It’s been a rough couple of years, and people are feeling the pinch in many ways. The COVID-19 pandemic caused myriad disruptions for everyone, and inflation has driven up the cost of everything. After some serious indulging in 2020, many consumers are now prioritizing health and wellness. They are looking for help to improve their mood and boost energy, mental acuity and immunity, among others. 

“There is increased interest in nutrient density, functional benefits and food as medicine. Today’s consumers really want more bang for the calories,” DeeAnn Roullier, marketing research insights specialist, Cargill, told an audience at an IBIEducate session in September. “Superfoods have shown double-digit growth in sales. Consumers are seeking nutritional goodness, specifically in bakery. In the United States, bakery products with a claim around vitamins and minerals are up tremendously.”

Ms. Roullier cited a statistic that said US sales of bakery foods in 2020-21 having a claim showing the presence of vitamins and minerals were up 75% with unit sales up 28%, according to NielsenIQ. And sales of bakery with fortification claims were up 183% with unit sales up 22%.

As consumers seek more foods to fulfill their health needs, bakeries have several ways to help.

Although consumers know the benefits they’re seeking, they don’t always know what to look for on nutrition labels.

“Cognitive function as a driver has not been around long enough for consumers to understand what elements they need,” said Suzy Badaracco, president, Culinary Tides Inc. “What they’re really doing is relying on the packaging. If it says it’s good for focus or will keep you going or lightens your mood, that’s what they’re relying on. They’re not educated enough to those specific elements, minerals, vitamins that help with depression, etc.”

She pointed to yogurt as a good example of how a category educated the public about the benefits of a product, in this case yogurt’s help with digestive health. Through that marketing, the public learned the probiotics terminology. Similarly, bakers offering products with added benefits will need to provide clear messaging on packages so the public understands how the product is supporting their health goals.

In Balchem’s proprietary 2022 Attitude and Usage Study, the company identified top wellness benefits consumers want from their food and beverages every day, including immunity and memory support, brain, heart and digestive health, protein, fiber and longevity. From 2018 to 2022, 1,200 new products each year have included a wellness or active health claim, according to Nielsen xAOC data.

“Essential nutrients have the ability to help consumers support multiple aspects of health, including longevity, cognition and performance,” said Eric Ciappio, PhD and RD strategic development manager, nutrition science, Balchem.

Consumers are looking for food to act as medicine after living through the COVID-19 pandemic, said Sam Wright IV, chief executive officer, The Wright Group.

“Immunity and mental acuity rank highest among the condition-specific benefits most consumers seek,” Mr. Wright explained. “Anti-aging in a rapidly aging population is definitely top of mind nowadays.”

Gut microbiome-supporting solutions help not only with digestion but with other health aspects, said Vaughn DuBow, global director of marketing, microbiome solutions, ADM.

“Consumers are increasingly aware of the important role their gut microbiomes play in their overall health and wellness,” Mr. DuBow said“Our research shows that 58% of global consumers perceive a connection between the function of bacteria in the gut to wider aspects of well-being. In the US, 48% of consumers agree good digestive health is important for overall well-being.”

People are increasingly interested in the many aspects of healthy aging, said John Quilter, global proactive health vice president for Kerry Ingredients. He cited Innova reports that said nearly three-quarters of the oldest adults say that healthy aging is very important to them, and half of Generation Z are taking steps to age healthfully. People are aware of the power of antioxidants and superfoods like botanicals and omega-3s and want those benefits incorporated into their daily diets, he added.

“While demand for immune and digestive benefits has historically been very high, consumers are also seeking additional benefits directly related to healthy aging, like support for heart, brain, eye and joint health, as well as stress and sleep management,” Mr. Quilter said. “Although supplements remain a strong category for these benefits, consumers are turning to everyday foods and beverages to incorporate these benefits directly into their diets.”

Ms. Badaracco said that energy is the No. 1 benefit consumers are seeking. But she made a distinction between consumer surveys and what she called media-driven consumer issues in health and wellness. She said obesity concerns lead that list, and cognitive function is next.

“Cognitive function is No. 2 because of stress, sleep, anxiety, depression all caused by COVID, the Russia-Ukraine conflict, inflation and recession,” she said. “That’s why cognitive function is easily No. 2 for media concern. Energy also comes under cognitive function.”

This article is an excerpt from the November 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Fortification & Enrichment, click here.