5 Functional Food Trends to Watch

functional foods

The statistics send a clear message: consumers the world over are searching for functional foods and beverages in 2024.

IFT.org examined that movement in a recent article about “reinventing wellness,” in which it noted that the number of global consumers who choose F&B products for preventative health benefits is at an all-time high – 60% (per HealthFocus).

In the U.S. alone, sales of functional foods and beverages reached $92.1 billion in 2023, and that category is projected to grow to $106.9 billion by 2026, according to Nutrition Business Journal.

“In general, people are looking for function in all the foods they enjoy. We believe this is a continuation of trends that offer value add to foods and beverages so ‘food is their medicine,’” said Zane Adams, co-CEO of the Buchi functional beverage brand, to TFI last year.

“Even before Covid-19, people were looking for more nutrient-dense options for their money.”

Roughly two-thirds of those under 40 years old are extremely concerned about access to healthier products that are affordable. Here’s a look at the top functional food trends in 2024, according to IFT.org:

Performance-boosting products were among the best-selling foods, beverages, and dietary supplements last year, according to Circana and SPINS.

Gallup found that half of adults exercised more than 30 minutes at least three days a week last year, a pace that returns to 2019 levels.

SPINS noted that hydration, performance, and energy enhancers were the top-selling functional ingredient categories in multi-outlet channels for the year ended December 3, 2023. Uncle Matt’s Organic Ultimate Athlete Performance Shot, for example, was designed by an NFL team chef to hydrate and naturally reduce oxidative stress. The product includes ingredients like organic beet juice and coconut water.

Self-esteem support is sought by many consumers in 2024. Consider this finding, from Hartman Group Research:

Six in 10 American consumers say that feeling good about themselves is now the most important factor defining wellness.

The most sought-after elements of mental well-being include the ability to deal with stress/anxiety; the ability to sustain an ideal mood, alertness, and mental sharpness; and the ability to relax. Sales of functional beverages for brain health reached $1.2 billion for the year ended December 20, 2023, according to NIQ.

Proactive beverages continue to gather steam. Nutrition Business Journal projects functional soda, water, and sports/energy drinks to grow from $69 billion this year to $80.3 billion by 2026.

Meanwhile, functional alternatives are a growing addition to the $1 billion drink-mix category, where sales increased 14.3% for the year ended December 31, 2023, according to Circana. In that spirit, Crystal Light’s low-calorie powdered drink line now includes Energy, Immunity, and Mixology, and it’s designed to increase use across new dayparts.

Re-conditioning items are growing in popularity. According to NIQ, a new generation of physiology-based claims is emerging to help prevent conditions like diabetes and digestive issues.

One-third of consumers who claim to be proactive about their health say they’re currently eating or drinking a product that claims to lower inflammation, according to flavor company T. Hasegawa.

Meanwhile, one in five consumers (21%) say they’re looking for foods that improve metabolism. Additionally, sales of supplements for blood sugar control grew 7.6% for the year ended October 8, 2023, according to SPINS.

Allergen-free formulations are increasingly in demand. Here’s a big reason why: more than a quarter (28%) of adults were trying to manage or treat a food allergy or sensitivity last year, according to a wellness study by Hartman. Sales of foods labeled allergen-friendly increased 25% for the year ended February 26, 2023, per Circana.

HealthFocus found that one in five adults are currently trying to avoid gluten and dairy products. That helps explain the popularity of Oreo’s recent creation, Gluten-Free Golden Sandwich Cookies.

Foods that help reduce acid reflux are on the rise, too – like Folger’s Simply Smooth Coffee, advertised as being gentle on one’s stomach.