Demand for good-for-you foods is surging as people focus on optimizing their wellbeing—the market for functional food ingredients is projected to reach $94.21 billion by 2023 (1). The list of trending functional ingredients is a long one, and with the COVID-19 pandemic, immune and digestive health are of major interest. That’s on top of the usual. Consumers are looking to lose weight, de-stress, energize, stay healthy, and just feel better, says Dave Rosenberg, Food Category Manager at NOW Foods. Today’s hot products, he says, incorporate CBD, collagen, turmeric, probiotics, prebiotics, proteins, and, of course, immune support ingredients.

Also trending, adds Jennifer Jimenez, VP/COO at Sun Chlorella USA, are nutrient-rich alternatives to flours and soy, as well as omega-3s.

In addition to getting the most nutritional bang for their buck, consumers are looking for brands they can trust. It’s about traceable and transparent ingredients, notes Samantha Ford, MS, Director Business Development at AIDP, Inc. “The general consumer is becoming more conscious about what they put in their bodies. People want to feel connected to a brand and are placing much more emphasis on clean, sustainable, better-for-you ingredients. Formulating with ingredients that have functional benefit also goes a long way.”

And regardless of whether consumers are following a flexitarian, plant-based, or conventional diet, the clean label movement persists because consumers continue to educate themselves on the transparency of the brands they support and the ingredients they use, adds Gary Augustine, Director of Marketing at Van Drunen Farms/FutureCeuticals.

Through it all, of course, flavor remains critically important. Eating healthy isn’t about sacrificing an elevated experience, says Yanni Hufnagel, Founder and CEO of Lemon Perfect. “We believe consumers are looking for more in their products. They want options that are full of flavor, have added function and are available at an affordable price point.”


Driving demand: Digestion & Immunity Boasting a long list of health benefits, probiotics are one of the top functional ingredients trending now, and consumers correctly equate them with overall good health, digestive support and immune protection, says Sam Michini, Vice President of Marketing & Strategy, Deerland Probiotics & Enzymes. Michini explains that Bacillus subtilis DE111 probiotic, Deerland’s top-selling functional ingredient, adds beneficial bacteria to promote bowel regularity and can be used in fruit nectars, sparkling waters, vegetable juices, frozen beverages, hot beverages, milk, milk alternatives, and powdered drink mixes.

A probiotic ingredient is also a top seller at Sabinsa. LactoSpore Probiotic, containing L(+) lactic acid producing microbial preparation from Bacillus coagulans MTCC 5856, can be incorporated into products ranging from baked goods, beverages oils and more.The benefits of probiotics as a functional ingredient are wide and varied, says Shaheen Majeed, President Worldwide at Sabinsa. The company’s research shows that LactoSpore can lower cholesterol (2) and improve mood (3). Majeed says it was shown to reduce cholesterol levels in cholesterol-rich foods, such as egg yolk (39.79%), chicken liver (45.44%), and butter (49.51%), when incubated for 24 hours in conditions mimicking the in vivo environment. And when it comes to mood improvement: “Adults with IBS showed improvement from coexisting depression when they took a probiotic, where the placebo without probiotic did not report the same improvement,” says Majeed. Following that finding, Sabinsa looked deeper to research the safety and efficacy of the probiotic strain for major depressive disorder (MDD) in these patients. The research team concluded that B. coagulans MTCC 5856 may serve as a new treatment option for major depressive disorder in IBS patients. (For a deeper dive into the benefits of probiotics, go here.)

Another immune and digestive support ingredient making its way into functional foods is chlorella—it’s available in Chlorella Udon Noodles from Sun Chlorella USA. “Our noodles are infused with chlorella, which is nutrient dense (vitamins and minerals like vitamins D, B12, and iron) and contains more chlorophyll than most plant foods,” says Jimenez. “Chlorella is also one of the only known plant sources of bioavailable vitamin B12– great for those who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet.”


Always Popular: Energy Functional goes hand-in-hand with active lifestyles, and while ingredients used for energy, strength and joint health have primarily been associated with body-builders, that paradigm is changing, says Ford. “Consumers seem to be incorporating a variety of mainstream food products into their diet that have some level of protein, versus relying just on high amounts from bulk powders.” To target collagen degradation and support  joint health, Ford says Turmacin, a clinically tested, water-soluble turmeric composition, is one of AIDP’s top-selling ingredients.

Another energy source comes from Bioenergy Ribose, a 5-carbon carbohydrate, which Marianne McDonagh, Vice President Sales, Bioenergy Life Science, Inc., says is the backbone of ATP structure for increased energy, improved performance, greater endurance, muscle recovery. “Bioenergy Ribose has a long-standing history of success and is widely popular in a variety of finished products ranging from dietary supplements, functional food and beverage, cosmetic, and animal nutrition."

For active lifestyles, heart health shouldn’t be overlooked. One of FutureCeuticals top-selling ingredients that appeals to several diet regimens is Nutrim. This natural beverage-ready oat bran powder, originally developed by the USDA, incorporates the health benefits of oats into food and beverage applications, says Augustine. “Nutrim makes it possible to add a smooth, creamy mouthfeel to clean label plant-based beverages, meal replacements, smoothies, and more—without stabilizers, gums, fats, or oils.”


Also Trending: Adaptogens, Antioxidants & More There’s an ever-increasing demand for new ingredients and products that offer consumers novel ways to look after their wellbeing, says Natalie Sexton, Vice President of Marketing at Natalie’s Juice. She says adaptogens are becoming a functional favorite. Natalie’s Juice offers a Holistic Line, crafted to offer functional properties that are made with staples in the functional world like Ashwagandha, which creates a mood-lifting product that may help balance the body, says Sexton. She adds that the company’s top-selling functional beverage is Resilient, made with blood orange juice, ginger, turmeric, black pepper, and elderberry, which boasts anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants.

Functional picks provide antioxidants and essential vitamins conveniently, notes Rosenberg. At NOW Foods, a few popular offerings include Organic Hemp Seeds, Organic Chia, Organic Flax, Organic Triple Omega Seeds, and functional teas. “Our hemp, chia, and flax seeds offer a vegan source of omega fatty acids, protein and fiber, while our teas have specific benefits associated with each herbal tea,” said Rosenberg. Another product, NOW Real Food Slender Sticks, adds a variety of daily vitamins for a well-balanced, fortified drink that includes B vitamins.

On the topic of vitamins, Lemon Perfect offers a shelf-stable, organic cold-pressed lemon water with hydrating electrolytes, essential antioxidants, and 100% of the daily recommended dose of vitamin C in every bottle. The drink comes in Just Lemon, Blueberry Açaí, Dragon Fruit Mango and Peach Raspberry flavors.

RECOVER 180° also offers a functional beverage that provides essential vitamins and electrolytes. “Being properly hydrated is an essential part of maintaining good health,” says George Bryson, COO. “Plus, you get the added benefits from herbal extracts to heal the body and fight inflammation, vitamins to boost immunity and restore the body's natural processes.”

Functional also offers a way to “sneak in goodness.” To help products meeting nutritional demands, VanDrunen Farms/FutureCeuticals offers TruServ whole food powders, which deliver the USDA MyPlate recommended serving or piece claim of a fruit or vegetable in “a convenient and defensible serving size” that  Augustine says makes it easy to sneak in fruit and vegetable servings into top grocery products—like bars, smoothies, chips, and baked goods.

Cauliflower is another ingredient that ups the goodness without sacrificing taste. Jeanne David, CEO and Founder of Outer Aisle, says the company’s Plantpower Cauliflower Pizza Crusts and Sandwich Thins offer an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich swap for carbs. “Our products are also low-glycemic, which is just as important a benefit when considering the ongoing diabetes crisis the country is experiencing.”


The Future of Functional Expect a change in consumer behavior due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumers have been stocking up on healthy shelf-stable pantry staples, and are likely to continue to do so once the pandemic is over, says Raquel Tavares, CEO/Founder of 4th & Heart, which offers Ghee, a superfood alternative to butter that contains a higher concentration of fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, K and CLA, omega fatty acids, medium-chain triglycerides.

“Consumers are looking for better-for-you products that fit their lifestyle,” says Hufnagel. That said, “The industry is still largely dominated by high calorie, high sugar options. Lemon Perfect hopes to be at the forefront of the better-for-you — for everyone – movement by making great-tasting products consumers, with the function and ingredients they need.” Hufnagel suggests retailers and industry professionals need to work together to change the perception of the health-food category as an “exclusive space” to open up the doors to a new consumer. “Transparency and education are key,” he says. “Consumers want to know how products can fit into their life.”

There are a few practical changes retailers can incorporate to provide education to their shoppers as well. Call out the benefits of these products on shelf, in promotional materials, and online, advises Rosenberg. In addition, sales flyers, website, emails and other digital promotions can support these efforts while educating consumers. Another option is to incorporate these products as ingredients into recipes and feature them in promotional themes such as heart health, energy, immune support, and stress relief campaigns.

And we can’t forget, going forward, that brand loyalty is a new normal, says Sexton. “We’ve found brand loyalty can be built through engagement and constant communication with our customers, creating memorable experiences, using data to really understand our audiences and distributing content that leaves a lasting impression.” WF


  1. Markets and Markets, “Functional Food Ingredients Market by Type (Probiotics, Prebiotics, Proteins & Amino Acids, Phytochemical & Plant Extracts, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Carotenoids, Fibers & Specialty Carbohydrates), Application, Source, and Region - Global Forecast to 2023”. Posted /2018. Accessed 5/1/2020.
  2. Majeed et al., “Evaluation of the in vitro cholesterol-lowering activity of the probiotic strain Bacillus coagulans MTCC 5856,” International Journal of Food Science and Technology, 2019, v64 (1), 212–220, doi:10.1111/ijfs.13926.
  3. Majeed et al., “Bacillus coagulans MTCC 5856 for the management of major depression with irritable bowel syndrome: a randomised, double-blind, placebo controlled, multi-centre, pilot clinical study,”  Food & Nutrition Research, 2016, 15(21) doi: 10.1186/s12937-016-0140-6.