Climbing stress levels and a documented need by adults to snack for mental and emotional wellbeing are fuelling a new Fonterra drive to meet consumer demand for mental wellbeing support in their foods.
After the recent launch of its first mental wellbeing support product for adults - a milk phospholipid ingredient for global food and beverage manufacturers - New Zealand's biggest company and the world's fifth largest dairy company by revenue says it is investigating more milk ingredients to support consumer concerns about sleep, stress and anxiety, cognitive performance and mood.
Another milk phospholipid ingredient launch targeting the lifestyle health supplement market is around the corner, said Fonterra director of sports and active living Komal Mistry-Mehta.
Another new and exciting area of research suggested certain probiotics - live micro-organisms - may also help manage some common mental wellness conditions, she said.
Specifically, consumption of dairy-derived probiotic strains, such as one already trade-marked by Fonterra, was found to support the management of depression and anxiety in women after giving birth.
"There is a growing body of research in this space which we look forward to leveraging as we bring to market-proven ingredient solutions customers and consumers can trust."
Fonterra's adult phospholipid ingredient launch, promoting support for mood-enhancement and cognitive performance under stress, initially targeted the US because it is the world's largest and most mature sports and active lifestyle market.
This is a market Fonterra's been targeting, through its subsidiary NZMP and the research breakthroughs of its Palmerston North R&D operation, for added-value product sales since the company's disastrous financial results in 2018 and 2019 forced it to rewrite its business strategy.
Instead of cultivating global milk pools and investing in overseas companies and ventures, the farmer-owned cooperative is now promoting the value of New Zealand-grown milk and its R&D strengths.
Fonterra's sports and active lifestyle application ingredients are tailored for manufacturers of ready-to-drink and ready-to-mix products, nutrition bars, food and snacks, and supplements, said Mistry-Mehta.
Awareness of the importance of mental wellbeing in total health had been growing in the past 10 years and the the Covid-19 pandemic had heightened it.
But reputable surveys in the past two years had shown a "dramatic" shift in attention to mental health.
In Euromonitor's Health and Nutrition survey last year, respondents selected mental wellbeing as their top criteria for being healthy, and in anotheir survey, 75 per cent of US adults said they had stress levels which moderately or severely impacted their health.
Social media conversations about stress had accounted for 1.5 million posts in the first half of 2020 - 35 per cent more than in the same period in 2019, according to IQVIA Social Media Intelligence.
Snacks were as important to their mental health and wellbeing as physical wellbeing for 70 per cent of adults, said Mistry-Mehta, citing a 2019 report by Mondelez & Harris Insights. Fonterra's response is to provide dairy product ingredients that ensure snacking is nutritious.
Fonterra cited other studies that reported 75 per cent of American adults were using supplements for various health benefits, and 31 per cent of these said they were consuming more supplements due to Covid.
There's plenty of competition in the mental wellbeing support market, including from plant-based phospholipids, but Mistry-Mehta said Fonterra and NZMP scored a first with its recent launch.
"We are the first to market with launching a milk phospholipid targeting the sports and active lifestyle consumer space, and are the only dairy supplier who can offer this product at scale."
Until now, any dairy-derived phospholipid ingredient, including Fonterra's, have targeted the paediatric and infant nutrition market, promoting cognitive benefits for infants, she said.
Fonterra's milk phospholipids come in the form of a soluble powder. Customers are food and beverage makers.
Milk phospholipids are naturally present in milk as part of the milk fat globule membrane, and are clinically proven to support a range of health benefits, Mistry-Mehta said.
Sourced from high phospholipid whey protein concentrate, Fonterra's product was produced using very gentle separation steps from milk which delivered superior quality and gave manufacturers formulation flexibility to make new innovative products that tasted great.
Asked about the price premium available from branching into the mental support market, Mistry-Mehta would only say Fonterra's phospholipid ingredient was competitive to those already in the market targeting stress management.
"This new offering is an added-value ingredient product, part of our advanced nutrition portfolio that covers proteins, probiotics and now milk phospholipids....
"NZMP see ingredients for the adult mental wellbeing space as an area of incremental growth for Fonterra outside of our traditional core ingredients offerings....these type of ingredient solutions are part of Fonterra's advanced nutrition focus, bringing added-value ingredients to market in order to maximise return on every bucket of milk."
The new phospholipid ingredient was developed over 18 months.