Cognitive Performance Remains Top Of Mind For Consumers

A version of this article originally appeared in the Cognitive Healthy Aging digital issue of Natural Products Insider.

COVID-19 shuffled growth prospects of countless products within wellness and health, as consumers adjust to drastic lifestyle changes and prioritize products that meet simpler and more immediate needs. Unlike other health demands, the request for cognitive health has not abated in the time of COVID-19; rather, the market for these products has seen strong growth in 2020 consistent with growth seen prior to the pandemic.

Between 2015 and 2020, the market for memory and cognitive health-positioned supplements saw a compound annual growth rate of 7% globally; growth in 2020 is expected to sustain a similar 5% growth despite the changes wrought by COVID-19. The US continues to dominate, comprising 42% of global brain/cognition-oriented supplement sales.

According to Euromonitor’s 2020 Health and Nutrition Survey, conducted before COVID-19, cognition and memory as a health concern is widespread across age cohorts. While commonplace health conditions like bone, heart, joint or even digestive health show drastically different levels of concern by age group (with consumers aged 60+ overwhelmingly more concerned about these conditions than their children or grandchildren), cognitive health is the rare concern that cuts across cohorts, worrying consumers of all ages.

In fact, consumers under the age of 45 were slightly more likely to respond that memory issues had a moderate or severe impact on their current health than consumers older than 45, at 60% and 57%, respectively. When asked about future concerns, again younger consumers reported similar but slightly higher rates than older consumers.

Innovations within the global vitamins and dietary supplements marketplace are catering to this demand, with nootropic ingredients rising in recognition and popularity. In this space, herbal/traditional ingredients have retained popularity; products like ginkgo biloba are seeing steady interest from consumers across ages. Other traditional remedies, such as ayurvedic herbs like brahmi (or bacopa monnieri), are making inroads into wellness communities as promising ingredients for memory retention and focus for older consumers. Other herbal solutions like spearmint and Traditional Chinese Medicine solutions like mushrooms hold promise to increase focus and limit age-related cognitive decline.

These ingredients are filtering down into the food and beverages marketplace, as cognition and memory-oriented products become mainstream. Drinks have become an apt format for cognitive health given that many common ingredients in this space have nootropic properties, above all caffeine. Though not typically thought of as a cognitive health product, caffeine has been shown to boost alertness and improve performance on cognitive tasks, which allowed the ingredient to become a good entry point to nootropics.

Teas are also at the forefront of this development as a natural format for cognitive health innovations. In addition to caffeine, more teas are blended with l-theanine or ginkgo biloba to boost concentration for short periods. Energy drinks are also shifting positioning toward concentration away from pure energy boosts and are blended with a variety of natural nootropics. This positioning shift has allowed energy drinks to market to consumer groups that need sustained focus plus energy, such as students and esports enthusiasts.

Finally, packaged foods are starting to get into the space as well, recognizing the connection between focus and snacking. Before COVID-19, there was significant promise in on-the-go nootropic-positioned snacks like energy bars. While the pandemic altered the consumption occasions for these products, interest will likely return in due course. Fortified bars remain a quick and easy format to stimulate energy and focus for consumers needing a short-term boost of mental clarity.

Though COVID-19 has altered daily rhythms and near-term health goals, the demand for improved memory, focus and acuity remains. This bodes well for further development of the cognition marketplace into 2021 and beyond.