Functional foods sound too good to be true: They're highly efficient at both nourishing the body and providing additional benefits like improved brain function or immune boosts.
We've already established that consumer interest in functional foods is growing quickly. In this post, we'll look into what's driving consumers to functional foods, which food they're gobbling up, and the brands that are already becoming known in the functional food space.
What consumers want from functional foods
Consumers look to functional foods for a variety of reasons, the most prevalent of which is disease prevention—a term that over-indexes with functional foods at 45x the average rate of other topics across food and beverage.
The prevalence of these topics in conversations about functional foods indicate that consumers are looking to treat—or at least alleviate—common medical problems through their diet. From pre- and probiotics that address gut health to nootropics favored by gamers for their brain-boosting potential, it's clear that consumers are intrigued by the ability to eat their way to good health.
This desire to manipulate the body through food fits neatly into biohacking, a concept that's seen increased interest as well.
Though the number of conversations about biohacking is still tiny compared to the massive food and beverage market, it's seen steadily growing interest for quite some time.
Although biohacking may sound like something out of a movie (think red, blue, or Limitless pills), biohacking through diet is a common practice—one that's associated with self-help and nutrition gurus like Dave Asprey, founder of Bulletproof Coffee, and Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Body.
Biohacking's popularity is even higher than that of functional foods, though the two are intricately intertwined when it comes to the food and beverage market.
In fact, biohacking is regularly mentioned in functional foods conversations, providing further support for the notion that consumers are seeking out edible powerhouses as an efficient means of improving their bodies.
Top functional foods among consumers
While biohacking may be unfamiliar to many consumers, it's likely that most of them have heard of—if not downed—a functional ingredient or dish.
These ingredients and dishes over-index with functional foods, meaning they're mentioned in the same conversation at a rate higher than the average food and beverage topic.
While it's likely that some consumers are unaware of the functional benefits of many of these foods, it's clear that they're becoming known for more than flavor. Instead, consumers are seeking them out as means to improve gut health (sauerkraut and kefir) or to increase mental capacity (turmeric latte and matcha).
Interestingly, consumers may not be looking to give up specific ingredients and dishes, but are instead looking to replace them with healthier options. For example, coconut aminos have a similar flavor but less sodium than soy sauce and zoodles—another ingredient often mentioned alongside functional foods—have less calories and carbs than noodles.
Top functional food brands
Where there's consumer desire, products are soon to follow. Brands that already over-index with functional foods include:
- Bonafide Provisions, bone broth and soup specialist
- Navitas Organics, a creator of snacks and drink mixes
- Kite Hill, which offers plant-based dairy alternatives
Major investment and acquisitions provide even more validation that functional foods are perceived as a trend, not a fad. Plant-based dairy producer Califia Farms has raised $115 million since 2015, including a $50 million round last year. Kellogg and Tyson Foods have each invested in MycoTechnology, a company that uses fermented mushrooms to reduce sugar, improve flavor, and create plant-based protein.
Meanwhile, Kraft Heinz purchased Primal Kitchen, maker of better-for-you condiments along with other products, for $200 million. Mondeléz invested in Uplift Food, a start-up creating prebiotic fiber and resistant starch powder. The list goes on.
While health and wellness are increasingly top of mind for consumers, all signs point to the continued growth of functional foods. With mainstream outlets like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's already being mentioned alongside functional foods at a high rate, it's clear that consumers are already seeking out—and finding—a functional fix. As more companies invest or buy their way into the space, expect to see more options that provide efficient avenues for satisfying holistic health.