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Functional Nutrition for Changing Consumer Needs

Albion Minerals®
Functional Nutrition Functional Nutrition

Fifty years ago, Kerry was a small dairy company in the southwest of Ireland. Today, it’s a global leader in sustainable nutrition, health and food and beverage ingredients. One of the reasons it’s been able to grow is its commitment to scanning the horizon and keeping in touch with the way consumers’ nutrition needs have changed with time.

And arguably, those needs are evolving more rapidly than ever before. Population aging has shifted priorities; areas, such as sleep improvement and stress reduction, are higher on the agenda, and consumers are increasingly aware of the complex links between their different health states. Meanwhile, research is continually telling us more about the potential of a range of ingredients—from ashwagandha to omega-3. Reflecting on both advances in science and changing consumer priorities, Kerry has recently made a series of additions to its portfolio, acquiring the latest science-backed products to help its customers meet the needs of today’s markets.

I’m not going to be so bold as to predict what the next 50 years will hold. However, the recent market research we’ve undertaken—including major global consumer surveys in 2019 and 2021—has allowed us to shed some light on the key trends that will shape the future of functional nutrition.

The Proactive Consumer

If we were to picture today’s “typical” health-conscious consumer, and ask them about their approach to nutrition, they might say something like, “I think I’m doing the right things, but I’m not complacent—I’m always open to changes in my diet that will help me stay healthy.”

In other words, they’re increasingly receptive to the idea of nutrition as a strategy to address their health concerns. This tendency toward a proactive, preventative approach has been growing for many years, but it has undoubtedly been accelerated by COVID. In our most recent survey, 44 percent of respondents globally said they had bought more dietary supplements since the outbreak of the pandemic, while 42 percent had increased their purchases of functional or fortified foods and beverages.1 This mindset is evident across all demographic categories—the motivation to take greater action on well-being was greatest among the youngest age groups (Generation Z and Millennials) and one of the oldest (Baby Boomers).2

Multiple Health Goals

Meanwhile, the range of health goals that consumers are looking to meet through nutrition is increasingly wide. Social and lifestyle changes are creating new health challenges in every area of their lives: heavy use of laptops, tablets, phones and other screens raises concerns for their eyesight while managing busy careers, or working toward academic goals, makes cognitive health a priority (according to FMCG Gurus, 66 percent of global consumers are now interested in cognitive health products, up 13 percent from three years ago.3)

Meanwhile, population aging means that health goals commonly associated with getting older are increasingly important. Among Gen X and older adults, heart health is seen as the number one benefit of functional foods, beverages and supplements4 and of all the functional products launched globally in 2020-21, a third carried a heart health benefit.5 Joint health is also a growing priority (sports and energy bars with joint health benefits grew at a 75 percent CAGR between 2017 and 2020).6 At the other end of the age scale, Millennials and Zoomers are exhibiting holistic approaches to wellness, and turning to functional nutrition to reduce stress and improve sleep.7

Consumers Are Doing Their Homework

The growing demand for functional foods and beverages means the launch of ever more innovative nutrition products. For consumers, the question becomes how to navigate a crowded market, while the big challenge for manufacturers is how to stand out from the crowd.

The answer to both is scientific substantiation. As consumers have (rightly) become more skeptical, they have also become more likely to do their homework and to expect to see the evidence supporting the claims made by brands. Thirty-six percent of Gen-X consumers, and 40 percent of Boomers, say they conduct their own research on ingredients and products.8 However, the tendency to ask questions appears particularly evident among Millennials, 75 percent of whom say they carry out extensive research ahead of a purchase.9

Similarly, nearly three quarters (74 percent) of global consumers are now more likely to pay attention to nutritional benefits when purchasing foods and beverages.10 In this climate, using clinically validated ingredients, and communicating transparently about their benefits, offers a significant competitive advantage.

Demand for Benefits in Everyday Products

Returning to our “typical consumer,” they’re not just focused on health, but also very busy. So, they want options that fit into their lifestyles easily. Often that means supplements in some form or another, whether that’s capsules or formats like shots or gummies (in some regions, for example, close to 70 percent of consumers now cite gummies as a top format for products with omega-3s).11

However, consumers also want to see functional benefits in their favorite food and beverage products. In the heart health space, for example, milk (either dairy or alt-dairy), is the fastest growing category in terms of global launches, averaging 28 percent growth annually between 2016 and 2020.

In the beverage sector, many younger consumers are turning away from alcohol13,14 as well as other categories commonly perceived as unhealthy, such as sodas. In fact, some research shows that the youngest consumers are now the least likely to buy traditional soft beverages.15 As they look for healthier options, there are great opportunities to create functional beverages that appeal to them.

Sustainability and Other Ethical Drivers

Finally, while a desire to improve health is obviously the most important motivator for consumers of healthy lifestyle products, it’s not their only consideration, and ethical purchase drivers are increasingly important. For example, almost half (49 percent) of consumers say they place a high value on sustainable practices in their buying decisions.16

Kerry has made the delivery of sustainable nutrition solutions a priority. The company’s recent goals have been advanced by acquisitions of leading companies that fit its vision, and sustainable sourcing has been part of that. Another key concern is whether suppliers and manufacturers positively support the communities that supply their raw materials.

Kerry’s ProActive Health portfolio is the result of its commitment to providing more sustainable nutrition to billions of consumers by offering solutions that are designed to be healthy, nutritious and tasty. Made up of trusted, science-backed functional ingredients, it’s aligned with the greatest current wellness concerns.

Food production and nutrition play pivotal roles in sustainability, as well as feeding a growing global population and supporting its health. As Kerry heads into the next 50 years of its journey, the company will do everything it can to help meet those needs. NIE


1 Kerry Global Consumer Survey, Digestive, Immune and Joint Health, 2021.

2 Kerry Global Consumer Survey, Digestive, Immune and Joint Health, 2021.

3 FMCG Gurus ‘The Growing Importance of Cognitive Health’, 19th May 2021.

4 Kerry Global Consumer Survey, Digestive, Immune and Joint Health, 2021.

5 Innova Market Insights, 2022.

6 Innova New Products Database, 2021.

7 Innova Market Insights, Trends Insider, Diet Principles and Health Needs by Generation, 2021.

8 Kerry Global Consumer Survey, Digestive, Immune and Joint Health, 2021.

9 Nutritional Outlook, ‘Ingredient innovation is on the rise for children and infant nutrition products, dietary supplements,’ November 17, 2020.

10 FMCG Covid-19 Survey, July 2020.

11 Kerry Global Consumer Survey, Digestive, Immune and Joint Health, 2021.

12 Innova Market Insights, 2022.

13 Oldham M, Callinan S, Whitaker V, Fairbrother H, Curtis P, Meier P, Livingston M, Holmes J. ‘The decline in youth drinking in England-is everyone drinking less? A quantile regression analysis’ Addiction. 2020 Feb;115(2):230-238.

14 University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation ‘More young adults are abstaining from alcohol’, October 12th, 2020.

15 Ingredient Communications ‘OK, Boomer: Survey highlights gulf between youngest and oldest consumers’, 7 December 2020.

16 The Conscious Consumer: Connecting With Health and Sustainability Priorities, Deloitte, 2021.

John Quilter has more than two decades’ experience in the agribusiness, food, beverage, nutrition and education sectors. In his current role, he manages the Kerry Proactive Health business unit which is responsible for Kerry’s ProActive Health portfolio.

Albion Minerals®