SAN FRANCISCO — Adaptogens are expected to see significant demand in the coming year as consumers look to manage heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
Consumers in 2020 reported a 30% spike in stress during the pandemic, according to data from Spoonshot, a food and beverage innovation intelligence company.
“Social isolation, concerns over getting sick, losing loved ones, financial uncertainty, job security and childcare have been attributed to these heightened stress levels faced by consumers today,” said Kishan Vasani, co-founder and chief executive officer of Spoonshot, during a March 12 presentation at the virtual Future Food-Tech summit. “Many mental health professionals expect far-reaching, long-term effects of the pandemic upon people's mental and emotional well-being.”
The increase in stress and anxiety is driving heightened awareness of adaptogens. Consumer interest in adaptogens grew 55% in 2020, with online conversations around adaptogens increasing eightfold, according to Spoonshot.
“Adaptogens have no clinical definition, but their use can be traced back to traditional Chinese medicine,” Mr. Vasani said. “They’re now a growing fixture in the natural products industry. Research into adaptogens indicates they may be able to offer a number of benefits including anti-fatigue properties, enhancing attention and preventing stress.”
“Research into adaptogens indicates they may be able to offer a number of benefits including anti-fatigue properties, enhancing attention and preventing stress.” — Kishan Vasani, Spoonshot
Ashwagandha has received the most attention, accounting for a quarter of online conversations about adaptogens over the past 12 months. The majority of conversations centered around health concepts such as fitness, energy and self-care.
“Ashwagandha is now considered pretty much a mainstream ingredient in the US sleep support space,” Mr. Vasani said. “Research indicates that it could also help with stress management by lowering cortisol, boosting immunity and even improving athletic performance.”
Beyond sleep aids and dietary supplements, tea accounts for the largest share of recent product launches featuring ashwagandha, followed by spices and seasonings, desserts, energy drinks, chocolate, coffee and butter.
“Ashwagandha may help improve athletic performance, making it a natural fit for energy bars or energy drinks, especially for those who may want to avoid caffeine,” Mr. Vasani said.
Mindright, Los Angeles, offers a line of functional snack bars designed for mood enhancement and brain health. Its Good Mood Superfood bars combine ashwagandha with other ingredients like ginseng and MCT oil to promote calmness.
Other opportunities for ashwagandha include low- and no-alcohol beverages, such as Curious Elixir No. 3 from New York-based Curious Elixirs. The alcohol-free cocktail features 125 mg of organic ashwagandha extract per 11.2-oz bottle.
Mushrooms also have broken out into the adaptogenic space and are being incorporated into stress-reducing foods and beverages. Popular varieties include reishi, chaga, maitake, shiitake and lion’s mane.
“Our data show these mushrooms are still novel ingredients, so they have a moderate consumer liking score,” Mr. Vasani said. “The functionalities of these mushrooms can be enhanced by combining them with other ingredients, and their acceptance can be significantly improved through indulgent formats.”
Sacred Serve, Chicago, offers a Chaga Chocolate gelato. The plant-based frozen treat combines chaga mushrooms for antioxidants and immunity support with Peruvian maca for energy and Dominican cacao for mood enhancement.
One emerging ingredient within the world of mushrooms is cordyceps. With potential health benefits ranging from a stronger immune system, more energy, improved endurance and better stamina, consumer interest in cordyceps has grown 86% over the last 12 months, according to Spoonshot.
“Blending cordyceps into indulgent formats can make them easier to consume and increase the functionality of the final product,” Mr. Vasani said.
Los Angeles-based Addictive Wellness offers a caramel hot chocolate mix containing cordyceps, lion’s mane and tremella mushrooms. Deux Foods Inc., Los Angeles, offers a chocolate chip cookie dough featuring cordyceps and chaga mushrooms to help maintain healthy immunity.