October 6, 2023

Mental health is becoming more critical than ever. According to the WHO, one in eight people suffer from a mental health condition – but where do food and beverage companies fit in?

The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day, 10 October, is ’Mental health is a universal human right.’ And while a lot goes into ensuring mental well-being, food plays a significant role.

To uncover some of the latest developments and trends in healthy products, Micael Simonsson, Director Processing Development at Tetra Pak and Ida Svensson, Transformation Manager New Food at Tetra Pak, weigh in.

People are starting to deal with mental health

Around the world, more people are striving to improve both their physical and mental health. 70% say that health has become more important over the last years, 3/4 say that mental health is as important as physical health – and 83% actively choose products that support their mental health.

"There’s a heightened awareness of mental health, and people struggling with issues such as anxiety and isolation, so there’s a growing demand for food that supports mental health and boosts immune systems.”

That’s according to the upcoming Tetra Pak Index, an annual report that identifies global consumer trends. The report is set to be released next week and is based on answers from around 5,000 consumers and insights from food and beverage experts.

”COVID-19 put health and nutrition in the spotlight and really changed eating and shopping habits – and it looks like it’s more than a trend. There’s a heightened awareness of mental health, and people struggling with issues such as anxiety and isolation, so there’s a growing demand for food that supports mental health and boosts immune systems,” says Micael.

healthy vegan burger on a plate

The healthy products consumers are calling out for

So, what are consumers looking for? According to the Tetra Pak Index, when choosing healthy foods, aiming to reduce sugar is the number one consideration, followed by strengthening the immune system and reducing meat consumption. The last one, in particular, is a growing trend across the world. In fact, almost half of consumers want to be ‘flexitarian’ or exclude meat completely.

“What we consume is becoming more and more important. People think about what they eat, why they eat it, how they eat it and when they eat it,” says Ida.

And some of the most exciting new trends are personal. Just take personalised nutrition, a trend that comes through strongly in the research.

“People want to optimise their body and select food based on their needs and lifestyle,” says Ida and continues: “Brands are investing billions in research and innovation and collaborating with universities, institutes and start-ups to be able to cater to different target groups and individual needs.”

That means creating tailored recipes for ever narrower consumer groups based on factors such as age and medical conditions. Older people, for example, can often benefit from extra calcium or vitamin D to alleviate joint pain. The founder of Sweden Foodtech, Johan Jörgensen, agrees:

“The one-size-fits-all approach of the traditional food system is going to change – and this change will be data-driven. Based on data, you see things that you absolutely cannot feel in your body – and you can use this to make better-informed food decisions. We’re all different machines, and we need to treat ourselves as such,” he says.

An example of this is ZOE, a health science company dedicated to providing people with the food they need. The company uses advanced tests to help people understand their bodies so they can reduce inflammation and improve gut health. Through at-home tests, people get insights into their unique biology, including blood sugar and blood fat responses and receive personalised meal recommendations.

woman holding juice after workout

Partnering to promote healthy products – and possibly prevent cancer?

Tetra Pak also works with research institutes, universities, and start-ups to develop recipes and products fit for a healthier future. One of the collaborations we’ve formed is with Fresh Start, a leading food technology incubator that works with a portfolio of food and beverage start-ups.

As Fresh Start’s Chief Technology Officer Tammy Meiron explains, “[People] want to eat healthy food. They want less processed foods with a minimal ingredient list.”

Tammy explains that we’re currently in a transformation phase. Many products on the market today don’t have the same nutritional value as the products they’re trying to replicate. Plant-based alternatives can help people reduce meat consumption, but they often have very long ingredient lists because they have to be tasty as well as nutritious and healthy.

“They’re trying to create an experience that’s close to the original, which means using stabilisers, thickening agents and so on. Some of these products aren’t that healthy right now – but they will be in the future,” says Tammy. “The next generation of ingredients – produced by precision fermentation, molecular farming, algae, mushrooms and so on – will bring us to the stage where these alternatives are tasty, nutritious and healthy,” she says.

Another area Micael and his team are starting to explore is probiotic products and functional foods. It’s still early days, and achieving this goal also depends on working with start-ups and research institutes.

healthy yogurt in a bowl

 “We can see that it is possible to produce anti-cancer products, and the industry is in the starting phase for anti-Alzheimer’s, too. They are what we call probiotics or functional foods. They will not treat you, but they will inhibit the condition and help to improve your health and well-being from different angles. This is a very tricky area: you can’t really make these claims on the package because you need to prove efficacy with long-term studies first,“ says Micael.

Striking a healthy balance

Food is just one aspect of health and mental well-being. It’s also important to sleep properly, exercise, avoid stress… and the list could go on. But food is nevertheless a constant in all of our lives.

“We all need to eat, and so many routines are tied to consuming foods and beverages. That’s why access to healthy products is so important,” says Micael.

But balance is also important. We all need nutritious food – but we shouldn’t forget about taste.

“Good food also contributes to your mental health. I think everyone recognises that feeling of looking forward to a nice dinner. And then there’s the whole aspect of making food together, and research tells us that being social is an important part of mental health. But I think we’re lucky today because so much healthy food tastes good,” Ida says.

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