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How Functional Foods Are Crossing Into the Beauty Realm

How a new generation of functional foods is redefining healthy eating.

Is the snack aisle the new skin care store?

From cookie dough with adaptogens to chips with marine collagen and protein bars with nootropics, the lines between the beauty and food and beverage industries are becoming increasingly blurred.

Foods and beverages, once the purview of grocery store shelves, are borrowing ingredients from skin care formulas to provide a wealth of additional benefits, creating a new generation of functional foods that claim to have a positive effect on health beyond basic nutritional benefits.

No wonder. According to Grand View Research, the global functional foods market size is projected to reach $275.8 billion by 2025, a market being driven by next-generation companies that are creating easy access to well-curated and sourced ingredients as consumers gain knowledge of ingredients once considered esoteric or relegated to the supplements aisle.

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A 2019, a study by NPD found a quarter of U.S. adults are actively using food to manage their health and consumers increasingly are cutting out foods they think could have a detrimental effect on their long-term health, like sugar, sodium and dairy. Among the emerging medicinal foods NPD tracks, consumers are most interested in trying ingredients like elderberry and ashwagandha.

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“Food has always been this place where it fills you and supplies you with fuel,” said Rachel Krupa, founder of The Goods Mart and Krupa Consulting. “With the explosion of functional foods, it is only going to be more exciting as the category evolves to make sure that it’s also effective. We’re all multitasking and we all know that beauty and wellness comes from the inside out.”

“Five years ago, the grocery store looked so different,” agreed Leland Drummond, the cofounder of Azione, a PR agency that has represented an array of functional food brands and has seen firsthand the proliferation of these products. “Now there are probiotic drinks. There are a million different kinds of milk. There are a million different kinds of eggs and plant-based meats. The supplement aisles are extreme revenue drivers and once you can combine the power of that with the power of CPG, the sky is the limit.”

Already, cutting-edge food retailers are reporting a boom in the category. “The biggest thing from the nutrition world that has made it mainstream now is adaptogens,” said Jason Widener, vice president of Erewhon, a Los Angeles-based chain of healthy food markets and cafés that now has six locations there. “Mushrooms — turkey tail, chaga, reishi — I remember probably 11 years ago when I was working at Erewhon at the tonic bar, nobody sold mushrooms. If you said you sold dried mushrooms, they’d think you’re doing hallucinogenics.”

Widener sees no signs of the juggernaut slowing. “RTD [ready-to-drink] non-alcoholic brands and snacks made with adaptogens and herbs are definitely the trend,” Widener said. “Half the products I receive for review are peppered with these functional ingredients and there is more competition than ever. Widener has seen brands like Kin Euphorics, Moon Juice and many small snack companies like the French Squirrel grow rapidly. He noted that Kin, for example, has doubled in sales.

Functional foods are doing exceptionally well at New York City-based better-for-you convenience store, The Goods Mart, too. “Customers are pulling them off the shelf to read about their ingredients,” Krupa said.

Brands that are standouts at The Goods Mart include Olipop, a prebiotic and botanical soda to support digestive health; Pop & Bottle, oat milk lattes with antioxidants, collagen and adaptogens, and Gwell, snackable bites like Reishi & Chaga Tea Cookies and Golden Tumeric and Coconut Granola Clusters that contain ingredients said to help with hormonal and skin issues, stress and restlessness.

Gwell is the brainchild of Fawziyya Sugai, who created the brand after struggling with fibroids and endometriosis. After her coworkers started asking for the products she was making, she realized that those surrounding her were also dealing with fatigue and stress and similar issues.

Prior to starting, Gwell, Sugai and her sister created a website centered around natural beauty on a global scale. It was through her travels that she learned about ingredients like ashwagandha and maca, among others and decided to infuse them into her baked goods. “We don’t brand ourselves as a health product,” she said. “They are indulgent treats that happen to have wellness benefits.”

Education is an important factor for Gwell. The brand highlights the cultural elements of each ingredient and where it originated. “Our mission is to help people feel better, but it’s also to help improve food equity,” Sugai said. “We focus in on the key markets that our customers are in and where we do business. So New York, California, Illinois and the DMV [D.C., Maryland and Virginia] area. And then we partner with local organizations there specifically around their initiatives.”

Gwell’s latest launch is its chocolate maca granola. “The key ingredients are maca root and adaptogens,” Sugai said. “A serving includes the same amount that you would get in a typical supplement. With our snacks, we home in on focus, energy, stress relief and immune support because those are the key things people struggle within our community. So every single Gwell bite that we have is designed around providing one or more of those specific benefits.”

That level of education is key, said Krupa, to making the category better understood. “We have to make sure that we omit the smoke and mirrors and that the actual products that are entering into the marketplace are efficacious, so you see results,” she said. “When we’re speaking to the founders of the brand, we ask how much of this ingredient is actually in it? Am I going to be able to feel it? In order for the category to continue, the products need to show the results that are being communicated to the customer.”

Another brand looking to disrupt notions around food is Phasey, a line of functional pantry staples that are geared towards improving reproductive and sexual health. Products include period or sex chocolates, $7 per piece, and flaxseed blends, $12. “The world and society taught us to feel bad about our reproductive health, about our periods, about sex, and Phasey is here to undo that,” said the brand’s founder Asha Carroll. “It was my vision to build a broader brand around the ups and downs of our cycles of phase by phase where we could create an open and honest dialogue about the hormonal roller coaster of our lives.”

Carroll believes consumers’ reasons for consuming such foods are evolving. “It’s beyond fuel; it’s beyond pleasure,” she said. “While the supplement industry is continuing to grow at a breakneck pace, consumers are looking for something to shake up the monotony when it comes to the day to day.”

Phasy’s latest launch is Neato Instant Mood Milk, $38, which comes in three flavors and is designed to support better periods and libido. It’s the brand’s nostalgic take on Nesquik, but made with hemp heart protein, which Carroll said is different from hemp protein — less grainy and not earthy in flavor. Phasey is sold at more than 200 retailers across the U.S., including Erewhon, Urban Outfitters, Foxtrot and Amazon.

Another brand forging a new path is Deux Enhanced Cookie Dough. During COVID-19, Deux founder Sabeena Ladha was taking a slew of supplements like elderberry, vitamin C, zinc and vitamin D, to name a few, and wanted a solution that fused immunity with a healthy indulgence. Deux was her answer. The vegan and gluten-free cookie dough is available in flavors like chocolate chip, brownie batter and peanut butter. Each is infused with ingredients like zinc and elderberry for immune support, aloe vera and vitamin C for collagen support, ashwagandha for stress relief and pea protein. “There are three pillars that we try to essentially have our products fall into,” Ladha said. “It’s mind, body and spirit. We try to infuse mental health with feeling good about what you eat.”

Deux, $15 a jar, is sold in Erewhon and will launch in select Whole Foods in early 2022. The brand will also premiere tonight on “Shark Tank.” Looking toward the future, Deux is bringing back its healthy Nutella with hazelnuts and aloe vera and is looking to get into more snackable products. According to industry experts, Deux will do $1 million in its first year.

Another brand that is being marketed in the wellness sphere is Goodfish, upcycled salmon skin protein chips, which contains 2,600 mg of marine collagen. “There’s a lot of parts of the fish that are underutilized or misunderstood by the U.S. audience. And in our case, it was the skin,” said Justin Riboud, cofounder of Goodfish. “What you ingest can be reflective of your skin and it’s essentially nourished by your food, your lifestyle, quality of life and sleep patterns.”

The mission of Goodfish is to make an easy-to-eat product and something relevant to a consumer’s diet. “We believe there are many more sophisticated products that can be developed and we have a supply from a sustainable, transparent source and the ability to convert that into the number of adjustable products that have benefits, whether they’re ingestible or whether that’s topical with marine collagen. You look at Moon Juice or you look at Goop and you quickly realize there should not be a distinction. It’s the same consumer trying to seek out the same benefit from a variety of different sources. So from where we stand, we’re focused on quality of marine collagen, and we’re focusing on how it can be best consumed, starting with this approach with a snack and growing into a number of different avenues.”

Meanwhile, traditional protein bars are getting a makeover, too, with adaptogens and nootropics. Smpl, which launched in October, is the brainchild of Ellis Fried, who started Smpl when he was in college, looking for a way to improve his health, energy and productivity levels. After endlessly researching, trial and error and experimentation, Fried created four bars, each delivering a different benefit, including energy, focus, immunity and calm.

“Consumers are looking for more accessible ways to consume these tried and true, wellness enhancing ingredients,” he said. “Food and beverage is a very easy way to get these health benefits. We’re focused on building a portfolio of functional products that are specifically formulated for unique health benefits from morning to night. The bars are a great vehicle for these kinds of ingredients and for the mass consumer because a variety of Americans might not be able to have 10 to 12 different powders on their counters at all times.”

Smpl, $30 for 12 bars, is sold online on its website and is focused on its subscription model. “Each of our bars were created so that you could have up to three or four per day to reach a max level of ingredients,” Fried said. “So looking at each one as a microdose. If you’re looking at our energy product, for example, it’s as much caffeine as an espresso shot from green tea and ginseng, while our immune bar has as many probiotics as a kombucha.”

Krupa agrees. “We’re going to see a continued explosion within the category,” she said. “We don’t have to use the ingredients that our parents once used because we now have the innovation and technology to be functional.”

 

 

Deux: Founded by Sabeena Ladha, Deux is a vegan, gluten-free, and healthy yet indulgent cookie dough that includes flavors like chocolate chip, brownie batter and peanut butter. Each is infused with ingredients like zinc and elderberry for immune support, aloe vera and vitamin C for collagen support, ashwagandha for stress relief, and pea protein. $15.

Deux
Deux

Gwell: With a goal of making wellness more approachable, founder Fawziyya Sugai created Gwell bites with selected ingredients to help with hormonal and skin issues and stress. From granola with maca for hormones to tea cookies with reishi and chaga for stress relief and relaxation, each snack is meant to deliver a healthy alternative to help find balance. $5.

Gwell
Gwell

GoodFish: Created by adventurer and survivalist Bear Grylls and Harmless Harvest founders Douglas Riboud and Justin Guilbert, Goodfish is an upcycled salmon protein chip sourced from Bristol Bay, Alaska. The chips naturally contain 2,600 mg of marine collagen, helping to maintain the integrity of skin, joints, bones, nails and hair. $25 for a pack of eight.

Good Fish
Good Fish

 

Phasey: Founder Asha Carroll created Phasey as a functional food option for better periods. The range includes Sex Chocolate with Shatavari, which supports libido, energy and stress, and Period Chocolate with CBD for period pain, cramps, anxiety and headaches. Phasey also offers two seed blends (flax and pepita) to reduce mood swings, cramps and fatigue. $7 to $12.

Phasey
Phasey

Smpl: These snack bars by founder Ellis Fried fall into four pillars: energize, calm, focus and immunity. When Fried discovered the power of adaptogens, botanicals and nootropics while in college, he set out to create a solution that provided effective doses without needing to measure out a slew of powders or pills. $30 for 12 bars.

Smpl
Smpl