Ten Key Health and Nutrition Trends 2023
Innovation in research and technology make 2023 an incredibly exciting time for nutrition and health in the food and beverage world. Our trends look at what developments in research, technology, product development, and the consumer landscape are propelling the food and beverage industry, as well as global food system, forward.
What are the main things we all need to be aware of when innovating, developing new products, or taking care of our own health? We worked with our network of nutrition scientists, dietitians, microbiologists, food scientists, and regulatory professionals to provide some answers.
Our ten key health and nutrition trends for 2023 are:
Mega-Trend: Sustainable nutrition
Sustainable nutrition, which is delivering food that is mindful for the health of people, the planet, and society, has only become more important to embed into everything we do in the past few years. How will we feed a global population of 10 billion people by 2050? All of us have a role to play in developing solutions. Thinking additively about the four dimensions of sustainable nutrition below is a way to make strides toward a more sustainable food supply.
Growing areas in sustainable nutrition:
Upcycled food uses ingredients that otherwise would not have gone to human consumption, are procured and produced using verifiable supply chains, and have a positive impact on the environment. Expect to see new waste streams identified and upcycled, as well as innovation in processes and ingredients used in upcycling (e.g., sterilisation of waste streams like spent grain or coffee).
While the impact of climate change is global, those most vulnerable to its effects are people living in the world’s poorest countries due to limited financial resources to cope with disasters and a strong reliance on the climate and natural resources for food and income because these countries make up a high percentage of the world’s 2.5 billion smallholder farmers, herders, and fisheries. The 2022 Global Hunger Index report highlights that 44 countries are currently suffering serious levels of hunger. The report estimates that 828 million people are currently undernourished, with parts of Africa south of the Sahara and South Asia having the highest hunger levels and being the most vulnerable to future shocks.
The need to transform food systems to ensure resilience to climate change and other external pressures is well recognized, yet in climate change discussions it has not always been prioritized. Food systems transformation needs careful consideration and urgent action to push past the current stagnation and to ensure that no one is left behind.
Biodiversity is fundamental to human well-being, the planet, and economic prosperity for all people. Earths rich biodiversity is depended on for food security, medicine, energy, clean air and water, security from natural disasters as well as recreation and cultural inspiration, and it supports all systems of life on earth. Climate change and human practices are threatening biodiversity loss with an average of around 25% of species of animal and plant groups at risk of extinction. In December 2022, the COP15 UN Biodiversity conference in Montreal announced a landmark agreement to protect 30% of land, sea, and nature by 2030. The tagline for the proposal is COP15: achieving 30×30. The deal will mark history, as the 2015 Paris agreement did for climate, and its framework includes objectives for the preservation and restoration of ecosystems — like wetlands and rainforests while also appreciating the importance of indigenous peoples in the preservation of biodiversity. Indigenous peoples make up around 5% of the world’s population but they protect 80% of its remaining biodiversity.
Diversity is also critical for agriculture. Today, 75% of Humanities’ food is generated from only 12 plants and 5 animal species. This makes our food supply incredibly vulnerable to disruptions in these few food sources (e.g., natural disaster, disease). As our population is set to increase to 10billion by 2050, a shift in dietary diversity is needed to sustainably feed this growing population while protecting biodiversity.
There has been a boom in products aimed to help consumers proactively manage their health, especially those focused on specific need states (e.g., energy, immunity). This is especially true for beverages, as the claimed benefits previously found only in supplements like capsules are now becoming widely available in all types of beverage formats.
At the heart of this trend is innovation in functional ingredients designed to deliver those health benefits. Scientific research demonstrating a true health benefit, as well as research on safety for regulatory compliance, is critical. With the transition from supplements to beverages, improvements in usability are also a prime focus. Ingredients that are soluble, have minimised off-notes and neutral flavour, and cost-effective doses will find themselves at an advantage for companies looking to put functional ingredients into beverages.
- Consumers are focusing more on short-term need states – beauty, immune support, digestive health, energy, and weight management are among the top 5 desired health benefits globally
- Balancing consumer perception with science is important – ingredients should resonate with consumer beliefs about health but also be shown to have a demonstrated health benefit in scientific studies
- Specificity is important – consumers are looking for specific health benefits from specific types of products at specific times of the day, and these vary by age group. It’s essential to understand the specific consumer target when developing products
Straight from our experts:
“Within the Asian market, post-COVID we are seeing an interesting rise in consumer desire for supplements to support health beyond core trends of immune and digestive health and into mental health & wellbeing. However, functional ingredients need to pass strict regulatory approvals, requiring scientific evidence to substantiate health claims.” – Olivier de Salmiech, VP Nutritional Supplements EUM, APMEA
Functional Forecasting white paper – what are the top desired need states worldwide, which ingredients do consumers associate with those need states, and how can a product be built to support consumer data?
Women’s health refers to the unique physiological and nutritional needs of females throughout the various stages of the life course (adolescence, reproductive age, pregnancy, lactation, perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause). Each of these female life stages requires distinct nutritional recommendations to support overall wellbeing.
For example, adolescent females have an increased requirement for calcium to build lifelong bone density. A deficiency in calcium at this life stage can result in increased risk of osteoporosis post-menopause when the protective effects of estrogen decline. Understanding the specific nutritional requirements at each female life stage has become popular for women, who are increasingly monitoring diet, menstrual cycle and lifestyle data using technology.
Although females typically have a longer life expectancy than males at birth, women are at higher risk of nutrient deficiencies throughout the lifecycle, which can lead to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, osteoporosis, and cancer. However, much of the knowledge and research on these diseases has been conducted on males. Consequently, females take 4 years longer than men to be diagnosed with over 700 different diseases.
It is essential to increase our understanding of the physiological differences between sexes, and determine how nutrition can support health, quality of life, sleep, and exercise performance among women. There is evidence to show that the microbiome and gut motility of females also differs from males and may play a role in digestive symptoms. As we move into the era of precision nutrition research, using big data to understand gender-based differences will optimize nutritional interventions to support health.
The focus on addressing female-specific nutritional needs continues to grow with innovative product launches in supplements for pregnancy, breastfeeding, infertility, yeast & UTIs, menopause, pre-menstrual cycle symptoms, breastfeeding, stress/sleepless, heart health, immunity, and digestive health.
- Expect to see this trend accelerate in the near future – with increased clinical research into female-specific conditions and the growing capabilities of precision nutrition, there will be evolving evidence to support women’s health through diet.
- Certain plant-based botanicals have potential to support female specific conditions e.g., licorice root extract has a similar structure to estrogen and is popular in dietary supplements to alleviate menopausal symptoms. The evidence base for these botanicals is growing.
Straight from our experts:
“Female-specific symptoms and diseases are numerous and widespread yet our understanding of the female body is not comparable to what we know about men. Building credible scientific evidence in females is a priority, to develop products that meet the needs of women of all ages. ” – Aoife Marie Murphy, PhD, Nutrition Scientist, Kerry
We are seeing an evolution in the physical activity and healthy ageing space to expand beyond the scope of muscle health to focus more strongly on inflammation’s role in joint and cardiovascular function. For the past few years, you have seen “Active ageing” as one of our trends, which had a strong focus on preserving muscle mass to help us stay active throughout life.
This trend has not only expanded beyond muscle health to cardiovascular health, joint health, and energy, but also expanded to all adult age groups. Joint health and cardiovascular health are no longer just about disease prevention as we age. Gym-goers are looking to enhance the function of their joints, heart, and vascular system to allow more mobility, more effective workouts, and reduced risk of injury. Advancements in our understanding of nutrition’s role in vascular health via the nitric oxide pathway as well as more in-depth understanding of the different aspects of joint health have led to a spark in research for advanced activity.
- Joint health and cardiovascular health are not just for healthy ageing anymore – expect to see more products with these benefits targeting all active age groups
- Reducing inflammation is a key way ingredients can help support these areas of health
Straight from our experts:
“Joint health is no longer only associated with elderly populations but is now in demand by consumers of all ages and health statuses.
One of these key consumer groups are athletes and non-professional sports enthusiasts, who are looking for new ways to enhance their performance and support recovery through managing their joint health. In particular, this cohort is seeking products that can alleviate joint discomfort following intense exercise. Inflammation is the key culprit in this process so ingredients that can quickly target this inflammation are of interest. Botanical and ayurvedic extracts are proving effective in this area.
While convenience and timing are important however, what is most important to consumers is clinically validated efficacy with long lasting support. A successful joint health product should therefore address both the underlying joint issue, such as discomfort as a result of inflammation, and also provide proactive support as we age, supporting joint function and comfort, thus helping to maintain an active lifestyle and extend quality of life. Ingredients that support the structure of the joints and enhance mobility, such as collagen, are slower to take effect but are longer lasting and are also of interest to consumers of all ages.” – Niamh Hunt, PhD, Global Marketing Manager for Immune and Joint Health, Kerry
Cognitive health refers to the ability to focus, complete mental tasks, have a healthy memory, and manage our mood. The drastic changes in day-to-day life brought by the last few years have led to an increased focus on mental well-being. Hybridised work schedules can mean more distractions for some people when they are working from home, or feelings of isolation when working from home for people who prefer to work at the office. Combined with growing science on ingredients like adaptogens and nootropics and their role in brain health, cognitive health is quickly making a strong foothold in the food and beverage space and we predict it will only grow stronger.
Cognition is at the center of our experience as our minds largely determine the quality of our lives and nutrition plays a key role in cognitive development and function throughout life. Stress, an increasingly common experience in our lives, has pervasive effects throughout the body including on cognitive performance, mood, and sleep quality, which are interconnected and impact each other. As a result, there is increasing interest in dietary approaches that moderate the biological response to stress in support of improving sleep, focus, wellbeing, and preserving cognitive health with advancing age.
For example, ashwagandha, a botanical traditionally used to promote vitality, longevity, and overall wellbeing in part via reducing the negative effects of stress on the body, is currently among the fastest growing nutraceutical ingredients. Omega-3 fats are an important part of the structure of our brains and are thought to be important for memory function, especially as we age. The role of berry-derived flavonoids in preventing cognitive decline is also a new area of research that shows promising results.
- Expect to see this trend fragment in the future – we’ve moved beyond “energy” and having one product fit that need (typically coffee) into very specific aspects of cognition like focus, attention, short-term or working memory, etc.
- Think about dayparts when choosing a type of cognitive health benefit (e.g., focus for morning, stress for afternoon, relaxation for evening)
Straight from our experts:
“While many people have historically relied on daytime stimulants and evening depressants/sedatives (e.g., caffeine, alcohol), I am seeing a lot of innovation with “coffee/caffeine and alcohol alternatives” and “clean energy formulations/drinks” based on adaptogenic/nootropic botanicals (like ashwagandha) and mushrooms, nutrients to support energy metabolism and neurotransmission, and natural sources of caffeine and related compounds. Furthermore, these nutritional products are often targeting specific times of day or life stages depending on functionality. It appears such products are being well received by consumers, so I think these trends will be here to stay as people view cognitive health much more holistically and within the context of overall health and wellbeing. “ – Anthony Thomas, PhD, Director of Scientific Affairs, Kerry
High stakes for sugar and salt
Sugar and salt have been on trends lists for years, but it’s hard to ignore the perfect storm brewing globally that is placing substantial pressure on sugar and salt content of foods. These factors include:
- Taxes on foods high in sugar or salt – More countries are instituting taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, high sugar foods, or high salt foods. In December ’22, the World Health Organisation called on more countries to place taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Legislation – besides taxes, countries like Brazil, Mexico, Singapore, and the UK continue to add new legislation placing limits or penalties on foods and drinks high in saturated fat, sugar, or salt (HFSS). In the UK, recent legislation places limits on advertising and price promotions of HFSS foods.
- Front-of-pack labeling – Labels that penalise foods on front-of-pack for high sugar or salt content, such as the Traffic Light system in the UK or the Nutri-Score in countries like France or Germany, are rising up in more countries each year. There has been a 69% growth year-over-year in food and beverage launches sporting a regulated nutrition warning label (Innova trends). In 2022, both the United States and Canada made moves to introduce or update front-of-pack nutrition labels. The European Union is also set to propose a unified front-of-pack labeling scheme for all member states in 2023.
- Ultra-processed foods criticisms/vilification – Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) are also an ongoing consideration by governments when reviewing and proposing nutrition policies. There is strong scientific debate ongoing around UPFs, with some groups suggesting consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with poorer measures of health, while other groups noting there is no clear cause-and-effect relationship identified and noting the critical role of UPFs in a sustainable food supply due to factors such as long shelf life.
- National governments are becoming less forgiving to the food industry, propelling efforts to nutritionally improve foods and beverages.
- Consumers are becoming more health conscious, resulting in an increase in front of pack signposting.
- Differing front of pack labelling and marketing restrictions across countries will make it more difficult for companies to sell products across several countries.
- Decreasing nutrients of concern like sodium, sugar, and saturated fat while maintaining taste and shelf life will be the major challenges introduced by these global initiatives.
Straight from our experts:
“Changes in nutrition and labelling legislation are becoming more widespread, and consumers are becoming more health conscience. Front-of-pack signposting is becoming more widespread to make healthier choices more simple but is also driving the increasing need for innovative technology to help manufacturers create healthier, more sustainable products, that deliver on taste and experience.” – Pattie O’Keeffe, BSc, RNutr, Sustainable Nutrition Manager at Kerry
Protein production’s future
Given the monumental task we all face to feed a population of 10 billion people with one planet by 2050, food science and technology will be critically important in coming years. Alternative means of producing the protein required to feed the planet are rapidly advancing, and science holds the key to the future of our planet.
A few examples include:
Cultivated meat is the production of muscle and fat tissue from cells that are grown in vitro or outside of a living organism under controlled conditions to yield a protein-rich tissue in constant development and could reduce land use required to produce meat by up to 99%. Innovation in recent years have driven the average cost of producing a cultured meat patty down substantially, from $1 million per kg in the year 2000 down to about $100 per kg in 2020 (Rethinkx – Rethinking Food and Agriculture). It is expected to fall to less than $10 per kg by 2025, making it cost competitive with traditional beef.
Precision fermentation uses microorganisms to produce specific proteins or other compounds. Fermentation has been used in food production for thousands of years, but recently advancements like precision fermentation have allowed it to be used to produce things like milk proteins. Learn more about precision fermentation in our webinar Fermentation: Will the Past Power the Future?
Plant molecular farming (PMF) is similar to the idea of cellular agriculture except that it uses plants instead of microbes to produce animal proteins like whey or egg. Plants serve as a “bioreactor” to produce these proteins, but overcome some of the scaling issues that cellular agriculture can have. We can produce plants on a mass-scale already, so scale-up is more straightforward. Nobell Foods is an example of a company that uses soybeans to create dairy casein used for vegan cheese. Rather than just using soy proteins to create a cheese, the soybean is genetically modified to produce the same proteins found in milk.
- It will be nearly impossible to feed the planet’s population growth using our current systems of food production; scientific advances are key
- Cellular agriculture, precision fermentation, and plant molecular farming are all under development as ways to produce true animal proteins (whey, casein, egg white, etc.) from alternative sources.
Straight from our experts:
“Food connects the people and the planet, and this trend has great potential to advance both. The rapid developments in artificial intelligence, big data, pharma technologies, and agri-tech have been adopted by a new generation of scientists, fueled by purpose to save the planet and keep the food system sustainable. They are transforming the food industry – this has been accelerated by large investments – bringing to life many start-ups that are willing to disrupt the way we produce food. Personally, I believe more efforts must be taken to prepare the introduction of these new products – we do not know yet how consumers will adopt these novel foods.” – Adriana de Camargo, Global Technology Innovation Program Lead, Kerry
Microbiome – beyond digestive health
The microbes make up our microbiome play a large role in health, and they don’t only live in our gut or digestive tract. They live on our skin, in our mouth, and many more places and can even communicate with body systems they are not actively living in, like our brain or immune system. As a result, while most people think about digestive health or gut health when they hear the word “microbiome”, its effects reach far beyond our digestive tract. These effects include areas of health like mood, dental health, or even exercise.
The blooming of research on the microbiome’s role beyond digestive health places this trend on our list for the second year in a row. The trend is so impactful that we collaborated with a broad team of experts to create our Microbiome Hub last year, which provides an in-depth summary of this trend.
The next horizon for the microbiome is personalisation through advances in molecular research. Data is central to our understanding of the microbiome – which species or strains are linked to health benefits? Do they produce specific proteins or other components that cause those benefits? What genes are responsible? Massive datasets and technology to screen and understand those datasets, such as machine learning, are unlocking new levels of understanding toward a path of creating nutrition that is personalised to an individual’s genes and microbiome.
- The microbiome has been linked to a multitude of health benefits beyond digestive health including mood, reproductive health, immunity, exercise, and cardiometabolic health
- When it comes to probiotics, choose one that has scientific backing for the specific claimed benefit
Straight from our experts:
“Microbiologists are identifying more and more bacteria with interesting properties. These bacteria can be isolated from humans, foods, animals, or the environment. With the proliferation of bacteria and formats, it is also critical to develop and implement modern and innovative methods to ensure the quality, integrity, and bioactivity of bacteria throughout the supply chain. It is of tremendous importance that the probiotic products deliver the benefits they are claimed to. These are key challenges to be solved for development of any probiotic-linked benefit. ”– Dr. Mathieu Millette, Scientific Director, Bio-K+ Kerry
Hydration has evolved from water or traditional sports drinks to a broad array of electrolyte powders, oral rehydration solutions, or products that make drinking water more exciting, like flavored sparkling water. Although most of us are not significantly dehydrated, getting enough water every day can be a struggle for many people and even mild dehydration can impact things like mood and cognition. Athletes and individuals with high activity levels often consider other hydration beverages beyond water.
Sparkling water is a ‘mindful hydration’ solution many are turning to reduce their sugar intake from sweet beverages to aid in weight management, or add some excitement for people who don’t like drinking plain water. This category is expected to continue growing significantly. This is a simple but exciting development for health and nutrition since sugar-sweetened beverages are the main source of added sugar intake (24% of added sugar intake comes from SSB in the United States).
Within this trend are also things like electrolyte powders that contain similar amounts of sodium and glucose to the World Health Organisation’s Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS). Sodium and glucose at the proper concentrates can accelerate absorption of water and this solution has been used for decades to quickly rehydrate people who are substantially dehydrated, such as those with diarrhea from an infection in developing countries. This idea has reached mainstream consumer products and seen growth from individuals hoping to make their water drinking more efficient. These products contain significant amounts of sodium, between 250-500 mg per serving, however. The sodium has a purpose in the beverage (accelerate absorption of water in the intestine) but is something for some consumers to watch out for due to sodium’s link to high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.
- Oral rehydration solutions are becoming more common as broad consumer products. These must follow strict glucose and sodium concentrations to work properly and contain significant amounts of sodium, which may not be desired by some consumers
- Hydration is moving away from sweetness – sparkling waters and low-sweetness options are being chosen more commonly by consumers looking to hydrate and manage weight
Straight from our experts:
“Hydration is something I’m asked about more and more and can be bucketed into two main areas: “Replenishment” and “Active hydration”. Replenishment would refer to the beverages focused on replenishing fluids or electrolytes and have very low or no sugar content. These are products typically aimed for more casual use, like mid- or post-exercise for most of us. Active hydration would be the ORS products – higher in sodium and glucose to target more rapid rehydration. The active hydration beverages are an exciting development, especially if it can make small amounts of fluid more effective for groups who have trouble drinking a lot of fluids like the elderly. However, the high sodium content is something to watch out for.”– Nathan Pratt, PhD, RD, Senior Nutrition Scientist, Kerry
Plant-based -> Plant-forward
Consumers are demanding more from meat and dairy alternatives, which has accelerated innovation in this category, creating a diverse market with a variety of formats to choose from. Food-technology is advancing rapidly to catch up with the pace of the market, providing novel solutions to taste, texture, and nutrition. With 10 billion people to feed sustainably by 2050, the plant-based journey is only beginning.
One noteworthy development that is just beginning to pop up is a focus on plant-forward products and ingredients. Plant-forward products typically have a focus on what a plant is or contains (e.g., fiber, whole grains), while plant-based can often refer to ‘plant-based alternatives’ that focus on what a product isn’t (e.g., milk alternative). The Culinary Institute of America has established the Plant-Forward Kitchen initiative and has a culinary summit planned for spring of 2023. For nutrition and health, this is a very exciting development. Plants offer outstanding nutrition that doesn’t always make it into plant-based alternatives such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, or polyphenols. Plant-forward innovations that offer servings of fruits, vegetables, or whole-grains can help bridge gaps in our day-to-day diets while differentiating themselves in the plant-based market.
There is still incredible innovation happening in plant-based meat and dairy alternatives, especially for plant-based meat and cheese that more closely mimic the flavour and texture of their animal-based counterparts. Plant-based fats that mimic cooking properties of animal fats as well as textures resembling the fibrous texture of meat are two areas to keep an eye on.
- Plant-based meat and dairy alternatives are being constantly improved as authentic flavour and texture is developed. Flavour masking is getting more specific to different plant proteins and is instrumental in a great flavour experience
- Plants have much more to offer than protein – plant-forward innovations that offer servings of fruits, vegetables, or whole-grains can help bridge gaps in our day-to-day diets while differentiating themselves in the plant-based market.
Straight from our experts:
“Consumers are starting to want more than meat mimicry and are challenging the heavily processed nature of plant proteins and beginning to suggest they want novel food experiences. In the future non-mimicking could create endless opportunities, it would allow us to reimagine plant-based proteins. This is only just starting to raise its head as we dig deeper into consumer trends and reports but shouldn’t be ignored.” – David Hamilton, Global Creative Insight Officer, Kerry
Global circumstances like war and COVID-19 driving inflation are placing friction between the strong desire of consumers to eat healthy and sustainable food and their ability to afford it. These factors have contributed to a growth in the number of people who are undernourished globally, which is estimated to have grown by 24% between 2019 and 2021 (from 618 million to 767 million people, FAO 2022). In a global Innova market survey, consumers believed new product development should be driven mostly by 1) health (41%) and 2) affordability (30%).
Since demand for healthy food remains high, we see a focus on ‘affordable nutrition’ innovation in new ingredients, foods, and beverages that still provide a health benefit but at a lower cost.
One way to focus on affordable nutrition is by looking at nutrients provided per price of a food. Although many metrics look at cost per calorie, food is much more than calories. Fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols are essential to supporting life, and healthy foods can be misrepresented when just looking at cost per calorie. Some foods are disproportionately efficient at providing nutrition. A study from 2010 combined a Nutrient-Rich Foods Index with pricing data and found that fruits, vegetables, beans, and eggs are some of the most efficient sources of nutrition per price. This type of data can be used to identify raw material targets for new ingredient or product innovation.
- Taste and sensory knowledge are a hidden opportunity – a broad knowledge of masking different protein types can allow flexibility in raw material sourcing as cost fluctuates
- Whole grains, egg, dairy, fruits, and vegetables are nutritionally dense and can be the best sources of nutrition per dollar. Beans are a great example of an inexpensive food that provides fiber, protein, minerals, and calories.
Straight from our experts:
“Inflation is at a 40 year high with many foodstuffs and value chains from cereals to proteins disrupted and consumer products impacted. Affordable sustainable nutrition has never been more critical, with the population set to grow to 8.5 billion people by 2030. Food innovation is not only focused on premium novel ingredients, but also on how can we make the food system more economically sustainable by maximising the nutritional density and affordability of a wide variety of foods to nourish communities globally.” – Juan Aguiriano, Group Head of Sustainability & Technology Ventures, Kerry