Adaptogens: super herbs or functional fad?

Adaptogens: super herbs or functional fad?

By
Laura Robinson
August 18, 2020

A sprinkle of schizandra. Then add some ashwagandha and a little lion’s mane. Sounds a little hocus pocus-y, right? In fact, these mysterious sounding ingredients do promise to magic away your stress and anxiety. But soon you won’t have to look much further than your local supermarket or your favourite hipster bar to check out this alternative alchemy. 

Over the last ten to fifteen years, adaptogens have made the leap from niche herbal product to functional foodies’ latest fad. Today, they enjoy a comfortable position in the $4.5 trillion wellness economy and the segment is expected to grow at a CAGR of 6.8% - potentially even posing a threat to popular CBD-infused products

From your morning cereal to your non-alcoholic cocktail on a school night, health and wellbeing entrepreneurs are finding new ways to harness the power of plants to help their customers chill out. But as these novel ingredients start appearing in more and more food and beverage formulations, how much do we really know about how these curious compounds interact with our bodies? Let’s get to know these super herbs a little better and meet the business owners and brands driving this trend.

So what are adaptogens?

Adaptogens are herbal and plant-based ingredients that supposedly help our bodies better handle stress. Used for centuries in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, they’re now making their way into commercially-produced Western food products. When it comes to how they work, modern research is still a little sketchy. But studies suggest that they benefit our adrenal system and regulate the release of stress hormones.

Adaptogens are typically made by crushing fungi, berries or the roots and leaves of plants into powders that can be added to food and beverages. Ashwagandha, moringa, schizandra, rhodiola, ginseng, maca and holy basil are amongst some of the most popular choices, with ashwagandha and ginseng in particular making up 46% of the market in 2020. But medicinal mushrooms, like reishi, maitake and shiitake are also growing in popularity. Traditionally, different adaptogens would be combined to combat specific health complaints.

Trend drivers: natural, functional foods that help us chill out 

Faced with a global pandemic and uncertainty about what the next few months will bring, many consumers are turning to functional foods to help them bust stress, reduce inflammation, strengthen their immune system and get a better night’s sleep. Millennial foodies in particular are always on the lookout for new ingredients to boost their health, making exotic-sounding adaptogens the perfect add-in for existing superfood products. 

Consumers are also feeling bombarded by headlines about antibiotic resistant disease and overreliance on prescription medicines. So they’re opting for alternative, natural remedies to help them chill out. And combined with growing numbers of sober curious consumers, naturally relaxing adaptogens are becoming a popular addition to non-alcoholic beverages, helping stressed young professionals let their hair down on Friday night, without the Saturday morning hangover.  

Product applications: functional beverages and healthy snacking

Traditionally, adaptogens have been taken as teas, tinctures or supplements. But modern entrepreneurs are increasingly integrating them into their plant-based superfood products. In fact, the functional foods and beverage segment makes up 50% of the market, with pharmaceuticals and sports nutrition coming in second at 34%.  

In the beverages category, focus has been on alternative milks and hot drinks, juices and non-alcoholic cocktails. Califia Farms drew on two of the leading functional food trends when creating their protein-packed Maca-’NIlla almond milk. Four Sigmatic developed a range of coffee and cacao drinks enriched with lion’s mane and reishi, alongside their adaptogen sampler shots. Boreal Botanical Brewery offers a range of sugar and alcohol-free tonics from medicinal mushrooms, including chaga. While brands like Kin and Curious Elixirs have created a range of non-alcoholic cocktails made from blends of superfoods, botanicals and adaptogens like gentian and rhodiola.   

Experts also see significant potential in the healthy snacking and breakfast categories. In spring last year, Naturebox, one of America’s most well known millennial food brands, released a new range of adaptogen-based snacks, including popcorn, cookies and energy bites. While London-based Raw Press, another leading health and wellbeing brand, developed a range of adaptogen granolas.


Meet the herb nerds: Alisa from Kindroot Adaptogems and Emily from OffLimits Cereal

Kindroot Adaptogems bagged second place on the FoodHack Discovery board earlier this month. The brains behind the brand, founder Alisa Pospekhova, is not only a health and wellness expert and self proclaimed herb nerd. She’s also an ex-marketing guru for a number of market leading brands, including Unilever, The Wonderful Company and Nestlé. Spotting that consumers wanted herbal health benefits but struggled to get excited about supplements, she launched a range of gluten free, low-sugar, adaptogen-infused vegan lozenges in November last year. After weighing up her options, Alisa decided to self-fund her startup to keep control over the direction of the brand and focus her time on product development. 

Emily Miller, on the other hand, is passionate about everything breakfast. She literally wrote the book on it. And she believes that if you don’t like what’s on offer, you should create something better yourself. So that’s exactly what she did. OffLimits Cereal - her unique ‘socially responsible cereal and culture brand’ - launched in July and secured sixth place in this week’s Discovery board. Her team’s two functional flavours are repped by unconventional cartoon characters designed to come to her Millennial and GenZ target customers’ rescue at their most wired or most tired. DASH, flavoured with coffee and cacao, picks you up, while ZOMBIE, infused with adaptogens like pandan, vanilla, and ashwagandha, chills you out. It’s still early days, but the team’s clever combination of a functional fix combined with a gamified approach to encouraging repeat purchases is likely to help this brand stand out from the standard cereal crowd.

Growing demand: focus on transparency and building consumer confidence

Despite a growing cohort of converts, the jury’s still out on the science behind adaptogens. Professionals tend to recommend them as a complementary remedy, alongside other stress busting approaches, rather than seeing them as a treatment or a cure for specific physical or mental conditions. So even market leading brands are still playing it safe by avoiding specific health claims and using disclaimers in their packaging and marketing materials. As with other functional foods, questions also remain about dosage and how long adaptogens need to be taken to be effective. 

To make it in the growing adaptogen market, fledgling companies will need to focus on transparency of sourcing and certifications and developing engaging online content to build consumer awareness and confidence and encourage them to give their super herbs a whirl.

The 30's pitch: Adaptogens

What:

Adaptogens are plant-based ingredients - like ashwagandha, moringa and ginseng - that are supposed to help your body better handle stress and anxiety. 


Why

Consumers - and millennials in particular - want natural, functional foods to help them better deal with everyday stress.


How:

  • Teas and coffee
  • Grab-and-go beverages, like kefir and kombucha 
  • Non-alcoholic cocktails
  • Healthy snacks, like popcorn and energy bites
  • Breakfast products, like cereal and granola 

Who:


The Good:

  • Adaptogens are likely to go down well as an additional ingredient in protein-powered or superfood-based products that already play into the wellness market. 
  • Experts see opportunities for further innovation in the healthy snacking and breakfast categories. 
  • New brands can use online e-commerce platforms to quickly test out demand for new products and provide potential customers with content about these novel ingredients. 


The Bad:

  • Clinical research on the effectiveness of many adaptogens is still rather sketchy. 
  • This makes it hard to figure out dosage and make firm on-pack health claims. 


The Bottom Line:

  • Adaptogens are a promising functional add-in for new or existing wellness-oriented superfood ranges - but be careful to communicate transparently and clearly about sourcing and health benefits.

Written by
Laura Robinson

From policy geek to digital consultant, Laura has always enjoyed bringing people together through words or tools to drive positive change. She is most proud of finally taking the leap into entrepreneurship by founding Pink Pear Agency - a network of passionate specialists who help food businesses grow innovative projects and share their stories with the world. Laura is currently interested in project development and management, digital tools, content strategy and copywriting.

Become a FoodHack+ member to get unlimited access

  • Read Unlimited Articles
  • Access Member Directory
  • Get Event Discounts

A sprinkle of schizandra. Then add some ashwagandha and a little lion’s mane. Sounds a little hocus pocus-y, right? In fact, these mysterious sounding ingredients do promise to magic away your stress and anxiety. But soon you won’t have to look much further than your local supermarket or your favourite hipster bar to check out this alternative alchemy. 

Over the last ten to fifteen years, adaptogens have made the leap from niche herbal product to functional foodies’ latest fad. Today, they enjoy a comfortable position in the $4.5 trillion wellness economy and the segment is expected to grow at a CAGR of 6.8% - potentially even posing a threat to popular CBD-infused products

From your morning cereal to your non-alcoholic cocktail on a school night, health and wellbeing entrepreneurs are finding new ways to harness the power of plants to help their customers chill out. But as these novel ingredients start appearing in more and more food and beverage formulations, how much do we really know about how these curious compounds interact with our bodies? Let’s get to know these super herbs a little better and meet the business owners and brands driving this trend.

So what are adaptogens?

Adaptogens are herbal and plant-based ingredients that supposedly help our bodies better handle stress. Used for centuries in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, they’re now making their way into commercially-produced Western food products. When it comes to how they work, modern research is still a little sketchy. But studies suggest that they benefit our adrenal system and regulate the release of stress hormones.

Adaptogens are typically made by crushing fungi, berries or the roots and leaves of plants into powders that can be added to food and beverages. Ashwagandha, moringa, schizandra, rhodiola, ginseng, maca and holy basil are amongst some of the most popular choices, with ashwagandha and ginseng in particular making up 46% of the market in 2020. But medicinal mushrooms, like reishi, maitake and shiitake are also growing in popularity. Traditionally, different adaptogens would be combined to combat specific health complaints.

Trend drivers: natural, functional foods that help us chill out 

Faced with a global pandemic and uncertainty about what the next few months will bring, many consumers are turning to functional foods to help them bust stress, reduce inflammation, strengthen their immune system and get a better night’s sleep. Millennial foodies in particular are always on the lookout for new ingredients to boost their health, making exotic-sounding adaptogens the perfect add-in for existing superfood products. 

Consumers are also feeling bombarded by headlines about antibiotic resistant disease and overreliance on prescription medicines. So they’re opting for alternative, natural remedies to help them chill out. And combined with growing numbers of sober curious consumers, naturally relaxing adaptogens are becoming a popular addition to non-alcoholic beverages, helping stressed young professionals let their hair down on Friday night, without the Saturday morning hangover.  

Product applications: functional beverages and healthy snacking

Traditionally, adaptogens have been taken as teas, tinctures or supplements. But modern entrepreneurs are increasingly integrating them into their plant-based superfood products. In fact, the functional foods and beverage segment makes up 50% of the market, with pharmaceuticals and sports nutrition coming in second at 34%.  

In the beverages category, focus has been on alternative milks and hot drinks, juices and non-alcoholic cocktails. Califia Farms drew on two of the leading functional food trends when creating their protein-packed Maca-’NIlla almond milk. Four Sigmatic developed a range of coffee and cacao drinks enriched with lion’s mane and reishi, alongside their adaptogen sampler shots. Boreal Botanical Brewery offers a range of sugar and alcohol-free tonics from medicinal mushrooms, including chaga. While brands like Kin and Curious Elixirs have created a range of non-alcoholic cocktails made from blends of superfoods, botanicals and adaptogens like gentian and rhodiola.   

Experts also see significant potential in the healthy snacking and breakfast categories. In spring last year, Naturebox, one of America’s most well known millennial food brands, released a new range of adaptogen-based snacks, including popcorn, cookies and energy bites. While London-based Raw Press, another leading health and wellbeing brand, developed a range of adaptogen granolas.


Meet the herb nerds: Alisa from Kindroot Adaptogems and Emily from OffLimits Cereal

Kindroot Adaptogems bagged second place on the FoodHack Discovery board earlier this month. The brains behind the brand, founder Alisa Pospekhova, is not only a health and wellness expert and self proclaimed herb nerd. She’s also an ex-marketing guru for a number of market leading brands, including Unilever, The Wonderful Company and Nestlé. Spotting that consumers wanted herbal health benefits but struggled to get excited about supplements, she launched a range of gluten free, low-sugar, adaptogen-infused vegan lozenges in November last year. After weighing up her options, Alisa decided to self-fund her startup to keep control over the direction of the brand and focus her time on product development. 

Emily Miller, on the other hand, is passionate about everything breakfast. She literally wrote the book on it. And she believes that if you don’t like what’s on offer, you should create something better yourself. So that’s exactly what she did. OffLimits Cereal - her unique ‘socially responsible cereal and culture brand’ - launched in July and secured sixth place in this week’s Discovery board. Her team’s two functional flavours are repped by unconventional cartoon characters designed to come to her Millennial and GenZ target customers’ rescue at their most wired or most tired. DASH, flavoured with coffee and cacao, picks you up, while ZOMBIE, infused with adaptogens like pandan, vanilla, and ashwagandha, chills you out. It’s still early days, but the team’s clever combination of a functional fix combined with a gamified approach to encouraging repeat purchases is likely to help this brand stand out from the standard cereal crowd.

Growing demand: focus on transparency and building consumer confidence

Despite a growing cohort of converts, the jury’s still out on the science behind adaptogens. Professionals tend to recommend them as a complementary remedy, alongside other stress busting approaches, rather than seeing them as a treatment or a cure for specific physical or mental conditions. So even market leading brands are still playing it safe by avoiding specific health claims and using disclaimers in their packaging and marketing materials. As with other functional foods, questions also remain about dosage and how long adaptogens need to be taken to be effective. 

To make it in the growing adaptogen market, fledgling companies will need to focus on transparency of sourcing and certifications and developing engaging online content to build consumer awareness and confidence and encourage them to give their super herbs a whirl.

The 30's pitch: Adaptogens

What:

Adaptogens are plant-based ingredients - like ashwagandha, moringa and ginseng - that are supposed to help your body better handle stress and anxiety. 


Why

Consumers - and millennials in particular - want natural, functional foods to help them better deal with everyday stress.


How:

  • Teas and coffee
  • Grab-and-go beverages, like kefir and kombucha 
  • Non-alcoholic cocktails
  • Healthy snacks, like popcorn and energy bites
  • Breakfast products, like cereal and granola 

Who:


The Good:

  • Adaptogens are likely to go down well as an additional ingredient in protein-powered or superfood-based products that already play into the wellness market. 
  • Experts see opportunities for further innovation in the healthy snacking and breakfast categories. 
  • New brands can use online e-commerce platforms to quickly test out demand for new products and provide potential customers with content about these novel ingredients. 


The Bad:

  • Clinical research on the effectiveness of many adaptogens is still rather sketchy. 
  • This makes it hard to figure out dosage and make firm on-pack health claims. 


The Bottom Line:

  • Adaptogens are a promising functional add-in for new or existing wellness-oriented superfood ranges - but be careful to communicate transparently and clearly about sourcing and health benefits.

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  • Read Unlimited Articles
  • Access Member Directory
  • Join a Global Community
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A sprinkle of schizandra. Then add some ashwagandha and a little lion’s mane. Sounds a little hocus pocus-y, right? In fact, these mysterious sounding ingredients do promise to magic away your stress and anxiety. But soon you won’t have to look much further than your local supermarket or your favourite hipster bar to check out this alternative alchemy. 

Over the last ten to fifteen years, adaptogens have made the leap from niche herbal product to functional foodies’ latest fad. Today, they enjoy a comfortable position in the $4.5 trillion wellness economy and the segment is expected to grow at a CAGR of 6.8% - potentially even posing a threat to popular CBD-infused products

From your morning cereal to your non-alcoholic cocktail on a school night, health and wellbeing entrepreneurs are finding new ways to harness the power of plants to help their customers chill out. But as these novel ingredients start appearing in more and more food and beverage formulations, how much do we really know about how these curious compounds interact with our bodies? Let’s get to know these super herbs a little better and meet the business owners and brands driving this trend.

So what are adaptogens?

Adaptogens are herbal and plant-based ingredients that supposedly help our bodies better handle stress. Used for centuries in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, they’re now making their way into commercially-produced Western food products. When it comes to how they work, modern research is still a little sketchy. But studies suggest that they benefit our adrenal system and regulate the release of stress hormones.

Adaptogens are typically made by crushing fungi, berries or the roots and leaves of plants into powders that can be added to food and beverages. Ashwagandha, moringa, schizandra, rhodiola, ginseng, maca and holy basil are amongst some of the most popular choices, with ashwagandha and ginseng in particular making up 46% of the market in 2020. But medicinal mushrooms, like reishi, maitake and shiitake are also growing in popularity. Traditionally, different adaptogens would be combined to combat specific health complaints.

Trend drivers: natural, functional foods that help us chill out 

Faced with a global pandemic and uncertainty about what the next few months will bring, many consumers are turning to functional foods to help them bust stress, reduce inflammation, strengthen their immune system and get a better night’s sleep. Millennial foodies in particular are always on the lookout for new ingredients to boost their health, making exotic-sounding adaptogens the perfect add-in for existing superfood products. 

Consumers are also feeling bombarded by headlines about antibiotic resistant disease and overreliance on prescription medicines. So they’re opting for alternative, natural remedies to help them chill out. And combined with growing numbers of sober curious consumers, naturally relaxing adaptogens are becoming a popular addition to non-alcoholic beverages, helping stressed young professionals let their hair down on Friday night, without the Saturday morning hangover.  

Product applications: functional beverages and healthy snacking

Traditionally, adaptogens have been taken as teas, tinctures or supplements. But modern entrepreneurs are increasingly integrating them into their plant-based superfood products. In fact, the functional foods and beverage segment makes up 50% of the market, with pharmaceuticals and sports nutrition coming in second at 34%.  

In the beverages category, focus has been on alternative milks and hot drinks, juices and non-alcoholic cocktails. Califia Farms drew on two of the leading functional food trends when creating their protein-packed Maca-’NIlla almond milk. Four Sigmatic developed a range of coffee and cacao drinks enriched with lion’s mane and reishi, alongside their adaptogen sampler shots. Boreal Botanical Brewery offers a range of sugar and alcohol-free tonics from medicinal mushrooms, including chaga. While brands like Kin and Curious Elixirs have created a range of non-alcoholic cocktails made from blends of superfoods, botanicals and adaptogens like gentian and rhodiola.   

Experts also see significant potential in the healthy snacking and breakfast categories. In spring last year, Naturebox, one of America’s most well known millennial food brands, released a new range of adaptogen-based snacks, including popcorn, cookies and energy bites. While London-based Raw Press, another leading health and wellbeing brand, developed a range of adaptogen granolas.


Meet the herb nerds: Alisa from Kindroot Adaptogems and Emily from OffLimits Cereal

Kindroot Adaptogems bagged second place on the FoodHack Discovery board earlier this month. The brains behind the brand, founder Alisa Pospekhova, is not only a health and wellness expert and self proclaimed herb nerd. She’s also an ex-marketing guru for a number of market leading brands, including Unilever, The Wonderful Company and Nestlé. Spotting that consumers wanted herbal health benefits but struggled to get excited about supplements, she launched a range of gluten free, low-sugar, adaptogen-infused vegan lozenges in November last year. After weighing up her options, Alisa decided to self-fund her startup to keep control over the direction of the brand and focus her time on product development. 

Emily Miller, on the other hand, is passionate about everything breakfast. She literally wrote the book on it. And she believes that if you don’t like what’s on offer, you should create something better yourself. So that’s exactly what she did. OffLimits Cereal - her unique ‘socially responsible cereal and culture brand’ - launched in July and secured sixth place in this week’s Discovery board. Her team’s two functional flavours are repped by unconventional cartoon characters designed to come to her Millennial and GenZ target customers’ rescue at their most wired or most tired. DASH, flavoured with coffee and cacao, picks you up, while ZOMBIE, infused with adaptogens like pandan, vanilla, and ashwagandha, chills you out. It’s still early days, but the team’s clever combination of a functional fix combined with a gamified approach to encouraging repeat purchases is likely to help this brand stand out from the standard cereal crowd.

Growing demand: focus on transparency and building consumer confidence

Despite a growing cohort of converts, the jury’s still out on the science behind adaptogens. Professionals tend to recommend them as a complementary remedy, alongside other stress busting approaches, rather than seeing them as a treatment or a cure for specific physical or mental conditions. So even market leading brands are still playing it safe by avoiding specific health claims and using disclaimers in their packaging and marketing materials. As with other functional foods, questions also remain about dosage and how long adaptogens need to be taken to be effective. 

To make it in the growing adaptogen market, fledgling companies will need to focus on transparency of sourcing and certifications and developing engaging online content to build consumer awareness and confidence and encourage them to give their super herbs a whirl.

The 30's pitch: Adaptogens

What:

Adaptogens are plant-based ingredients - like ashwagandha, moringa and ginseng - that are supposed to help your body better handle stress and anxiety. 


Why

Consumers - and millennials in particular - want natural, functional foods to help them better deal with everyday stress.


How:

  • Teas and coffee
  • Grab-and-go beverages, like kefir and kombucha 
  • Non-alcoholic cocktails
  • Healthy snacks, like popcorn and energy bites
  • Breakfast products, like cereal and granola 

Who:


The Good:

  • Adaptogens are likely to go down well as an additional ingredient in protein-powered or superfood-based products that already play into the wellness market. 
  • Experts see opportunities for further innovation in the healthy snacking and breakfast categories. 
  • New brands can use online e-commerce platforms to quickly test out demand for new products and provide potential customers with content about these novel ingredients. 


The Bad:

  • Clinical research on the effectiveness of many adaptogens is still rather sketchy. 
  • This makes it hard to figure out dosage and make firm on-pack health claims. 


The Bottom Line:

  • Adaptogens are a promising functional add-in for new or existing wellness-oriented superfood ranges - but be careful to communicate transparently and clearly about sourcing and health benefits.

A sprinkle of schizandra. Then add some ashwagandha and a little lion’s mane. Sounds a little hocus pocus-y, right? In fact, these mysterious sounding ingredients do promise to magic away your stress and anxiety. But soon you won’t have to look much further than your local supermarket or your favourite hipster bar to check out this alternative alchemy. 

Over the last ten to fifteen years, adaptogens have made the leap from niche herbal product to functional foodies’ latest fad. Today, they enjoy a comfortable position in the $4.5 trillion wellness economy and the segment is expected to grow at a CAGR of 6.8% - potentially even posing a threat to popular CBD-infused products

From your morning cereal to your non-alcoholic cocktail on a school night, health and wellbeing entrepreneurs are finding new ways to harness the power of plants to help their customers chill out. But as these novel ingredients start appearing in more and more food and beverage formulations, how much do we really know about how these curious compounds interact with our bodies? Let’s get to know these super herbs a little better and meet the business owners and brands driving this trend.

So what are adaptogens?

Adaptogens are herbal and plant-based ingredients that supposedly help our bodies better handle stress. Used for centuries in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, they’re now making their way into commercially-produced Western food products. When it comes to how they work, modern research is still a little sketchy. But studies suggest that they benefit our adrenal system and regulate the release of stress hormones.

Adaptogens are typically made by crushing fungi, berries or the roots and leaves of plants into powders that can be added to food and beverages. Ashwagandha, moringa, schizandra, rhodiola, ginseng, maca and holy basil are amongst some of the most popular choices, with ashwagandha and ginseng in particular making up 46% of the market in 2020. But medicinal mushrooms, like reishi, maitake and shiitake are also growing in popularity. Traditionally, different adaptogens would be combined to combat specific health complaints.

Trend drivers: natural, functional foods that help us chill out 

Faced with a global pandemic and uncertainty about what the next few months will bring, many consumers are turning to functional foods to help them bust stress, reduce inflammation, strengthen their immune system and get a better night’s sleep. Millennial foodies in particular are always on the lookout for new ingredients to boost their health, making exotic-sounding adaptogens the perfect add-in for existing superfood products. 

Consumers are also feeling bombarded by headlines about antibiotic resistant disease and overreliance on prescription medicines. So they’re opting for alternative, natural remedies to help them chill out. And combined with growing numbers of sober curious consumers, naturally relaxing adaptogens are becoming a popular addition to non-alcoholic beverages, helping stressed young professionals let their hair down on Friday night, without the Saturday morning hangover.  

Product applications: functional beverages and healthy snacking

Traditionally, adaptogens have been taken as teas, tinctures or supplements. But modern entrepreneurs are increasingly integrating them into their plant-based superfood products. In fact, the functional foods and beverage segment makes up 50% of the market, with pharmaceuticals and sports nutrition coming in second at 34%.  

In the beverages category, focus has been on alternative milks and hot drinks, juices and non-alcoholic cocktails. Califia Farms drew on two of the leading functional food trends when creating their protein-packed Maca-’NIlla almond milk. Four Sigmatic developed a range of coffee and cacao drinks enriched with lion’s mane and reishi, alongside their adaptogen sampler shots. Boreal Botanical Brewery offers a range of sugar and alcohol-free tonics from medicinal mushrooms, including chaga. While brands like Kin and Curious Elixirs have created a range of non-alcoholic cocktails made from blends of superfoods, botanicals and adaptogens like gentian and rhodiola.   

Experts also see significant potential in the healthy snacking and breakfast categories. In spring last year, Naturebox, one of America’s most well known millennial food brands, released a new range of adaptogen-based snacks, including popcorn, cookies and energy bites. While London-based Raw Press, another leading health and wellbeing brand, developed a range of adaptogen granolas.


Meet the herb nerds: Alisa from Kindroot Adaptogems and Emily from OffLimits Cereal

Kindroot Adaptogems bagged second place on the FoodHack Discovery board earlier this month. The brains behind the brand, founder Alisa Pospekhova, is not only a health and wellness expert and self proclaimed herb nerd. She’s also an ex-marketing guru for a number of market leading brands, including Unilever, The Wonderful Company and Nestlé. Spotting that consumers wanted herbal health benefits but struggled to get excited about supplements, she launched a range of gluten free, low-sugar, adaptogen-infused vegan lozenges in November last year. After weighing up her options, Alisa decided to self-fund her startup to keep control over the direction of the brand and focus her time on product development. 

Emily Miller, on the other hand, is passionate about everything breakfast. She literally wrote the book on it. And she believes that if you don’t like what’s on offer, you should create something better yourself. So that’s exactly what she did. OffLimits Cereal - her unique ‘socially responsible cereal and culture brand’ - launched in July and secured sixth place in this week’s Discovery board. Her team’s two functional flavours are repped by unconventional cartoon characters designed to come to her Millennial and GenZ target customers’ rescue at their most wired or most tired. DASH, flavoured with coffee and cacao, picks you up, while ZOMBIE, infused with adaptogens like pandan, vanilla, and ashwagandha, chills you out. It’s still early days, but the team’s clever combination of a functional fix combined with a gamified approach to encouraging repeat purchases is likely to help this brand stand out from the standard cereal crowd.

Growing demand: focus on transparency and building consumer confidence

Despite a growing cohort of converts, the jury’s still out on the science behind adaptogens. Professionals tend to recommend them as a complementary remedy, alongside other stress busting approaches, rather than seeing them as a treatment or a cure for specific physical or mental conditions. So even market leading brands are still playing it safe by avoiding specific health claims and using disclaimers in their packaging and marketing materials. As with other functional foods, questions also remain about dosage and how long adaptogens need to be taken to be effective. 

To make it in the growing adaptogen market, fledgling companies will need to focus on transparency of sourcing and certifications and developing engaging online content to build consumer awareness and confidence and encourage them to give their super herbs a whirl.

The 30's pitch: Adaptogens

What:

Adaptogens are plant-based ingredients - like ashwagandha, moringa and ginseng - that are supposed to help your body better handle stress and anxiety. 


Why

Consumers - and millennials in particular - want natural, functional foods to help them better deal with everyday stress.


How:

  • Teas and coffee
  • Grab-and-go beverages, like kefir and kombucha 
  • Non-alcoholic cocktails
  • Healthy snacks, like popcorn and energy bites
  • Breakfast products, like cereal and granola 

Who:


The Good:

  • Adaptogens are likely to go down well as an additional ingredient in protein-powered or superfood-based products that already play into the wellness market. 
  • Experts see opportunities for further innovation in the healthy snacking and breakfast categories. 
  • New brands can use online e-commerce platforms to quickly test out demand for new products and provide potential customers with content about these novel ingredients. 


The Bad:

  • Clinical research on the effectiveness of many adaptogens is still rather sketchy. 
  • This makes it hard to figure out dosage and make firm on-pack health claims. 


The Bottom Line:

  • Adaptogens are a promising functional add-in for new or existing wellness-oriented superfood ranges - but be careful to communicate transparently and clearly about sourcing and health benefits.

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