‘Consumers want uplifting:’ AI data intelligence firm predicts demand for immunity boosting functional foods will keep rising

By Oliver Morrison contact

- Last updated on GMT

Consumers are exploring the much-lauded functional benefits of elderberries, says data firm Tastewise. Image: Getty/DedMityay
Consumers are exploring the much-lauded functional benefits of elderberries, says data firm Tastewise. Image: Getty/DedMityay

Related tags: elderberry, Functional food, Immunity, health & wellbeing, functional beverage, Functional food market

The trend of consumers seeking out foods as medicine, one accelerated by the pandemic, is set to blossom in 2021, as is demand for locally-sourced food and beverages, believes the AI-powered food intelligence start-up Tastewise.

The Israeli company provides real-time industry insights on how consumers order, cook, and eat to help brands with product innovation. Founded by former Google executive Alon Chen, Tastewise scours and analyses billions of food data points across social media, restaurant menus, and home recipes to reveal immediate, location-specific food and beverage insights. It says this information allows companies to understand the deep motivations behind consumer behaviour and trends. Tastewise customers include Nestlé, PepsiCo, Givaudan, Campbell’s, General Mills and Dole.

The company’s latest report shows the trend of consumers seeking out foods with functional benefits is here to stay in 2021, Co-founder and CEO Chen told FoodNavigator. 

"Across the globe pre the pandemic, one out of three conversations were about wellbeing or functional motivation to consume food,”​ he revealed. “Today's it one out of two.”

In the UK, 44% of all food and beverage conversations mention at least one functional need (+8% year-over-year). He added, 1 out of 2 consumers want functional benefits from their food and beverage (+18% YoY).

The top 5 UK trends: 2021

1. Nutrition Hacking

2. Global Cuisines, Local Mentality

3. Foods for Moods

4. Cocktails with a Purpose

5. “Out of the box” Kits

Foods for moods

The pandemic and consequent lockdowns have 'very clearly' accelerated consumer desire to discover foods to improve their nutrition and immunity, noted Chen. The 'fastest rising' online social media interactions, he said, include berries -- particularly elderflower (packed with potentially immunity boosting antioxidants and vitamins) -- Omega 3 rich sardines, and lutein-loaded ingredients such as spinach and fennel.

"The fact that people aren't moving around that much and working from home brings them to the point that they're looking for a solution in the food and beverage categories for anxiety and tiredness,"​ said Chen. "They want to be uplifted."​ 

Food for your mood is the “experiential eating” of the pandemic, he added: "Whether it’s using food to distinguish between ‘work from home mode’ and ‘home mode’, or a specialty beverage to promote sleep, we expect to see consumer interest in functional foods for mental health only continue to rise - even after pandemic changes course post vaccine."

After the expected bump in interest during the peak of the pandemic, the following trend categories have stabilized at a rate higher than before COVID - a good indicator of trend longevity into 2021, according to the company:

○ Interest in f&b for anxiety: +42% YoY (+10% MoM on average)

○ Interest in f&b to uplift mood: +100% YoY (+11% MoM on average)

○ Interest in immunity-boosting f&b (a source of comfort during the pandemic): +150% YoY (+38% MoM on average).

Nutrition hacking

Closely related to the escalated consumer interest in functional foods is the rising awareness of 'nutrition hacking'. In 2021, Tastewise expects to see consumers crave “curated” nutrition-packed meals, using specific ingredients to achieve individualized goals. Tastewise also noted a renewed interest among consumers to develop new skills in the kitchen, which extends to experimenting with global dishes and ingredients.

 At the end of 2020, Tastewise reported that:

○ Consumer interest in immunity-boosting food and beverage is up 150%

YoY (and continuing to grow +37% MoM on average)

○ Consumer interest in vitamin-rich f&b is up 45% YoY

○ Consumer interest in prebiotics is up +100% YoY in home use

○ Consumer interest in cholesterol-conscious f&b is up 27% YoY

GettyImages txuslolo
Sherry is enjoying a revival in the UK as consumers seek nostalgic comforts. Image: Getty/txuslolo

Locally sourced cocktails

The growth in interest in locally sourced alcohol is another interesting phenomenon, noted Tastewise, as people make a conscious effort to support local beverage -- as well as food -- producers. "With pubs shuttered in various capacities for months, many UK consumers have brought the pub home. We’re seeing an increased interest in creating special alcoholic drinks at home; this skillset is applied to cocktails with a nutritional or functional punch, and drinks that offer comfort or nostalgia,"​ said Chen. 

Curiosity in sherry, a British old-timey classic, for example, is beginning to trend again, revealed Tastewise, up 31% YoY. 

The report noted: 

● The alcohol-free category is newly energized with delicious, high-end ingredients (including alcohol-free spirits), making it an appealing choice for many consumers.

Non-alcoholic discussions are growing 2.6% MoM on average among

consumers.

● Nostalgia as primary driver for consumer alcohol decisions is up 29% since

March, showing a consumer craving to connect with simpler, more joyful times.

● Interest in local alcohol for home use is up 42% YoY in the UK, and growing 4.5%

in interest on average each month. Interest in local cocktails, specifically, is 18%

higher than interest in local food and beverage generally.

Meal kits and recipe boxes

A final trend revealed by Tastewise are meal kits and recipe boxes, which increasingly offer consumers creativity and convenience, it said. It expects kits (including cocktail kits) that serve specific dietary needs to experience trending growth in 2021. It already sees a +163% YoY increase in kits, with signs for continued growth.

It further noted in the UK:

● Interest in plant-based kits is up +3% MoM on average

● Interest in kits aligned with clean-eating is up 9% MoM on average

● Interest in kits aligned with Weight Watchers dietary needs is almost double general Weight Watchers food and beverage interest.

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