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The Functional Food Frenzy

Posted March 20, 2018

What if instead of swishing down multiple pills every morning you could get the same health benefits from a snack bar or beverage?

That's the driver behind the industry's most recent trend: Functional Food. More and more consumers are experiencing pill fatigue: feeling sick and tired of taking pills every day. Over half of Americans take prescription drugs and aren't interested in adding more pills to their regimen.1,2 This trend is forcing supplement companies to get creative with their delivery formats. Functional ingredients that were traditionally only found in supplements are now rapidly entering the food and beverage space.3 The pill fatigue epidemic is a key driver in the increase in popularity of functional foods. 

What is a Functional Food?

The term “functional food” is difficult to define and there is no standard definition that is recognized globally. Many consider it to be a marketing term. However, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics defines it as “whole foods along with fortified, enriched, or enhanced foods that have a potentially beneficial effect on health when consumed as part of a varied diet on a regular basis at effective levels.”4  

Increasing Demand

In 2016, the global functional food market was worth $159 billion and growing. Japan is expected to dominate the functional food ingredients market by 2026.5 Europeans are also warming up to this trend; 19% consume functional foods at least a few times a week and 16% consume functional beverages.6 Functional food and beverages are becoming more mainstream; these products are not only available at well-known health retailers, they are everywhere. 

The Beverage Market is Hot (and Cold)

The Nutrition Business Journal reported that the beverage market accounts for 63% of the U.S. functional foods industry.3 This already popular category is continuing to grow and consumers are looking for more options when it comes to drinking their nutrients. According to Euromonitor, global functional beverage sales increased by six percent in 2016.7 New product introductions increased by 19 percent from 2012 to 2016.8 Consumers are paying more attention to what they drink; they want their beverages to be natural, healthy, and energy-boosting.9 Beverages are often an optimal format for functional foods due to the ease of formulation and convenience for the consumer.10 Fruit smoothies, coconut drinks and functional coffee are projected to trend throughout 2018.8  

"Treat Yo Self" and "Treat Yo Health" with Snacks

Snacks account for 14% of the functional foods market in the U.S.3 Research from Mintel found that the top reason Americans snack is to treat themselves (50%) and nearly a third claim that taste is more important than health for their snacks. However, health is becoming more top-of-mind; 32% of consumers say most of their snacks are healthy and 28% said they are snacking on healthier foods than they were a year ago. Millennials report snacking more than any other generation (four or more times per day).11 Functional snacks present an attractive offer: “treat yourself” while treating your health.

Functional Foods Require Versatile Ingredients

Kemin Human Nutrition and Health offers a broad portfolio of functional ingredients in the categories of brain health, eye health, weight management, sports performance and immune health. Each product provides a safe, efficacious dose that can be formulated in a variety of applications. Kemin’s in-house Customer Lab Services works with manufacturers to test food, beverage and supplement applications for functional integrity. To learn more about Kemin’s functional ingredients or Customer Lab Services, fill out the form to the right.



1. Teresa Carr. (2017). “America’s Love Affair With Prescription Medication.” Consumer Reports. 

2.  America Heart Association Rapid Access Journal Report. (2015). “One in three people would risk shorter life rather than take daily pill to avoid heard disease.”  

3. Bill Giebler. (2017). “From Familiarity to Ubiquity.” NBJ 2017 Supplement Market Overview. 10. 

4. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Functional Foods. (2013) 

5. Maria Mascaraque. (2016). Ripe Opportunities for the Global Functional Foods Market. Nutraceuticals World. 

6. Functional Food Ingredients Market: Demand Growing on Account of Rising Awareness: APAC Industry Analysis and Opportunity Assessment, 2016-2026. (2016). Future Market Insights.  

7. Consumer Trends: New Beverage Options. (2017). Euromonitor. IFT. 

8. Innova Market Insights, 2018 

9. Consumer Trends: New Beverage Options. (2017). Beverage Industry's 2017 New Product Development Outlook Executive Survey. (2017). IFT

10. Schultz Hank. (2014). “Pill Fatigue is Driving Innovation in Space Between Functional Foods and Supplements, Experts Say.” NutraIngredients.  

11. “Mintel Finds Americans Snack as a Reward.” (2017) Nutraceuticals World. 

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