As someone mindful of her digestive health, I tend to be aware of the impacts certain foods and beverages might have when it comes to my own digestive issues. As such, I try to be mindful of what I put into my body.

Still, it wasn’t until the COVID-19 outbreak that I began focusing more on immune health and its connection to digestive health. Because the pandemic caused many of us to focus on our overall well-being as well as our immune systems, I feel it’s safe to say I’m not alone. 

According to new research by Kerry, Beloit, Wis., immune, gut and heart health continue to be important concerns for functional beverage consumers, while beauty and sports performance are on the rise. 

To learn more about consumers’ changing priorities and preferred ingredients in functional and fortified beverages, the company notes that it surveyed more than 10,000 consumers from 18 countries across North America, South America, Europe, the Asia Pacific, South Africa and Australia.  

“The research found that immune support is still the highest health priority for consumers and is a particular focus not only in the U.S. and U.K., but also across developing markets including Guatemala, Brazil, South Africa, the Philippines and India,” it says. “A total of 53% of global consumers are interested in beverages containing ingredients specific for immune support but want to see science-backed ingredients, citing vitamin blends, omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics as the top ingredients on their radar.

“Although the overall taste experience is vital, the primary focus of consumers is on the nutritional impact of these products and the quality of ingredients used in them,” it continues.

Moreover, as need states can differ by age and life stage — implying a need for customized and personalized solutions, the research indicates a holistic need to improve inner and outer wellness, the company notes. 

“Consumers are also more proactive and have come to understand the link between long-term health and nutrition and achieving their beauty goals,” it says. “A desire to address weight management, heart health, muscle recovery, energy, endurance and bone health all point to a desire for all-round wellness.”

Further, a preference for beverages supporting skin and hair beauty was more pronounced in several developing markets, “and continues to be a priority in leading markets including the U.S. and U.K.,” it says. 

“New product launches containing collagen have risen by 19% over the past four years and products containing biotin have risen by 14% during the same period,” the company notes, citing 2022 research from Innova. “Meanwhile, products geared toward sports performance, muscle recovery and endurance are also no longer the preserve of athletes; they are high on the agendas of many thousands of ‘weekend warriors’ who are keen to lead a healthy and active lifestyle.”

In a statement, commenting on the findings, Soumya Nair, global director of consumer research and insights at Kerry said: “A significant opportunity exists in the functional and fortified space, with the conventional line between supplements and beverages blurring. According to our research, a total of 86% of consumers stated they would pay a premium for food and beverages with added functional benefits.

“Consumers today have compounding need states,” Nair continues. “While their top priority need states remained consistent over the years, there is growing focus on balance — balancing beauty with digestive support, immunity with sports performance, as consumers seek their personalized idea functional and fortified solution. To win in this space, manufacturers need to create products that support top concerns such as immune, digestive, cognitive, joint and heart health, and include science-backed functional ingredients to increase credibility.”

With more consumers looking to beverages that help balance health and performance, it appears the beverage-makers that can deliver on these attributes will be the winners of product innovation.