, the key to success lies in understanding their preferences and delivering functional foods that cater to their diverse needs.
In the dynamic landscape of functional foods, vegetables, fruits, and proteins take centre stage as sought-after ingredients. The fusion of traditional wisdom with modern science is evident in the rise of Ayurvedic ingredients. Brands that provide transparent information and scientifically validated products are poised to thrive in this evolving market.
Product image sources: Mintel GNPD