It’s no secret that the desire to live a healthier lifestyle and eat cleaner is at the top of consumers’ minds. But they're looking for more than just nutrients and a full belly—they want to satisfy their appetite and maintain a nutritious diet while improving other aspects of life including mind, body, and soul.
That's where functional foods come in. Defined by the Mayo Clinic as “foods that have a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition,” functional foods show promising signs of becoming a huge market going forward. Examples include ice cream that helps with sleep, energy drinks that increase muscle function, and mushroom coffee that improves focus and creativity.
But how prevalent is this move toward functional foods? In this post, we take a look at the growth of online conversations about functional foods and how consumers are integrating them into their lives.
The current climate of functional foods
Before getting into the details, it's important to note that consumers explicitly mention ‘functional foods’ in only 0.01% of global food and beverage conversations on social media. That suggests functional food as a category is in the early stages of generating awareness.
Though the volume of conversations around functional foods is still fairly small, it's been on the rise for more than a year.
Don't be put off by the December dip. That's pretty normal for food-related topics as consumers "cheat" during the holidays and then return to healthier habits in the new year.
That said, overall conversation volume has increased by 69% since January 2017, primarily helped by a massively loyal consumer base. To get a sense of just how committed these consumers are, take a look at the chart below, which shows one-month consumer retention, a metric that tracks consumers posting about functional foods in consecutive months.
Functional foods have a loyal consumer base, as consumers frequently talk about them in consecutive months.
This chart shows that more than 33% of consumers who talked online about functional foods in November 2018 talked about them again in December 2018. That represents a 19% year-over-year increase.
While the dip on the right side of the chart might seem like bad news for functional foods, in fact it's the opposite. The drop in consumer retention is related to an increase in new consumers talking about functional foods—a positive sign for growth, but one that artificially depresses the data.
A functional habit
Along with strong retention, another reason to believe that functional foods are becoming ingrained in loyalists' diets is their inclusion in consumers' daily routine.
Functional foods are an increasingly common part of consumers' routine, becoming more incorporated into their daily lifestyles.
As the chart above shows, functional foods aren't a now-and-then thing. In fact, consumers are slowly integrating functional foods into their day-to-day lives. Taken together with steady consumer retention, that's a positive sign that functional foods represent a growing trend, not just a fad.
Further evidence of functional foods' incorporation into consumers' lives is their association with mealtimes. In early 2018, functional foods were mentioned alongside breakfast 2x more often than dinner and 1.7x more often than lunch.
A year ago, consumers associated functional foods most strongly with snacks and breakfast. Today, that line is becoming more blurry.
Those associations have shifted, however, suggesting that functional foods have become less dependent on any single eating occasion. Consumption has become more evenly distributed throughout meals and isn't as segmented to just one part of the day. While functional foods are most popular as snacks, consumption is becoming less concentrated here, too, as it's down 8% this year.
While our data indicates that consumer awareness of and desire for functional foods is still in its early stages, both consumer loyalty and the degree to which they've become ingrained in consumers' daily lives—a trend that aligns with the rise in attention to health and wellness we're seeing all over the place—indicate they may represent a huge opportunity for the food and beverage industry.