Sustainability and functional ingredients top healthy food and drink

Sustainability and functional ingredients top this year’s health agenda with many once niche trends rapidly making their way into the mainstream.

Broadly, 2018 marks an emerging awareness of the interconnected relationship between physical, emotional, environmental and even spiritual health with consumers seeking meaningful functional ingredients in food, drinks, natural health, beauty and personal care, and their homes. Attitudes to heathy ageing and approaches to combatting key health concerns are reflected across generations, consumer segments and categories.

Australian Organic estimates our growing appetite for organics to be worth $1.6 billion to the retail market, (an increase of 88 per cent since 2012) and cites two-thirds of Australian shoppers switch to organics for personal health reasons.

Sustainability is a top priority with growing sentiments of environmental, social and ethical responsibility, and the ABC’s War on Waste and banning of single use plastic bags top of mind.

Plants, hemp, probiotics, collagen and functional beverages top food and drink agenda

This year’s food and drink product development is being driven by consumer demand for personalised and flexible options that are healthy, convenient, snackable, low sugar and low carb with plant-based options. While carbohydrate and sugar avoidance still dominate 2018, overall the approach is far less restrictive (free from), less dogmatic and more flexible, with a shift towards fresh ingredients and products that offer meaningful functional benefits and nutritional support. Those at the leading-edge tick boxes for key areas of concerns like digestive health and inflammation, support brain health and cognition, healthy aging, and help combat modern lifestyle stresses, like low energy.

The keto diet (and low carb, high fat variations) is the leading diet movement, reaching its peak this year with Australians turning to Google to understand the plethora of often conflicting information presented by health practitioners, brands and influencers. Top searches include ‘keto snacks’ up 1,050 per cent; ‘16/8 intermittent fasting’ up 850 per cent; and ‘doctor diet keto’ up 1,450 per cent (the year to November).

Top trends you need to know:

Vegan and plant-based

Plant-based remains at the top of the agenda in 2018 with Euromonitor International releasing research showing Australia is the third-fastest growing vegan market in the world with our packaged vegan food market set to rise to $215 million before 2020 (from $136 million).  Retailers are responding to consumer demand with dozens of new products being added to shelves, including supermarket giant Woolworths, which launched Australia’s first plant-based mince Funky Fields earlier this year. Sales of plant-based milks have surged with coconut and almond milk the leaders based on their taste. Other notable launches include Noble Jerky vegan jerky and Golden Ratio vegan ‘honey’.

The concept of “clean meat” (meat grown from stem cells in laboratories) is growing in popularity and possibility, but the debate rages in Australia around issues of ethics, safety, labelling and sustainability.

Hemp

With hemp approved to be sold as food in late 2017, this year has seen an explosion of hemp-related product innovations, from seeds to oils, snack bars to spreads, flours, protein powders, milks, cereals and more.

Hemp Foods Australia is the largest manufacturer of hemp food products in the Southern Hemisphere, with parent company Elixinol Global listing on the ASX in January.

Product launches include Hemp Foods Australia Organic Essential Hemp Snack Bar range, 180 Nutrition’s organic hemp protein powder blend, newcomer Hemple’s range of protein powders and oils, 13 Seeds, and The Health Foods Guys range of hemp butter spreads.

Digestive health

It’s been a year of product innovation around bone broth, collagen, fermented foods and functional vinegars targeting digestive issues with consumer understanding of the relationship of the gut to overall health, particularly the gut-brain link, at an all-time high.

Notable launches include Meadow & Marrow’s extension of its culinary bone broth with a new performance range featuring functional ingredients, and Locako’s range of collagen snack bars.

Probiotic innovation and prebiotics

Diversification of the probiotic food category continues with innovative use of the ingredient GanedenBC30, which is a heat-resistant probiotic. The probiotic’s protective shell allows it to survive the manufacturing process and retain a three-year shelf life, as well as survive the journey through the digestive system. See New Zealand brand Blue Frog probiotic porridge launched in Australia via Bio Living and Good Guts range of probiotic teas.

Awareness is also increasing about the benefit of prebiotics. Ingredients like green banana flour, pioneered in North Queensland by Natural Evolution, are high in fermentable fibre and inulin and act like prebiotics.  See Natural Evolution’s own range of bake mixes using green banana flour.

Functional beverages

Collagen water, kefir cold brew coffee, hemp infused kombucha, adaptogen mushroom teas, smart drinks and herbal blends crafted “to stimulate your intimate desires” are some of the stars launched in this category in Australia this year. This year functional beverages moved beyond digestive health to feature ingredients like herbs, vitamins, minerals, nootropics, amino acids, or additional raw fruit or vegetables depending on the intended purpose. (Nootropics are a class of cognitive enhancing supplements used to improve concentration and boost memory.)

According to Mintel, global drinks launches featuring the word “elixir” grew 119 per cent in the last year. It’s one of the fastest growing beverage categories in Australia, with demand from health-conscious millennials for products supporting overall mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing.

Special mentions go to MOJO Kombucha’s Probiotic Sparkling Water; Wild1 Beverages for Happy Hippie Organic Hemp Infused Kombucha; Vida Glow Collagen Water; Shine+ for Australia’s first “smart drink” made with a range of nootropics; Herbal Fix blends for Focus, Active, Beauty, Shape, Relax and Love; Swirlit oral health drink made with xylitol and cinnamon; Nutra Organics range of functional lattes including the blue Mermaid Latte and purple Lunar Latte; Madame Dry’s positively-charged gem elixirs, which claim to transfer the vibration frequency of crystals into water to help elevate your energy, mood and intentions; and Frequency H20, which has a growing legion of celebrity fans.

Good oils and fats

The keto craze has led to growing use of MCT oil, with launches by Melrose; Cocolife (Luke Hines Keto Tonic); and Niulife with blends for Endurance and Clarity. There’s also greater awareness around the benefits of diverse good oils, such as those used in the new Melrose range, which features pumpkin seed, avocado, sweet almond, apricot kernel oils and grass-fed ghee delivered in a slick new rebrand.

Speed and convenience

Modern lifestyles, shifting food preferences and a back-to-basics wholefood approach, combined with the demand for convenient ready-to-eat meals has led to a surge in meal kits and DIY ‘speed scratch’ options that also meet consumer desire for self-sufficiency and transparency, such as the Gluten Free Food Co.’s vegan Mac N Cheez, sauces, pizza base and bake mixes, some of which use green banana flour.

Transparency is the must-have ingredient

Food scares, counterfeit food, and nervousness around genetically modified ingredients have all contributed to growing scepticism. Transparency is now an essential ingredient, particularly with the younger generation of shoppers.

Mandatory Country of Origin labelling came into effect in July for all manufacturers, processors and importers selling food at retail in Australia. The move gives consumers greater certainty over the origin of food they buy, with labels required to show where food is grown, made, produced or packed.

Sustainability

Growing sentiments of environmental responsibility, ABC’s The War on Waste, and the banning of single use plastic bags has driven unprecedented demand for all things sustainable, reusable and recyclable. Australian fast-growing brand Ever Eco is popular for its stainless straws, containers, and products that support DIY and sustainability, as are Honey Bee Wraps that reduce consumer reliance on single use plastic food wraps and bags.

Pet food

Functional treats, bone broth, grain-free, plant-based and paleo food options – say hello to the next generation of meal options emerging this year.

According to Euromonitor International consumers are seeking healthier options for their pets and they are prepared to pay more for products that meet their needs, which is driving product innovation and opportunities for boutique brands in a category largely dominated by major players. See Naturally Good Pitch Fest finalist Frontier Pets.

This article first appeared on Naturally Good.