Brain health emerges as a ‘key health priority for Europeans’

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/Jonathan Kitchen
Image: Getty/Jonathan Kitchen

Related tags Brain Gut health Cognition

New consumer research reveals brain health to be second only to heart health in Europe’s most important geographies.

UK-based consumer and sensory research agency MMR Research has released data drawn from 1657 consumers in France, Germany, and the Netherlands on what people consider to be their most important health priorities.  

The new European research mirrors a similar study in the UK in 2021 and shows that heart health, brain health and immune health consistently take the top three slots.

For Dutch consumers, brain health takes the top slot – a position also mirrored by Generation Z in all geographies.

“It’s a dramatic sign of the times,”​ said Andrew Wardlaw, Chief Ideas Officer. “Wherever we look, brain health is either taking the number one or two slot. This would not have been the case as little as five years ago.

“The era of cognitive wellness is well and truly with us and should be a focus for functional innovation.”

MMR’s survey used a choice-based approach, where respondents make choices based on combinations of various product attributes. As a result, the research was able to uncover people’s true intentions, the company said.

“What this study shows is that brain health is not only important to consumers, but it’s important enough to be acted upon,”​ said Wardlaw.

"Our study shows that when faced with 20 competing health conditions, brain health is now more urgent than gut or immune health. And it’s the most urgent for Gen Z,"​ he explained to FoodNavigator. 

Each participant was presented with 20 sets of 4 health priorities and asked to select which one was their highest priority, and which was their lowest priority. "This choice-based method provides a more realistic measure of consumer intent vs. asking if brain health is important to them," said Wardlaw. "​This study shows that brain health has established itself as one of Europe’s top 3 concerns."

According to MMR, the study has also underlined the mainstream potential of gut health across Europe, which has achieved number four placement in Netherlands, for example. “Consumers are waking up to the paramount importance of maintaining a healthy gut. The evolving science around the gut-brain axis and the accompanying surge in social conversations all lead to gut health’s rising potential in people’s daily lives,”​ said Wardlaw.

Consumers willing to pay for a premium for brain health

Despite financial pressures, the research does support people’s willingness to pay more for products that offer additional health benefits. 48% of Netherlands respondents, along with 59% of Germans and 67% of French respondents, declared their readiness to embrace products that enhance their lives. “It will be important for brands to land innovation that communicates efficacy across the full user-experience- from the sound of a pack opening to the residual mouthfeel. Efficacy must be felt as well as claimed to ensure longer-term adoption,” ​said Wardlaw.

To uncover some of the buzz behind brain health, MMR’s sister company Huxly Global pointed social listening tech towards matters of the mind. This initiative found that postings around brain health have surged 195% in the past year alone – and crucially, they have overtaken the volume seen in heart health.

The initiative also revealed that people’s main aspirations around brain health centre on focus and performance, with conversations around nootropics, gut-brain axis and bio hacking all up significantly.

Commenting on the social data, Joe Goyder who founded Huxly Global said “as so-called permacrisis endures, we’re seeing people make more deliberate moves to claw back some control over their lives. In fact, this social search found that use of the word ‘control’ has shot up over 250% in the context of brain health in the last 12 months. Proof, if it were needed, of a more intentional consumer in 2023.”

According to Wardlaw, the subsequent social listening research confirmed that cognitive related conversations have surged 195% in the past 12 months alone, with language analysis showing that ‘mind matters’, ‘brain care’, ‘mental health’ and ‘neural health’ are key dimensions for consumers.

"Fear is the overriding emotion surrounding brain health,"​ he explained. "People are genuinely concerned about the impact of daily life is having on their mental state.

"Most of what we found from social listening is that people are mainly concerned about maintaining and preserving mental performance, but stress & anxiety and general mental health play a key part.

"Social listening has also shown that consumers are increasingly searching out ways to keep cognitive health in check, with searches around nootropics, gut-brain axis and biohacking all gaining momentum."

Time for Europe to lead?

James Gater, Head of MMR Netherlands added he believes that Europe has a chance to catch up with the US. “Our experience in the US is that companies are much more ready to develop functional products. The market for beverages that support cognitive function is much more developed, for example,”​ he said. Gater identifies brain health as fertile ground for revolutionary product development, urging FMCG companies to seize upon this data as evidence of real demand.

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