COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the mental health of people everywhere, and they’re looking for ways to reduce stress and improve sleep; a new generation of functional foods (and drinks) is promising to deliver on that score.

Mental health issues have been climbing up the social and political agenda in many countries and the COVID-19 outbreak has brought these into sharper focus, as surveys report increased levels of anxiety, problems sleeping and even signs of clinical depression.

These are things that brands and marketers in various sectors will have to address in the future and factor into both their communications and their thinking around innovation.

MMR’s Andy Wardlaw believes there’s an increasing propensity for people to turn to food and drink to deal with mental health issues – and he doesn’t mean comfort eating and alcohol: during a recent webinar he contended that we’re on the cusp of a new era in functional foods.

That belief is founded on recent research by the MMR agency across five markets (China, South Africa, Thailand, UK and US) asking if respondents would consider buying a food or beverage product with benefits to help with a range of issues, including sleep, gut health, heart health, mood enhancement, anxiety, mental focus, energy and skin appearance.

In the UK, sleep and immune health topped the list of concerns, with anxiety and mental focus in a second tier, alongside established demand spaces around heart health and energy. Consumers appear less ready to embrace the notion of dietary solutions that enhance mood (they already have chocolate for that). The US data followed a similar, but exaggerated, pattern.

The findings mean that “conceptually at least, the consumer is giving us permission to develop in the mental health space beside physical health,” said Wardlaw.

Many products are already doing this – so-called anti-energy drinks, for example, are creating a relaxation sector. Brands like Recess are using ingredients like CBD and adaptogens (non-toxic, plant-based ingredients) that claim to help the body adapt to stress.

And this isn’t confined to the niche players – Coca-Cola has a joint venture in Japan to market Chill Out, a drink that uses hemp seed extract L-theanine and vitamins to help stressed consumers in that country.

The UK high street is also seeing an influx of products based on nootropic ingredients – nutrients or foods that improve one or more aspects of brain function, giving a sense of higher energy or inner calm.

The founder of one brand believes the nootropics sector could develop along similar lines to that seen over the past decade in sports supplements, which have moved from the margins to the mainstream.

For more details, read WARC’s report: COVID-19 highlights a role for functional foods in combatting anxiety.

Sourced from WARC