The first functional consumables to enter mainstream American consumer consciousness were energy drinks and power bars, usually loaded with ingredients like caffeine and taurine for high-level, intense functioning.
Now, an increasing number of foods and beverages feature ingredients that help consumers go the other way.
Relaxation, calmness and stress relief are no longer the sole province of alcohol. Functional foods and beverages are now on the market with ingredients, both old and new, that purportedly help consumers to wind down, escape mental stress and, in some cases, get to sleep.
Brian Zapp, creative director with Applied Food Sciences Inc. (www.appliedfoods.com), sees a symmetry between the appeal of energy-enhancing products and the newer surge in products with relaxation appeal.
“Relaxation is seemingly the next wave in functional food and beverage innovation, as consumers look to reduce their stress levels and get to a point of restfulness at the end of the day,” Zapp says. “One of the influences on this growing market is consumer behavior. Consumers want to get more done, seeking one energy source after another in coffee, energy drinks and other stimulating solutions. However, what appears to be happening alongside the need for increased energy is almost a polar opposite: the need to relax, unwind, de-stress and achieve a restful night’s sleep.”
While most functional ingredients are marketed for more established benefits, such as digestive and cardiac health, stress relief is an emerging option, says Santiago Vega, director of marketing, nutrition and health for Naturex North America (www.naturex.com), a unit of Givaudan.
“Stress relief and relaxation is an emerging benefit that is very high in the areas of concern by consumers,” Vega says. “It is emerging in terms of solutions that consumers can find in the market.”
Naturex markets stress-relief ingredients including ashwagandha, an herb root sourced mostly from India, melatonin, chamomile, lemon balm and passion flower. These are now mostly used in hot teas and functional beverages, Vega says.
Calmness in a cup
Passion flower is an ingredient in Cup of Calm, an herbal tea from Traditional Medicinals (www.traditionalmedicinals.com). Herbal tea is a natural vehicle for relaxation-oriented ingredients, says brand manager John Churchman.
“Many consumers naturally associate hot herbal tea with relaxation; it is one of the most sought-after benefits within the category,” Churchman says. Besides passion flower, Cup of Calm features chamomile, lavender and catnip, all of which are classified as “nervines” – herbs that purportedly act on the nervous system to help relieve stress.
Kava is another ingredient primarily marketed as a stress reliever and sleep enhancer. Sometimes called kava kava, it’s the root of a shrub that grows in Hawaii and other South Pacific islands, where it has been consumed for centuries for its calming and soporific effects.
Applied Food Sciences Inc. sells it under the trade name Kavoa. Zapp says Kavoa is extracted in a way that enhances its content of kavain and dihydrokavain, which he says are “the two kavalactones that research suggest contribute the most significant effect on mood and sleep benefits.”
Kava is usually consumed as a beverage, but it’s turning up in foods also. Ozia Originals (www.oziaoriginals.com) markets Kava Kava candy, whose carton declares it “The Stress Candy – When nothing else relieves stress at work.” The candy is produced on the U.S. mainland, but the kava is sourced from Hawaii, says Steve George, “village chief” of Ozia Originals. It’s sold mostly online and in bars that specialize in kava drinks – a growing phenomenon in U.S. cities.