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While fine food independents have mastered their corner of the market when it comes to delicious food and drink, supporting their passionate producers and celebrating their local community, there’s a sector which is yet to be explored to its full potential: functional health products.
Traditionally considered the preserve of specialist health food shops, products showcasing health-boosting properties have seen a real boost in 2020 – assisted by the pandemic for sure, as shoppers look to protect themselves from ill health – and this trend shows no sign of slowing down.
While the likes of supplements and tinctures may be pushing the envelope a bit too far, there are plenty of food and drink products which share a number of the credentials championed by the fine food sector. Short, clear ingredients lists, proven provenance and quality backed up by science are par for the course in the functional food arena; and with a growing number of shoppers seeking to boost their health in convenient ways which fit easily into their existing lifestyle, functional food and drink offers a potentially valuable new avenue for fine food retailers to discover.
“Following 2020, health and wellness is top of everyone’s agenda, and the nutritional benefit and goodness of the food we eat is paramount,” explains Dr Craig Rose, founder and managing director of Seaweed & Co. It’s up to the food and drink industry to explore ways to give shoppers what they want and need when it comes to health-giving foods, as well as to educate them on the various ways in which they can get involved.
The industry is full of products boasting health credentials – from healthy ‘shots’ and longer drinks from the likes of BumbleZest to Nooro’s snack bars – so there’s plenty for indies to choose from, and the list is growing.
When it comes to bridging the gap between wellness and fine food, “the most crucial overlap sits with the consumer’s desire for everyday indulgence,” explains Natalie Bucceri, MD UK and Europe at CBD brand Pollen.
“Fine foods have always enjoyed this with a proposition anchored in quality, provenance and sustainability. This is a newer concept for wellness, but the paradigm has shifted and rather than wellness being reserved for a subset of the population with a very results-driven mindset, it is now for everyone.”
Shoppers are now seeing health-boosting products as a new kind of indulgence, she explains. “As consumers seek out wellness offerings, it’s less of a chore and more of a personal luxury. A way of rewarding oneself with something positive and nourishing, however one chooses to define that ‘something’.”
While wellness’s traditional pillars of exclusivity, functionality and a high price point – as well as seemingly impenetrable terminology – slowly fall, it is taking on the kind of credentials that are familiar within the world of fine food. “Wellness is taking cues from fine foods in delivering on that promise of indulgence by focusing on quality of ingredients, craftmanship, transparency, sustainability and a sense of ritual, all of which I believe make it hard to dismiss and displace as a movement,” Natalie explains.
Zoe Lind Van’T Hof, co-founder of Wunder Workshop agrees. “To fit within an independent fine food retailer setting, a wellness product needs to be of a unique quality with an interesting story,” she says. Not only that, but indie retailers may be surprised to find that some of the ingredients in such products are familiar and already popular with their customer base.
“We can often get caught up in wellness being about the latest innovations, trends and ingredients, but when we take a step back, some of the most common spices such as turmeric and ginger come with so many health benefits. There’s an endless array of ways to use them in food, in teas and in tonics.”
Wunder Workshop’s Golden Turmeric is a strong seller for the brand, boasting single origin, 100% organic and ethically-sourced credentials.
Independent fine food shops have long welcomed a customer base which is looking for something different to what they can find in the mainstream retailers, “whether that’s based on provenance, flavour or carefully sourced, rare ingredients they might have read about but not seen elsewhere,” says Zoe. “We’ve noticed a significant rise in interest in adaptogenic mushrooms as a food supplement this year. We put this down to various nature documentaries about fungi, and scientific papers proving their varied health benefits.”
A familiar food which still provides intrepid foodies with an opportunity to explore new opportunities, mushrooms with health-boosting credentials are a natural fit for independent fine food retailers, as is seaweed – an ingredient championed by Dr Craig Rose of Seaweed & Co. “Seaweed offers excellent benefits to health but is often a forgotten food and still a little daunting to consumers,” he says.
“For this reason, Doctor Seaweed’s Weed & Wonderful offers products that provide the pure sea goodness and health of seaweed in easy-to-use and attractive formats, including nutritional supplements and culinary infused oils.”
Doctor Seaweed’s Weed & Wonderful infused oils offer the perfect opportunity for independents to offer their customers a culinary experience they’ll enjoy, while simultaneously educating them on the health benefits of their key experience. The wellness credentials of seaweed are so potent that the Weed & Wonderful team also offers nutritional supplements based around the ingredient, including a newly launched variant focusing on immunity health as well as the thyroid function, cognitive and psychological benefits offered by the rest of the range.
“With the multi-award winning culinary infused oils, seaweed is introduced into people’s diets in ways they can really love and enjoy too,” says Craig. “Doctor Seaweed’s mission is to demonstrate to everyone that seaweed isn’t weird, it’s wonderful!”
While it’s not only Covid-19 that’s behind the rise in popularity of healthy and functional foods, it has certainly played its part during 2020 – and its impact is sure to be felt throughout 2021 also.
The numbers give us a clear indication of the opportunity we’re now facing; according to research carried out by Smartbrief, 29% of shoppers are purchasing more functional food and drink products than ever before. And this is a global opportunity – ReportLinker estimates that the worldwide wellness industry will be worth $1 trillion in the next seven years.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, immunity-boosting products have seen the sharpest rise in sales since the outbreak of the pandemic. Turmeric and ginger, stalwarts of the spice cupboard for generations, are now enjoying renewed importance as an immune booster, while apple cider vinegar – a headline trend for the past few years – is also seeing increased sales thanks to its immunity credentials.
“As chronic stress, burnout and general lifestyle-led illnesses have become increasingly commonplace, more people have looked to take a long term, preventative approach to their health – starting with what they put in their bodies,” says Wunder Workshop’s Zoe – and this reshaping of shoppers’ lifestyles is at the root of the wellness and food opportunity.
As consumers continue to educate themselves on the health benefits and functionality of everyday foods – such as teas, herbs and spices – they become “more open to experimentation,” she says. “The idea that food is a form of medicine, and a vital source of nourishment and healing has become more mainstream. There is simply more demand for wellness food and drink products now than there was before.”
There have been plenty of headlines centred around CBD over the past couple of years – the latest relating to the early 2021 deadline by which time all makers of CBD products must have applied for authorisation of novel food status – but the interest coming from shoppers is still strong.
“CBD is such a dynamic category that is piquing the interest of a growing cross-section of consumers,” says Pollen’s Natalie. While its effects remain officially unproven, “CBD’s growth has been catalysed by its ability to tap into relevant consumer themes such as wellness, plant-derived, sleep-aid and anti-inflammatory, and because of that I’m certain its growth will sustain. I believe it offers an opportunity for retailers to expand and bring vibrancy to their shelves.”
When asked if independents should feel nervous about the changing regulatory environment around CBD – and the safety of its consumers – Natalie explains that the industry is “moving towards a clearer framework which puts consumer safety at the core.” Thankfully, she says, “most players appear to be stepping into line.”
Once the CBD sector is fully regulated we’re sure to see an explosion in consumer interest, a rise in what has already proven to be an intriguing product category for health and lifestyle-conscious shoppers. “With increased regulation will come certainty and trust, and with that certainty we can establish a strong foundational base upon which to build ‘best-in-class’,” says Natalie. “Once that bar is set the fun will really begin as everyone works in trying to raise it. It should be win-win for everyone!”
While the wellness category isn’t anything new – it has been in the UK market for a few years now – it is evolving in ways that could well prove to be a boon for the fine food industry.
“Covid has shown us that real nourishment needs to come from good quality ingredients,” explains Zoe. “Come 2021, I hope we will see wellness food brands focus more on truly natural products, minimally processed, sourcing ingredients from sustainable farming practices” – all credentials that fine food shoppers are sure to get on board with.
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