Stressed out? Dairy might help
All around the world, people use snacks to cope with stress and, with the Covid-19 situation ongoing, that doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon. According to research by Mintel, experts in what consumers want and why, 51% of Canadian survey respondents said they snack when stressed. In Poland and Spain, 33% of consumers confessed to snacking more often since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak.
As a counterbalance, more people are adopting lifestyle habits, such as exercise and meditation, in a shift from treatment to the prevention of stress, but there is another factor at play. Backed by growing scientific evidence that diet is as important to mental wellbeing as it is to physical health, consumers are increasingly turning to nutrition to manage their stress and help improve sleep and concentration. Looking to the USA, more than 50% of consumers are at least interested in functional food and drink to aid sleep, maintain calm and help with relaxation.
According to Michelle Teodoro, associate director of food science at Mintel Asia Pacific, with stress management becoming a focus around the globe, food and beverage manufacturers are in a unique position to capture consumer demand by tapping into their needs around cognitive performance and mood enhancement.
With recent research showing a relationship between dietary habits, the gut microbiome and brain function, including stress reduction, manufacturers who use nutrient-rich ingredients that have been proven to positively impact the body’s gut-brain axis will be able to capture emerging demand.
There is an argument, Teodoro states, to be made for positioning dairy foods and beverages as functional solutions for cognitive wellness at all life stages.
“Cognitive wellness has been under-explored in the global dairy category, with our Global New Products Database telling us functional claims appear on less than 12% of product launches,” she says.
“Furthermore, fewer than 1% carry brain and nervous system-related claims. This is despite emerging scientific evidence showing certain dairy ingredients have the ability to improve mood and overall mental wellbeing.”
Consumption of dairy-derived probiotic strains has been found to support the management of depression and anxiety in women after giving birth, while a study in Nutritional Neuroscience indicates that although phospholipids, the building blocks of the brain, can decline as we age digested dietary milk phospholipids can supplement the body’s own natural supply. Including them in the diet has been shown to help manage the effects of stress by supporting focus and mental performance.
“As the benefits become more widely known, dairy can be a differentiating point for brands targeting the desire among consumers for science-backed ingredients that support mental wellness,” says Teodoro.
“While botanicals, vitamins and minerals currently lead the healthy snacking segment, dairy ingredients have a role to play as people look for recognisable, trustworthy, science-backed and efficient solutions that are clean label, healthy and indulgent.”
The obvious products in which to incorporate functional dairy ingredients are traditional snack bars and yoghurts, both popular snacks whether people are eating at home – much more common at the moment because of pandemic lockdowns – or on the go. However, there is an opportunity for the manufacturers of ice cream to include probiotics for gut health. In addition, ready-to-drink nutritional products can provide additional benefits beyond weight loss and nutrition.
“We’ve found that women in the US aged between 18 and 34 are interested in nutrition drinks with anxiety or stress-relief formulations, as well as those that can improve sleep,” says Teodoro.
But while working adults are an obvious target market for these kinds of products, dairy can also be beneficial for high school and university students who are coping with the daily stresses of academic life and the other emotional challenges of young adulthood.
“As the world moves into a new normal, the way consumers approach their health will evolve drastically,” Teodoro continues.
“There’s huge potential for brands to build the connection between functional dairy ingredients, like probiotics and milk phospholipids, and brain health, mental performance, mood or relaxation, and for product formulations to capture emerging demand.”
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