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  • Kathryn Ambroze

A Frank Discussion on Health & Nutrition Trends: Nutraceuticals - Foods That Perform Recap

Walking through any grocery store, it is clear that consumers are wanting more out of their products. Products featuring functional ingredients and nutraceuticals, from plant-based burgers to water with electrolytes, have become increasingly popular. However, exploring the world of nutraceuticals requires specialized knowledge and expertise. Our VP of Research and Innovation, Michelle Niedziela PhD, met with Alex Woo PhD, Martha Bajec PhD, Mackenzie Hannum PhD, and Michael Nestrud PhD to discuss the success and challenges of nutraceuticals, as well as how to explore the future of these “added benefits.”

What are nutraceuticals?

This discussion kicks off with Mackenzie Hannum explaining nutraceuticals. “Nutraceuticals is getting your extra bang for your buck or using food as medicine. That could include supplements or functional food that provides an additional health benefit.”

Alex Woo adds some insight into the distinction between healthy foods with benefits and supplements by explaining how supplements are regulated under DSHEA [Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act], while food and beverages (with or without added protein or fiber) fall under the FDA evaluation. Furthermore, Michael Nestrud clarifies that, in his definition, a nutraceutical is the whole product, not just the added ingredient, and he encourages researchers to think more holistically about how the overall product appeals to the consumer.

How does one ingredient play its part in the whole?

It didn’t take long for the conversation to become consumer-focused by diving into discussions about how to make the product make sense to the consumer. Further, they emphasized how consumer expectations must be met in terms of specific features like texture, taste, consistency, etc., when companies try to include new, enticing ingredients. Since the nutraceutical ingredient is one piece of the overall product, the success criteria expand from blending the ingredient into the product to incorporating the product into the consumer lifestyle (and understanding its impact).

This drives the question about what tradeoffs consumers are willing to accept for specific products. Martha Bajec warns these tradeoffs have potentially harmful concerns, especially when these products are being used as a health facilitator.

Sweet like Sugar

In the discussion of tradeoffs, taste remains at the forefront of priorities, leading Michael to list the numerous reasons why sugar is so prevalent in products. “It’s a magical ingredient. It delivers palatability, liking, and there’s no peak effect. It has the desirable texture and mouth-feel needed to meet expectations.” Sugar’s multipurpose makes it hard to replace because substitutes can’t cover all the functionalities without creating a complicated “taste baggage” concoction.

Before losing hope for sugar reduction, Alex mentions technologies attempting to fill the sweetness modulation, like using a bulking agent or perceptual constancy to compensate for less sugar.

Are nutraceuticals providing long or short-term benefits?

This depends on the usage of a product in order for it to have a benefit. This understanding must be effectively communicated to the consumer. Specifics about the product’s actives and intended health benefits also impact this, showing that overall short vs long-term effects are highly subjective.

Michael also shared how cues are necessary to help consumers feel an effect. “Consumers still like signals, and so I would encourage thinking through and building that into your products—what are the signals that this [effect] is real?”

Do we even NEED any of this?

The jury is still out on this question because it is very variable. While there is no “magic bullet” effect, some consumers do have deficiencies that may benefit from these nutraceuticals.

Keep in mind how culture impacts perception. The average consumer is exposed to so many product options, which can contribute to conditioning their perspective to believing it is something they should invest in. These motivations can be caused by anything from the consumer’s health or the health of the planet.

Can today’s trends last?

The panelists reminisced about old trends but collectively agreed that sustainable shifts in behavior come from real, authentic benefits. Some of their predictions for currents trends that will last include:

- Cannabinoids

- Good, quality ingredients

- Personalization

- Plant-based products

And, last but certainly not least…

- Nutraceuticals

If you are interested in learning more about how the world of wellness, including nutraceuticals, can be researched, please watch the full webinar available on HCD’s YouTube page or contact Allison Gutkowski at for any other inquires.



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