‘Functional foods’ – the saying might seem a bit of an oxymoron when looking at the culinary eras of the past. The excess of recent decades dismissed the idea of eating food the way nature intended and lumped that way of thinking in with the preposterous idea of living in a concrete box when there was the possibility of lavishly cluttered interiors. And yet, minimalist living soon became the fashionable design approach, and functional foods are hot on its heels.
But, what ushered in this change? When did we start caring about the nutritional benefits of foods that our parents kept citing when trying to have us finish our vegetables? Ironically, younger generations began tilting the attention curve upwards around the same time that they were gifted yet another way to ignore their parents over the dinner table; the advent of the mobile era.
If Norman Rockwell were alive and able to capture the essence of a typical modern family meal, there is little chance that at least one smartphone would escape his pastel immortalisation. But this trace of technology at the table would not necessarily present a negative commentary of the digital age.
It is no coincidence that modern restaurants are tailoring their experiences towards moving people onto their mobile devices. Instead of breaking down traditional communication, in the form of dinner-table conversation, mobile web surfing plays an integral part in the way millennials make informed decisions regarding the foods they consume.
Modern generations are far more educated with regards to the dangers of processed foods and the benefits of good nutrition. This means that many suppliers of traditionally unhealthy foods are adapting their approaches in favour of the supply of functional foods.
The Internet Helps Consumers Take Control of Their Health
If Orwellian naysayers are still bemoaning the dumbing-down of the global population, they haven’t taken the benefit of the information age into account. People who feel unhealthy or unfit no longer mindlessly pop pills or lather on ointments, but instead actively try to improve their situations.
A recent article which discussed 2016’s food trends from Google’s perspective showed that many consumers are taking to the king of search engines in order to better their consumption with a view to bettering their collective health.
In response to this, a follow-up article pinpointed the impressive search data regarding ‘best food for…’ queries, and detailed the rise of functional foods based on this data. The article addresses the way in which consumers are growing increasingly interested in foods which curb acid reflux, settle uneasy stomachs, boost energy, revitalise skin, and so on.
With ‘best food for…’ searches showing significant improvement in the UK over the past few years, it certainly appears that consumers are making use of the information available to them in order to make better decisions with regards to their food choices. This is made even clearer when considering the fact that functional foods have been fairly common knowledge for decades, yet are only now becoming a global talking-point.
Can Search Results Prove Rising Trends?
The search data released by Google does prove that millennials are taking to the internet to learn more about functional foods. In fact, Google was able to show that search traffic is high at the beginning of each week, while tapering off closer to the weekend – indicative of the fact that many people are looking to functional foods to cure whatever ailments they may have accumulated over the past weekend. Furthermore, data suggests that modern generations are turning to their devices to find out how to add certain ingredients to their meals, searching for recipes containing specific ingredients in ‘how do I add it’ moments.
The article mentioned earlier used this search data as irrefutable evidence of younger generations turning to functional foods to improve their health. But, is search data really enough? For example, searching for yoga workouts is one thing, but rolling out the mat and doing them is another.
In order to discover whether sales of functional foods match the increase in search popularity, Leatherhead Food Research conducted a survey on functional food purchase trends over the past few years. Findings showed that only 23 percent – less than a quarter – of the UK population believes that functional foods can actively increase an individual’s health. That being said, three in ten believe that functional foods can certainly combat the rising obesity issue in modern society.
But, while some might see these numbers as being slightly less than prevalent, the sales figures speak for themselves. The report estimated that foods which claim to be able to help improve eye health and decrease the risk of mental decline, for example, will experience roughly 25 percent market growth by 2017. This growth is expected to see the market value climb to €43 billion.
Why Functional Foods Will Continue to Rise
If internet searches match a rise in sales of functional foods, it’s safe to assume that modern generations are improving their diets thanks to the information made available by the internet. But, while information on functional foods might have been slightly more limited in recent decades, it was still there. So, what makes millennials the definitive generation in terms of self-improvement through nutrition?
The answer, of course, lies in connectivity. Millennials aren’t just connected to information that is on the internet, they are connected to each other. Millions of users didn’t just get the idea to go online and search for the benefits of functional foods. Instead, they were prompted to do so through social sharing and the viral effect.
Through their interconnectivity, millennials are more likely to start trends than any other generation in history. However, they don’t follow trends blindly. Online behaviour exhibited by millennials shows that they usually consult around four separate sources before adapting their beliefs, causing them to abstain from taking many things at face-value. This has caused some observers to rephrase the term ‘Generation Y’ as ‘Generation Why?’
In any case, the trend-setting aspect of the younger generations has ushered in an era of ‘educated eaters’. Millennials are naturally inquisitive about the food they put into their bodies, and exhibit a constant need to know more about it. It is not enough for them to know which foods are good for which ailments, but they also need to know why this is the case.
Millennials hear about new foods from their friends, but then have to go online and research them in order to be sure. This is why the search figures are up, and also why the popularity of functional foods in the information age is no mere flash in the pan.