Each fall, Innova Market Insights releases a Top 10 Trends list. This is where we predict the coming year’s trends, technologies and tastes impacting food and beverage innovation and consumer behavior. Behind the scenes, we also use major surveys to directly press into consumer insights. Then we closely watch how these trends unfold as represented in new product launches and consumer feedback. This year, several top trends help explain the ongoing presence of foods and beverages with functional features.

Our top 2023 trend, “Redefining Value,” acknowledges the adverse impacts of COVID-19 and inflation on consumer perception of stability. Consumers want to know that the products they purchase will deliver the benefits they value. It’s clear that they look to functional ingredients that improve their health. Innova’s number two trend, “Affordable Nutrition,” goes hand-in-hand with the top trend. This relates to how new product innovation brings ingredients from lab to table in a cost-effective way. Innova’s fourth trend, “Plant-Based: Unlocking a New Narrative,” highlights underutilized plant foods and ingredients with new functionalities being discovered. And the number nine trend, “Unpuzzle Health,” acknowledges the importance of clear messaging that is validated by delivery of benefits to the consumer.

Overall, it’s clear that plant-based functional ingredients and products—including items that are affordable, validated, and reliable, with easy-to-understand benefits—align well with the trends we predict for 2023.

Consumers seek functional benefits

Consumers tell us they are highly interested in functional benefits. In our global 2022 Lifestyle and Attitudes Survey, more than one-quarter of consumers said their predominant approach to healthy eating involved product selections that positively boost their nutrition or benefit their body functions. 

Consumers in the US and Asia are more likely to emphasize choosing nutrition-boosting products when eating healthfully, as compared to UK consumers, who said they try to eat healthfully by limiting “bad” products and ingredients. Globally, at least one-quarter of survey participants say they are willing to pay for functional ingredients that boost health.

Our 2022 Health and Nutrition Survey also demonstrated consumer interest and belief in functional products. Respondents said they most desired food and beverage functionalities related to improved immunity, gut health, and heart health. Approximately half of consumers believe that products that improve gut health are effective and high percentages said they are “very” or “extremely” interested in probiotics and prebiotics. Large proportions of respondents also are interested in protein and fiber.

Of course purchase activity needs to match interest. At least one-third of consumers we interviewed said it’s worth paying more for functional food and beverage ingredients that boost physical health.  

Protective components of plant-based foods and beverages

Many functional ingredients have plant-based origins. Among those ingredients thought to help prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease are flavonoids, which are found in dark colored fruits and vegetables, cocoa, tea, and wine. Other related ingredients are flavones, anthocyanins, flavanones, isoflavones, and flavanols. They contribute to healthy cell communication that is thought to trigger detoxification, decrease inflammation, and possibly reduce the risk of tumor spread.

Glucosinolates contribute to the pungent aroma and flavor of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, bok choy, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. They help eliminate toxins in the body and are thought to play a role in preventing cancer.

Botanical ingredients, widely used in hot tea, also are emerging in low-alcohol and nonalcoholic beverages. African superfood botanicals such as baobab, moringa, hibiscus, and turmeric also are becoming more widely used, especially in beverages. Innova’s ingredient customers tell us there’s growing demand for botanicals in beverages.  

Seeking better cognitive function 

Innova also sees growing interest in brain health, with one in 10 consumers saying they use diet to target mental health issues. Some nutrients—such as choline and omega-3 fatty acids—have well-established roles in healthy brain development. Other nutrients interest manufacturers and consumers alike for their functional properties in helping improve brain health and cognitive processes. Ingredients that are positioned to improve cognitive functions such as memory, creativity, and motivation often are labeled as nootropics.

Several ingredients are emerging in the cognitive functioning space. L-theanine, for example, may be added to beverages, sports nutrition products, and supplements to aid with sleep, relaxation, and anxiety relief. Our database of global food, beverage, and supplement launches shows a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of +66% for L-theanine during a recent five-year period, compared to a +4.5% CAGR of total food and beverage launches.

Traditional South American yerba mate also is gaining worldwide popularity for its benefits that have been compared to the mood elevation of chocolate, the health benefits of tea, and the energy boost of coffee. Consumers looking for the energy boost of caffeine without its characteristic jitters and other side effects may be attracted to alternate energy ingredients such as guayusa extract from the Amazon.

Ingredients classified as adaptogens help the body to respond to mental and physical stressors. Two adaptogens with a growing presence are ginseng and schisandra. Ginseng is widely recognized for its ability to both increase energy and relieve stress. Although it is most commonly used in supplements, ginseng also may be added to functional flavored waters and beverages. Our database shows that indexed growth of ginseng in foods, beverages, and supplements has nearly doubled since 2018. Growth in products with the schisandra berry likewise has nearly doubled. Schisandra is promoted for improving response to stress and increasing cognitive function.

Many manufacturers are exploring ingredients associated with Ayurvedic medicine. Ashwagandha is a popular herb for stress relief. Globally, new product launches with ashwagandha cross into several categories, including tea, ready-to-drink beverages, chocolate bars, and sports nutrition products, as well as supplements. Moreover, these launches nearly quadrupled between 2018 and 2022. Another herb, Rhodiola rosea, is promoted to improve mental capacity, relieve stress, and manage stress and anxiety. Currently, Rhodiola mainly is included in supplements. Lastly, the active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, is thought to help relieve depression.

The nootropic mushrooms chaga, cordyceps, and lion’s mane are gaining wider use. Chaga is a powerful antioxidant promoted for overall cognitive health. Cordyceps is promoted to slow brain aging. Lion’s mane is said to improve mood and memory by stimulating nerve growth and helping the brain to form new connections. Overall, nootropic mushroom ingredients show strong growth. In fact, products with lion’s mane show indexed growth of 700% since 2018. While launches with nootropic mushrooms are most prevalent in supplements, we see new products emerging in beverage and other categories.

Functional foods and beverages for immunity

Immunity and the desire for immune health have come into the spotlight as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our consumer studies suggest that immune health has overtaken other conditions that are top-of-mind for consumers. As with other types of functional foods and beverages, we observe a range of ingredients from common to unusual.

In May 2022, Innova released an immune health trends report where we looked at categories with immune health label claims and the ingredients that support those claims. We found that immune health accounted for one in five health claims on food and beverage packaging in 2021 and that leading categories for immune benefits at that time were baby and toddlers, soft drinks, dairy, and sports nutrition. The most prevalent claims pertain to common nutrients such as vitamins C and D and the mineral zinc. Widely used functional ingredients include ginger and turmeric, while guarana, ashwagandha, curcumin, and acerola, a source of vitamin C, are fast growing.

Recognizing the relationship between gut health and immunity, functional ingredients in products for babies and toddlers focus on oligosaccharides and other soluble fibers that help nourish the gut microbiome. Many are approved for labeling as prebiotic ingredients, defined by the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics as “a substrate that is selectively utilized by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit.”

Some prebiotic oligosaccharides, specifically fructooligosaccharides (FOS), galactooligosaccharides (GOS), and human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), are added to baby and toddler products to replicate the composition and health functionality of breast milk. Functional ingredients in products for these young children continue to expand as information becomes available on the unique composition of breast milk.

The gut health-immune health relationship drives innovation in functional ingredients in products for older children and adults. Growth in specific probiotic strains in food and beverage applications include Lactobacillus plantarum, found in fermented plant foods such as sauerkraut, and Lactobacillus fermentum, which is associated with immune health. In fiber, start-ups are exploring technology to convert sugars into functional fibers, with health benefits including sugar reduction, fiber enhancement, and gut health and immune health claims.

Additional ingredients, additional benefits 

In food and beverage launches, botanicals are growing rapidly as nutraceutical and functional ingredients. Launch data show double-digit growth in microalgae, including schizochytrium; hemp; the legume astragalus; echinacea; and moringa. Many are more common in supplements but are inching their way into subcategories such as sports nutrition and soft drinks.   

We also are monitoring innovation in collagen, an important functional ingredient for bone and joint health. Our data show that collagen from specific origins like eggshell, beef and fish are on the rise especially in both supplements and food and beverage applications. With fastest-growing eggshell membrane collagen peptide at +112% CAGR, we expect products for orthopedic health to continue to grow.

Consumers will continue to seek solutions that improve their health, and products with functional ingredients are positioned to meet their needs.

 Lu Ann Williams is Global Insights Director at Innova Market Insights, provider of market research services including the Innova Database. With more than 25 years’ experience in the food industry, Lu Ann is a trend expert and frequent public speaker at events worldwide. She leads a team of analysts and works with global clients. Contact her at luann.williams@innovami.com.