Consumer interest in foods’ mental health benefits growing

CHICAGO — Consumers have become increasingly focused on the role food plays in their mental and physical health, according to new research from The NPD Group.

The market research firm said consumers initially grew to care more about their overall health and wellness as a result of the pandemic, with food’s effect on health garnering more attention as the trend has continued. Now, consumers rank food and beverage choices just behind physical exercise as the main contributing factor to their health.

The emphasis on health and wellness may also be seen in the meal kits market where consumers now rank health as a more important purchasing factor than convenience.

Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice president and practice leader for client insights at IRI, suggests some of the focus on food may come from financial concerns.

“Consumers are continuing to look for ways to assist them on their wellness journey so they can minimize getting sick,” Ms. Lyons Wyatt said. “Part of that is all the macroeconomic things going on. All of our pocketbooks are strained, so if we can stay well, we can avoid having to go to the doctor and having another bill to pay.”

Similar findings come from Deloitte, which found nearly 75% of consumers believe the right food can be the “best medicine” and provide energy, weight management and disease prevention benefits.

Consumer interest in the food and wellness relationship has also broadened into seeking products that can improve their mental health.

Startups like Mindright have emerged into this space in the functional foods market, offering a line of snack bars aimed at stress reduction and mood improvement. Like others in the space, Mindright utilizes ingredients like androgens and nootropics, believed to regulate stress and improve cognitive function, to create foods that can supplement long-term mental health care.

“Consumers are actively creating their own dietary and mental health programs,” said Darren Seifer, food and beverage analyst at NPD. “Through self-education and easily available products, they are choosing the best aspects of diets and lifestyles that work for them. Food brands can play a role in helping consumers with their wellness goals by innovating and finding new ways for consumers to make better food choices that fill gaps in mental and physical health needs.”

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