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Curcumin and omega-3 top the list for functional ingredients consumers most want to try

Dive Brief:

  • Curcumin, omega-3, probiotics, ashwagandha and protein are the top five ingredients that consumers in the U.S. are most interested in trying, according to a survey from Buzzback emailed to Food Dive. However, only one-third of consumers in the U.S. and U.K have a complete understanding of the ingredients they most want to try.
  • Of those surveyed in both countries, 65% prefer functional ingredients for stress relief remedies. Additionally, half of consumers would like to see some personal care benefits from the use of a new product. 
  • Consumers are mainly collecting information about trendy ingredients from social media with 46% of consumers using this channel to learn about the topic. Recommendations from family and friends account for 38% while online, television commercials and in-store displays provide 30% of their information.

Dive Insight:

It is little wonder that curcumin tops the list of functional ingredients that 69% of American consumers are interested in sampling. The ingredient, which is found in the bright orange spice turmeric, is credited with pain relief for inflammatory disorders such as rheumatism and osteoarthritis, as well as other health benefits like enhancing memory function and alleviating depression.

The ingredient’s list of accolades rocketed it to the top of many consumers’ minds beginning in 2016 when it became a “rising star” in the functional food searches using Google in 2016. That same year, there was a 21% increase of new product launches with turmeric. Not only is curcumin-laced turmeric good for health, but it also offers a clean label option for Big Food looking for color alternatives. Kraft Heinz removed artificial colors from its macaroni and cheese in 2016 and is now using turmeric and other natural sources as a replacement.

Omega-3’s are the second-most intriguing category with 66% of Americans interested in the functional ingredient. Since the 1970s, Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to heart health, but they can also lower the risk of developing depression, improve mental health and enhance a child’s learning ability. The global omega-3 market was valued at $2.04 billion in 2016 and was projected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 6.6% between 2012 and 2022. Manufacturers are experimenting with different ways to incorporate this additive to products. Snack maker Mondelez has incorporated algal protein into its Enjoy Life gluten-free baking mixes. 

Probiotics have taken the food world by storm but only 62% of consumers said they would try them. Perhaps this lower figure is due to the fact that many already have. The first probiotic-laced yogurt was introduced to the U.S. in 2005, and at the time, the good-for-you bacteria couldn’t be added to anything else and survive. BCC Research predicted in 2016 that the probiotics market will grow to $50 billion globally by this year. Recently, probiotics have appeared in Kellogg’s Special K Nourish line and General Mills’ GoodBelly cereal as well as in tea, coffee, baked goods, ice cream, granola and bars as consumers pay more attention to their health.

This category was followed by ashwagandha, which is an adaptogen hailing from India and also known as Indian ginseng. These botanicals have carved out a niche in the beverage space, but ashwagandha continues to remain relatively under the radar compared to other adaptogens like mushrooms and maca. Still, although the functional ingredient remains relatively unknown, 61% of surveyed consumers said they would try it.

Protein also received a positive response from 60% of consumers, and that may be due to the fact that, similar to probiotics, the functional ingredient has become more of an expectation than a nice-to-have addition. From plant based protein to protein-forward meal replacement shakes and bars, Americans remain eager to introduce it into their diets. A Nielsen study showed 55% of households claim high protein is a significant factor in purchasing food for their families.  

The rise of functional ingredients has not been without stumbling blocks. Turmeric, or example, has been linked to lead contamination and experienced multiple recalls. Omega-3’s, which are traditionally sourced from fish, are not suitable for those following a plant-based diet. Omega-3’s coming from microalgae sources have faced barriers due to its unique and pungent taste. Protein also is not as clear cut as it would seem. A Nielsen survey found many Americans can’t identify which foods contain high amounts of protein with between 45% and 64% thinking beef, chicken and pork weren’t high-protein sources.

In many cases, people may not care if they understand an ingredient as long as they’re getting the health benefits. And manufacturers know that. Many of these top five ingredients have become buzzwords touted on product labels. It might still benefit companies to inform consumers about these ingredients and their health attributes in order to bolster their transparency halo and maximize sales. 

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