Standing Out: Differentiating Your Functional Food & Beverage Products

With the wave of functional foods and beverages flooding the marketplace, how can you make sure yours is getting noticed?

Jessa Friedrich, MBA, Edlong’s Senior Digital Marketing Manager, says, “Successfully marketing functional products is really going to come down to one thing: differentiation.”

Brand Power 

Nothing is more powerful than one’s belief in a brand.

However, in recent years, even that is struggling under the weight of economic uncertainty. Data from SAP Emersys’s 2023 Consumer Loyalty Index global survey shows that “brand loyalty” saw a double-digit drop from 79% to 68%. In the US alone, 18% of consumers stated that they can no longer afford to stay loyal.

Yet, despite this reality, in the soon-to-be crowded functional food and beverage market, trust and faith in your brand will be necessary. This is especially true when we consider these products often introduce unique, and often new, ingredients with specific health benefit claims.

protein bars

When looking at the top factors influencing food and beverage purchase decisions globally, Ingredion’s 2023 Atlas survey listed them in the following order:

  1. Brand 
  2. Ingredient List 
  3. Ingredient Claims
  4. Nutritional Information
  5. Health Claims

That same survey found that 75% of respondents were willing to pay more for products that could offer “health benefits such as digestive health and immunity” and “high protein”.

But what does all of this actually mean for your functional products?

If nothing else, it shows the importance of positioning your brand as one that consistently delivers for consumers.

Still, “Knowing where to start when entering this new frontier can be difficult,” says Friedrich  

She believes, “The best place to start is to look closely at your target market.”

Defining Demographics: Understanding Your Consumer 

Friedrich explains how specificity is critical when identifying your demographics due largely to the targeted nature of functional products and their benefits.

“People are turning to these functional ingredients for specific benefits, but not each appeals to everyone. You have to ask yourself, are they Millenials and Gen Z, or are they older? Are they women? Or maybe even older women seeking relief from, say, menopause symptoms? Could your brand align with the far-reaching larger conversations already happening around foods offering relief for that audience?”

Answering these questions is a necessary step in pinpointing exactly which ingredients and benefits best align with your target demographics. With that said, the groups desiring each benefit can often overlap. 

woman drinking coffee

A need for better gut health or stress reduction, for example, can apply to almost anybody.  Making your product stand out, means understanding what each benefit means for the individual.

“Regardless of who you decide to focus on when marketing functional products, CPGs (Consumer Packaged Goods) are not marketing a snack or a drink – they are marketing a lifestyle improvement. Resonating with consumers comes from connecting with them over the benefits that come with choosing to make that lifestyle improvement.”

For younger consumers, these products can help them keep up with their active lifestyles and help improve their health without missing a beat. With the aging population, there is a ton of opportunity to improve immunity, cognitive function, and energy levels. All of which can help them enjoy their golden years without the worry.

Answering these questions can lead you to choose the right benefits for your consumers, but that’s only the beginning. This knowledge will be needed to find the right fit for everything else that goes into your product.

Figuring out Function, Form, & Flavor

functional beverages

From a bird’s eye view, the functional benefits consumers seek right now can range from mood and cognitive function enhancement to increased energy and gut health.

As a developer, there could be several different ingredients to choose from to target any one of these benefits.

However, as important as choosing your functional ingredient is, truly differentiating your product needs to be a balance of function, form, and flavor. 

For example, someone looking for increased energy could opt for a beverage containing anything from ginseng to B vitamins or even caffeine. They could also opt to get the sustained impact and bonus of satiety that protein has to offer and their daily dose of Vitamin B. 

Additionally, some consumers may care more about the effectiveness of health claims, while others are more concerned with clean and natural ingredients. This can impact the source of a functional ingredient but also your choice of other components like flavor.

Then, not just limited to protein, you have to ask if they are looking for something plant-based or if a product containing dairy could be the best solution.

In fact, Friedrich sees these functional products as a unique opportunity for dairy manufacturers, “This is one of the first big trends in a while that dairy manufacturers can capitalize on and make a case for themselves to compete with plant-based alternatives when it comes to health. Yogurt and fermented dairy are already leaders in gut health, but shifting from other traditional products to focus on functional benefits and ingredients could prove to be a big win for dairy.” 

Thanks to their inherently indulgent tastes and textures, products like yogurt, cheese, and dairy milk are already some of the top healthy snack choices for many consumers.

girl drinking milk

On the other hand, she adds that plant-based food manufacturers can also take advantage of the demand for functional products. 

“In an increasingly crowded plant-based market, functional ingredients offer a way to differentiate against competitors as well as an opportunity to innovate with flavors. This is because the consumers of both plant-based and functional products tend to be more interested in trying new, trendy products. Plant-based brands can also leverage functional ingredients to potentially also draw in a whole new group of consumers seeking the functional benefits a product provides rather than having to lean on the product being plant-based as the only health selling point.”

In the end, even if you pick the perfect application that can deliver the health benefits your consumers need, what they will remember most about your brand is the taste.

At Edlong, that’s what we’re here for, to focus on taste.

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

About the Author: Jessa Friedrich, Senior Digital Marketing Manager

Jessa has over 12 years of experience in Marketing as well as a Bachelor of Science and MBA in the field. She has also been a keynote speaker and hosted various roundtables at conferences speaking on the use of digital marketing and market trends to drive business growth. She has been at Edlong for over three years working her way up in the marketing department. She works with their global R&D and Sales teams to identify and explore future trends in the food and beverage industry.


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

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