According to Label Insights, 67% of American consumers say they prioritize healthy and socially conscious food purchases (1). Unfortunately, being healthy is easier said than done and when dealing with the rapid pace of our modern lives, making the right choices is both more crucial and more difficult. That is why convenience-style items such as bars, chips, trail mixes, drinkable yogurts and RTD beverages that offer functionality such as protein, probiotics, immune support and energy have been booming. These offer health-conscious consumers an easy solution for satisfying cravings without guilt. Here is a breakdown of some trends driving the growth of functional foods and beverages.

Digestive HealthAwareness of the gut microbiome and its implications for our digestive and overall health is very high. Probiotics is the buzz word, associated not just with dietary supplements but also foods, specifically fermented foods. Specialty foods like kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi offer the unique tastes and functionality that consumers desire in their diets. Packaged Facts cites a 2017 national consumer survey that found approximately 25% of adults in the United States actively seek foods and beverages that have high probiotic and prebiotic content (2).

“Gut healthy attributes were consistently a top food trend for 2018, and we don’t see that changing anytime soon,” says Tim Lawlor, director of brand strategy for Farmhouse Culture, based in Watsonville, CA. “If anything, as more studies are conducted, and new benefits associated with probiotics and improved gut health are proven, we imagine the trend continuing to gain traction, with probiotic-rich products expanding into even more areas of the supermarket.”

Farmhouse Culture is in a unique position because it makes sauerkraut and fermented vegetables as well as probiotic beverages and chips, demonstrating the wide range of products probiotics have infiltrated. “Gut Shots were actually our second product line after Kraut, motivated by the desire not to waste all the beautiful probiotic-rich brine from the Kraut fermentation process,” explains Lawlor. “In the past few years, as people became more aware of probiotics and their benefits, our goal in creating the newer Sparkling Probiotic Beet Drink and Kraut Krisps was to make fermented foods more accessible to everyone.”

According to SPINS data for specialty retail (3), for the 52 weeks ending Oct. 8, 2017, the probiotic label claims for shelf-stable grocery were up 14.2% to $385.8 million and the greater grocery market for products containing probiotics is $483.9 million (3). The selection continues to grow as brands create new SKUs to meet consumer demand and taste that also compete with existing products.

Functional beverages like Farmhouse’s Gut Shots and Sparkling Probiotic Beet Drink are a creative response to kombucha’s immense popularity, with their similarly tart, vinegary flavor. Beverages such as switchel and apple cider vinegar drinks have also infiltrated the marketplace to a great degree further expanding on product offerings with that flavor profile. Live Beverages, based in Austin, TX, for example, offers kombucha and sparkling drinking vinegars, but has also expanded its offerings to a probiotic soda — an even more accessible product for consumers who are newer to functional beverages.

Indeed, carbonated, sparkling beverages are a big trend in the beverage category generally and functional food companies have taken notice. Most notably, Lifeway, a leading kefir company that offers a large variety of kefir SKUs with the same functionality in different textures and flavors has released a sparkling probiotic beverage line called Elixir. This offers a lighter, more refreshing contrast to the rich and tart dairy-based products it is known for. That being said, fermented dairy like kefir remains a strong staple in the functional food category. In fact, kefir was among the top Google searches in 2016.

Functional WaterFor most, the initial step of living a healthy lifestyle is cutting out unhealthy ingredients. The most common ingredient removed from the diet is sugar. According to Nielsen, 22% of Americans say they are restricting sugar intake and one in two Americans plans to reduce their sugar consumption and buy products that have “no added sugar” (1). Drinking more water is a big part of this, as most juices or carbonated beverages contain some level of sugar.

“In researching brand names our co-founder Rusty Jones came across the conversation on twitter with thousands of people sharing ‘I’m done with soda’, ‘I’m done with cupcakes’, ‘I’m done with vodka/wine’ ‘Goodbye sugar!’.... #hellowater,’” says Jax Turyna, national marketing manager, Hello Beverages LLC, based in Chicago, IL. “The one thing everyone knows they need to consume consistently to live a healthy lifestyle is water. So, our message is simple: Goodbye Sugar, Hello Fiber, hellowater.”

Hellowater is unique because it is infused with inulin, a soluble fiber. Soluble fiber aids in digestion because it becomes gelatinous during digestion, slowing down the emptying of the stomach, and can further support blood sugar health and lower bad cholesterol (4). Inulin, in particular, is a fructan which means that because of its molecular structure, it does not digest in the small intestine, but rather travels lower into the gut to function as a prebiotic, feeding beneficial bacteria (5).

“Our Co-Founder Tom Bushkie has been a nutritionist for 15 years and in his research and development of nutrition programs he saw that every diet contradicted each other except for three things: 1. Drink more water 2. Reduce or eliminate sugar 3. Add more fiber,” explains Turyna. “Over 97% of Americans DO NOT get their daily fiber intake and if they do it usually comes with added sugar and empty calories that are not needed in your diet.”

In addition to its health benefits, it is practical for the manufacturer. “We chose inulin as our fiber because it’s considered the ‘invisible fiber,’” says Turyna. “It has no taste, texture, or aroma. It mixes well with water and is very beneficial for the body. It also has a slight sweetness to it which allows us to use less Stevia in our products.”

Energy is the most typical function people desire. As a category, energy beverages are a great seller. According to Mintel, sales of energy drinks and shots in the United States grew 5.8% in 2016 and the researcher forecasts sales will rise 47% between 2016 and 2021 to reach a projected $19.2 billion in sales (6). However, because of evolving dietary habits, within the energy category, natural products have considerable value. While natural energy is less than 1% of the entire energy category, amounting to $64.9 million compared to the $10.8 billion conventional market, SPINS reports that its year-over-year growth is 16.2% while conventional remains static at 1.8% (6).

Part of the draw of natural energy is better ingredients and less sugar. Because consumers are turning to water to reduce their sugar intake, it only makes sense that someone would develop an energy water. “Soda sales are going down because people are realizing how unhealthy it is and just drinking two bottles of soda a day really adds up your calorie intake and the amount of sugar that you drink,” says Cataryna Ubertini-Pitts, imagineer for 3 Water, a division of EuroVita Corp., based in Huntington, NY. “Water sales have been going up in the past four years, steadily increasing so that’s why most brands are turning to look at functional water products.”

3 Water offers a high pH spring water, infused with electrolytes that has 50 mg of caffeine per bottle. This is less than most caffeine sources like coffee and tea.

“We did a lot of research and studies have shown that small amounts of caffeine throughout the day is much better for you,” says Ubertini-Pitts. “It’s something you can drink before, during and after your workout to get your energy flowing and get that extra kick you need to get you through the workout. And you can drink it throughout the day too because it’s not too much caffeine where you would get the jitters, but just enough to get a light boost.”

This encourages hydration because you can drink up to eight bottles of 3 Water before you hit the recommended limit of caffeine which is 400 mg per day, meaning you won’t get jittery or experience a crash.

TeaThe original functional beverages were teas. Not only can they give an energy boost, but herbal teas offer health benefits and have been used as remedies for generations. Teas continue to be a staple product, found in 80% of American households and continue to hold strong among millennials, 87% of whom are reported to drink tea (7). Wellness teas, in particular, have grown in sales by 5.8% and its sales are strongest in the natural channel, up 3.2% in that channel.

Consumers associate teas with wellness, drinking them when under the weather or to soothe nerves. Popular functions don’t differ too greatly from herbal supplement trends and manufacturers are understanding this. Buddha Tea, based in Carlsbad, CA, for example has released a CBD-infused tea, taking advantage of the phytocannabinoid trend and offering its customers an entry into this category.

“Since the launch of our CBD tea line, we’ve been overwhelmed with the response, and are, in fact, about to expand production with two new machines,” says Dina McQueen of Buddha Teas. “So, we can easily confirm that our CBD teas, crafted to include 5 mg water-soluble CBD in each teabag, are absolutely trending right now.”

CollagenBeauty from the inside out is really big in the natural product industry as nutricosmetics have seen a boom in product launches, with collagen-based products leading the pack. According to Innova Market Insights, collagen-based product launches rose 33% between 2007 and 2016 (8).

In North America, supplements have made up most of these launches, making up 64% — but snacks that make up 17% of launches grew 12.7% compared to supplements’ 8% growth. The ingredient has a substantial presence in the sports nutrition category in powders and proteins such as Ancient Nutrition’s Bone Broth Protein and Primal Kitchen’s Collagen Protein Bars. Powders such as Vital Proteins’ Collagen Creamers branch out beyond sports nutrition, giving consumers a more everyday application to consume their collagen to support health, including skin health.

Collagen for skin health has seen a big spike, with nutricosmetic products such as Neocell’s hydrolyzed collagen powder that’s tasteless and can be mixed into food and beverages to support skin health. Functional foods are taking advantage of this trend as well. Kalumi BEAUTYfood, for example, makes bars that contain 12 mg of marine collagen for bars, specifically marketed for skin health and healthy aging. The potential is huge for this category to stand beside digestive health and protein in the functional food space.

“We already see a change in people realizing there are other important ingredients to add to their regimen, like marine collagen,” says Jayla Harnwell, co-founder of Kalumi BEAUTYfood. “Beauty from within goes hand in hand with gut health and immunity. We believe there is a place for both gut and immunity focused products as well as functional ingestible beauty products, as they all contribute to a healthy skin, hair and nails.”

ProteinProtein content is perhaps the most consistent and growing reason consumers choose a product. According to the International Food Information Council, 66% of Americans tried to consume more protein in 2016, up from 54% in 2015 and 50% in 2014 (9). Protein bars accounted for $311.6 million in annual sales and 2.7% year-over-year growth. 52 weeks ending 2017-July-16). Bars,while still popular, have given way to other delivery formats, such as chips. Quest Nutrition, which is known for manufacturing protein bars, for example, has recently launched protein chips and Wilde Brands, which originally went to market with protein-rich meat bars, has moved away from that to manufacture chicken chips. Chips, it appears, are a more snackable and accessible option that attracts a wide swath of consumers.

Plant-based protein has seen the biggest growth, only accounting for $15 million but growing 167% year-over-year. Brands like OWYN, for example, present a direct alternative to brands that are animal-based with a line of plant-based protein powders, RTD shakes and bars. They also reflect a marketplace that is more flexible and not as binary as it once was. For example, proteins in general no longer so heavily market their products with musclebound body builders and brands like OWYN visually blend in more with the overall category, not placing a huge emphasis on being plant-based.WF

  1. “Fad or Fundamental? What’s Next for Health & Wellness in 2018.”, Accessed May 30, 2018.
  2. “Top 10 Food Industry Trends,” Packaged Facts. 2017
  3. “TREND ROUNDUP: Recapping Our Trend Predictions for 2017.” SPINSscan Natural and Specialty Gourmet (proprietary), SPINScan Conventional Multi Outlet (powered by IRI), 52 weeks ending 2017-Oct.-08.
  4. Chiarello. “Facts About Fiber.” WholeFoods Magazine., Accessed June 2, 2018.
  5. Spritzler. “Inulin 101 - A prebiotic fiber with powerful health benefits.”, Accessed June 1, 2018.
  6. Caballero. “Energy’s Evolution: It’s a huge category. But where do energy drinks go next?” Bevnet. 16(3): 46-51. 2018.
  7. Perkins. “Top 5 U.S. Tea Industry Trends.”, Accessed June 4, 2018
  8. Sarasqueta, “Trends in Collagen,”, Accessed June 3, 2018.
  9. “SPINSights: Protein.” SPINSscan Natural and Specialty Gourmet (proprietary), SPINScan Conventional Multi Outlet (powered by IRI), 52 weeks ending 2017-July-16.