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Revolutionising wellness: Unveiling the top 3 functional food and beverage trends

This blog is the first of the “1-2-Taste healthy food making” series to address (high) protein products’ challenges, personalised nutrition, and much more.
In this first article, we explore the latest trends in functional food and beverages, with an emphasis on gut health, immunity, and energy, as key benefit spaces, providing valuable insights for R&D teams aiming to innovate the next generation of nourishing products.

So, what exactly are functional food and beverages, and why should you consider launching them?

As consumer preferences shift towards healthier lifestyles, the demand for functional foods and beverages has surged. Particularly, the functional beverages market is driving growth with a projected CAGR (2024–2029) of 6.53%, starting from an expected size of USD 213.74 Billion in 2024 (Mondor Intelligence).

Functional food and beverages lack a singular definition. However, FAO defines functional foods as “a foodstuff that provides a health benefit beyond basic nutrition, demonstrating specific health or medical benefits, including the prevention and treatment of disease”. Other definitions also stress the health benefits that food and beverages have either in preventing diseases and/or boosting health.


Understanding the benefit spaces of gut health, immunity and energy

As we progress through this blog, we will explore three core benefit areas—gut health, immunity, and energy—which have gained considerable traction in recent years, accounting for over 50% of claims on functional beverage launches between 2018 and 2022 (Innova Market Insights). Other benefits spaces which can be interesting for beverages include, but are not limited to, memory and cognitive function, hydration, beauty and sleep, while weight management is a very popular space for food.


Gut health: Leading functional beverage claim!

Research into the microbiome has sparked great interest, and gut health has been identified by Innova market insights as the largest functional beverage market segment, with 26% of functional beverage launches (2018-2022). Probiotics and prebiotics, known for their potential positive impact on the digestive system, are gaining much traction. Fermentation processes are being refined to enhance the bioavailability of nutrients, creating a synergy between taste and nutritional benefits. Last but not least, fibres, abundantly present in fruit and vegetables, play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy digestive system. If you want to boost your products’ fibre content, look into the FiberSMART of Anderson Advanced Ingredients, which also supports sugar reduction, gluten-free baking and weight management. Additionally, you can try the organic Baobab pulp powder from Nexira for gut-boosting effects and with a fibre content above 45 %.

Immunity boosters: Prioritising wellbeing

With increased focus on health, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, immunity has emerged as a key trend in the food industry for 2024. Foodnavigator highlights this trend and the consumers’ shift from mostly relying on supplements to seeking foods with immune-boosting properties. R&D teams are exploring ingredients rich in immune-boosting nutrients like vitamins C and D, as well as minerals such as zinc. The sources of these micronutrients are varied – for instance, did you know there is 40 to 100 times more vitamin C in a glass of acerola than in a glass of orange juice? Nexira offers an Acerola Extract, 17% Native Vitamin C, which not only represents a natural source of vitamin C, but it’s also traditionally used in Brazil to support energy and vitality, offering product developers the opportunity to combine different benefits in our product.

Vitamin C immune system2
Energy drinks

Energy and alertness: Caffeine and beyond

In the fast-paced modern lifestyle, consumers seek sustained energy. Energy and alertness have become the second most utilised claim in the functional beverage sector, second only to gut health. 23% of NDPs between 2018 and 2022 used energy as a claim in the products. R&D professionals are responding to this trend exploring alternative energy-boosting ingredients beyond caffeine. Vitamins, especially B6, B3, B12 and B5, are now often used for energy drinks. Many botanicals also play an important role linked with the need for drinks which don’t give a post-energy crash. Guarana is leading the way in this space, but many other ingredients like ginseng also play a crucial role. If you are looking to develop products that have both an effect on vital energy and the immune system, red ginseng from Nexira represents a great option.

What are the key challenges that development teams may face?

One development challenge currently receiving attention from the scientific community is the stability of the active compounds added to make functional foods, which depends on chemical composition (pH, sugar content) and processing parameters (temperature and exposure time). The key methods under exploration are encapsulation, emulsion and high-pressure homogenisation techniques (Elsevier, 2023). To tackle this challenge you could explore the fit of options like
Nexira – Thixogum™ G, a mix of Acacia & Gellan Gums ensuring both emulsifying and stabilising properties for specific applications, or other products within Nexira portfolio.

Another key challenge for the teams can be linked with the associated nutritional and health claims. While there are some claims regulated by Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006, like “high fibre” (product contains at least 6 g of fibre per 100 g or at least 3 g of fibre per 100 kcal). Many of the health claims don’t have a specific definition and need to be substantiated. Get support from experts to make sure you are compliant. Divine label compliance offers services of both compliant label development and review of existing labels. You can book a 20-minute free consultation with them to get some guidance for the launch of your next functional food or beverage.


More on functional food & beverage products and ingredients:

→ Infographic: What R&D needs to know about functional ingredients in beverages.

→ One pager: Your source of inspiration for functional ingredients.