Consumer Use of Food as Medicine

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of how food and beverages choices can impact their health, according to research by The NPD Group.

About a quarter of U.S. adults are trying to manage a health or medical condition by making healthy food and beverage choices. Particularly, 18 to 24-year-olds are interested in using foods to improve their health. Young adults chose food and beverages with healthy profiles for 19% of their meals and in-between snacks in 2018.

For example, a top nutrition goal for 9% of adults is protecting brain health and when asked about foods that promote brain health, young adults were 45% more likely to express interest in these products compared to 35 to-44-year-olds.

Amid this trend, there is a growing interest in “medicinal” superfoods with consumers expressing the most interest in elderberry, cannabidiol (CBD) and Manuka honey.

Elderberry contains antioxidants and is believed to relieve colds, fight the flu, and boost the immune system. A study from the University of Sydney found that compounds from elderberries can directly inhibit the virus’ entry and replication in human cells, and can help strengthen a person’s immune response to the virus, reported Science Daily (April 23).

Meanwhile, about one in seven U.S. adults use CBD products with the highest percentages of usage coming from the 18-29 age group, reported USA Today (Aug. 11). Around 40% of those who do use CBD take it for pain of various kinds. The next most common uses are to treat anxiety, insomnia or other sleep issues, arthritis, migraines or other headaches, and stress.

As for manuka honey, which is honey from the Manuka flower, it is believed to have benefits including wound healing, soothing a sore throat and improving digestion. The factors that are playing a major role in its growth are the growing demand from food industries, the rising use for the medicinal purpose, acceptance of healthy lifestyle, and the high demand from health-conscious customers, according to Radiant Insights, Inc.

Other up and coming superfoods include reishi mushrooms, the ashwagandha herb (aka Indian ginseng), and microgreens.

“There are a variety of superfoods, like kale, quinoa, and acai berry, that have mainstreamed and found their way into a myriad of foods,” says Darren Seifer, NPD’s food and beverage industry analyst. “Rather than being one of many offering a superfood, understanding the trajectory of emerging superfoods helps food marketers be ahead of the curve in making calculated decisions about new product investments.”

Additionally, prunes are being rebranded as a “millennial superfood,” reported Bloomberg (Aug. 2). The California Prune Board is encouraging snack companies to use prune puree as a sugar alternative in processed foods. The dried fruit is being marketed for its ability to build bones and muscle, and make the heart stronger, with a focus on athletes and outdoor enthusiasts.