30 Oct 2023
Gone are the days when people would eat an apple for their health and a piece of chocolate simply for enjoyment and indulgence. Nowadays, consumers expect their food to deliver in all areas: it has to be tasty, healthy and improve your focus – even chocolate treats. According to our latest Taste Tomorrow survey, 68% of consumers worldwide select foods and ingredients based on the health benefits they have to offer. The latest rage right now? Adaptogens, nootropics and botanicals that improve mental health and cognitive function.
One in four consumers is happy to shell out for foods with specific health benefits, making it the third most important food benefit that people want to pay more for. Especially in South America (37%, the Asia Pacific region (33%) and the Middle East and Africa (29%), consumers are interested in health-boosting ingredients.
Remember the superfoods hype of around 2014 and 2015? Back then, food producers and recipe developers used nutrient-dense acai berries, chia seeds and bee pollen because they improved overall health with their high amount of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. According to our global Taste Tomorrow survey, consumers still consider nuts, fruits & seeds to improve both the tastiness and healthiness of chocolate products. But now there’s a new batch of health ingredients on the block: adaptogens, nootropics and botanicals are the hottest health ingredients right now. 68% of consumers now perceive botanicals such as herbs, chamomile and cinnamon as a healthy addition to chocolate, a number that was just 53% in 2021.
How these ingredients differ from one another:
What: Adaptogens are natural substances, typically herbs or fungi, that are believed to help the body adapt to stress, both physical and mental. They are thought to have a balancing effect on various bodily systems.
Why: The primary purpose of adaptogens is to support the body's stress response and promote overall resilience. They are often used to help reduce the negative effects of stress, such as fatigue, anxiety, and adrenal fatigue.
Think of: Rhodiola rosea, ashwagandha, ginseng and holy basil.
What: Nootropics, also known as cognitive enhancers, are substances that are believed to enhance cognitive function, memory, focus, and mental clarity. They may be natural or synthetic compounds.
Why: The primary purpose of nootropics is to boost cognitive performance, creativity and mental alertness. They are often used to improve concentration and productivity.
Think of: caffeine, L-theanine and natural substances like ginkgo biloba, lion's mane mushroom.
What: Botanicals are natural substances derived from plants, such as leaves, roots, seeds, or flowers. Because of their various health and wellness purposes,they are commonly referred to as herbal remedies or plant-based supplements.
Why: In traditional medicine they have been used for centuries and are believed to offer a plethora of health benefits, such as improving digestion, reducing inflammation, promoting relaxation and supporting the immune system. These ingredients often also offer a distinct flavor.
Think of: echinacea, chamomile, ginger and turmeric.
These healthy benefits are in line with the shift we see across the whole food industry. It's not just their general wellbeing that consumers are carefully tending to nowadays, mental wellbeing and performance are becoming ever more important. 73% of consumers today have an interest in food products that boost energy throughout the day, while another 65% look for food that delivers on mental health.
We see that in chocolate products such as the Energy bar by Addictive Wellness, which contains for instance ashwagandha to improve adaptability to stress and mental energy and endurance. The Functional Chocolate Company combines a mixture of botanicals such as chamomile, valerian, lavender and lemon balm to help consumers fall asleep faster and more soundly with their Sleepy Chocolate.
Eat Gold Organic opts for more aspirational names for their functional chocolate bars, such as ‘Create Magic’ to inspire flow and focus and ‘Stay Sane’ to ‘feel the mind calm and the heart open’. But they also offer the balance supporting ‘New Mama’ flavor and ‘Big Orgasm’ to stimulate sexual and creative energy. For these benefits, they enrich their bars with natural ingredients such as maca root, cordyceps, moringa and lion‘s mane mushroom, combined with chemical compounds like SAM-E, tyrosine and citicoline.
A lot of these functional chocolates are promoted as a health supplement and come with the advice to incorporate the chocolate into your everyday routine. Joya describes their bars as a ‘daily functional boost’. A clever way to ensure repeat purchases and stimulate high sales numbers. That makes these health-boosting chocolates not just attractive for consumers, but for producers too.
Before launching your new carefree, relaxing or energizing chocolate bar, be sure to check on the regulatory landscape in your target markets, because the rules for making specific (mental) health claims vary.
In the USA, a lot of adaptogens, nootropics and botanicals can be linked to health benefits using structural-functional claims from scientific studies. In the EU, all claims related to botanicals have been put on hold. This means health claims on botanicals may be used to support the advertised benefits. That means for now it’s safe to say Rhodolia extract helps to protect against stress, basil helps with relaxation and maca root is an effective aphrodisiac.