Beyond Protein: A Look at the Next Wave of Functional Ingredients

There are few things more personal than one’s health. 

When it comes to nutrition and wellness, each person is unique in what they need to feel and perform their best.

For this reason, companies and consumers alike are realizing that it’s time to leave behind the traditional one-size-fits-all approach and put control back into the hands of the individual.

This more “tailored” view of health and nutrition has continued to gain momentum, especially over the past year, so much so that I ranked it as one of the Top 4 Food and Beverage Trends for 2024.

While many turn to supplements (36% of US consumers), nearly 1 in 3 are choosing foods that can support specific body functions, a number that is sure to grow.

funtional food and ingredients

Although protein remains in the spotlight, with 42% of consumers globally seeing it as the most important ingredient, many other functional ingredients are rapidly gaining in popularity and significance.

Beyond basic nutrition, these “functional” food and beverage offerings can provide consumers with targeted health benefits ranging from gut health to stress reduction, immunity boosting, and more.

Let’s look at a few of the functional ingredients that are on the rise and the opportunities they can present for developers looking to innovate in this space.

Gut Health

functional ingredients prebiotics

People are becoming increasingly aware of the knock-on effects of having a healthy microbiome, or worse, an unhealthy one. 

This is why, among all other functional benefits, gut health remains a top priority.

Though probiotics continue to be the primary functional ingredient in this sub-category, fiber, prebiotics, and even post-biotics are each poised to grow in the coming years.  

Prebiotics, in particular, have already shown tremendous promise, doubling their launch claims from 2018 to 2022.

During that same span, “gut health” was the largest functional beverage market segment, representing 26% of all launches. Unsurprisingly, dairy drinks accounted for over half of these products.

I believe that this could lead to fermented dairy products like yoghurts and kefirs piggybacking off the growing desire for these specific health benefits. 

Adaptogens & Nootropics

Out of all the ingredients on this list, adaptogens and nootropics are the most likely to go from niche to mainstream.

Adaptogens are ingredients (primarily herbs and roots) used to support your body’s ability to handle both physical and mental stress.

Popular Adaptogens:

  • Ashwagandha
  • Ginseng
  • Maca Root
  • Reishi

Nootropics, on the other hand, are substances that allow the brain to function more productively in any number of ways, including focus and concentration, creativity, etc.

Popular Nootropics:

  • Lionsmayne
  • L-Theanine
  • Ginko Biloba
  • Caffeine

With a lot of overlap between functionality, many of the ingredients on these lists could fit under either category. Regardless of how you classify them, their benefits can be a game changer for consumers struggling with stress or just looking for that extra mental edge.


From A to Zinc: Vitamins & Minerals

Next to gut health, immunity is a significant concern for most. This could be why, in the US, 36% of consumers regularly take multivitamins or minerals.

Now, however, more and more people are choosing specific vitamins and minerals for their targeted benefits.

Zinc, for example, in addition to immune support, could act as an antioxidant or be used for possible anti-inflammatory properties.

The various B vitamins (B2, B6, B12, etc.) can help improve immunity, boost energy levels, and even have potential nootropic effects.

Here in Europe, vitamin D becomes essential, especially in the winter, for a variety of reasons.

The list can go on, which means so can the number of opportunities for innovative and delicious product offerings.

vitamin and minerals

All the benefits, without the commitment

Even though the demand for these functional products is apparent, consumers still need to experience the benefits for themselves.

How do you get them to try something new?

Due to their convenience and the lack of emotional commitment needed, snacks and beverages can be the perfect avenue for your functional development.

Still, perhaps the most crucial question is, once they’ve tried it, how do you keep them coming back for more?

As Dr. Bernd Koehler, Edlong’s Global VP of R&Doutlined in a recent article, despite their benefits, many functional ingredients come with inherent challenges regarding taste and ensuring bioavailability.

You don’t have to struggle.

At Edlong, that’s what we’re here for.

Reach out to our team of scientists for great ingredient and formulation advice for your next project, and know you are in the right flavour partner’s hands!

About the Author: Anne Marie Butler, Global Director of Strategy and Innovation

I help food stakeholders from startups to CPGs solve complex flavor problems and accelerate innovation within the food space. Through my 15+ years of experience, I’ve gained skills as a food technologist, thought partner, and leader. My clients and team appreciate my collaborative, humanistic approach to problem solving. In an increasingly tech-centric world, I think that human connection is the source of innovation. Through my work, I’ve realized how important it is to be more proactive about inviting stakeholders into conversations around flavor innovation. I’m not working alone, and I don’t want to be thinking alone either.

Topics: Functional Foods
Resource Type: Article
Resource Region: EULATAMUS


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