Are Botanical Brain Boosters the Next Wellness Wave?

As fellow trend watching innovators would likely agree, once a trend is sparked, not much fanning is needed for the flame to spread. In each edition of this newsletter, I’ll dive into 3 examples and implications of this trend, reflecting nothing more than my humble opinion:

1)   Spot On: An example of the trend I think is “sticky” and well executed

2)   Missed the Mark: A well-intended, but poorly executed example of the trend

3)   What the…: An example I can’t quite relate to or don’t see gaining traction

This edition focuses on a trend that’s been around, but continues to proliferate and manifest in innovative ways: Plant Based Foods & Drinks. But there’s already plenty of coverage of alternative meat protein sources and potential climate impact offset in The Public Conversation. I’m more intrigued by a segment of plant-based products that’s been around for centuries, that can impact what’s happening between your ears… your brain health, and mental and emotional well-being.

Meet Adaptogens and Nootropics. If you’re not aware of them, these are two categories of herbs, fungi and other botanicals that have been used therapeutically for centuries in non-western cultures (think Ayurveda and Chinese medicine), and today are growing like gangbusters in foods, beverages, as well as traditional supplement formats. The global Adaptogens market grew 14% in 20211 to $10BB+ and is projected to double by 2031, while global Nootropics growth is projected to grow almost 3x from $11BB in 2021 to $29BB in 2028.

A brief overview of how they differ: Research suggests Adaptogens work to regulate the body’s cortisol levels to fight stress and fatigue –they help your body “adapt” to a situation. Nootropics are reported to enhance cognitive functioning, boost memory, creativity, and concentration.

You may be wondering, “So why should I care about these brain boosters, and how are they showing up in products I might actually use?” To which I say—Listen up, because really, who ISN’T seeking relief from stress and anxiety or improved brain power these days?! Here I go with the examples:

1)     SPOT ON:  Three Spirit Drinks 

If you unwind with an evening cocktail, kicking the ritual can be tough, but to improve sleep and overall health, more and more people, especially Gen Z, are finding an alcohol-free alternative appealing. Three Spirit Elixirs, a pioneer in adaptogenic beverages, launched in 2018 as a collaboration between plant scientists and bartenders who saw the opportunity for an alcohol-free mood enhancer and stress reducer without the side effects of booze. Each variety touts a specific intended effect: energizing Livener (“The Pick Me Up”) happiness inducing Social Elixir (“The Mood Maker”) and sleep promoting Nightcap (“The Dream Maker.”) A more recent extension, Spark (“Blurred Vines”) is a sparkling rose alternative made with rare teas and natural caffeine.

The brand is clearly addressing an unmet need, effectively educating on “Botanical Alchemy” by touting the specific ingredients that support each product’s story. For example,  Social features Lion’s Mane mushroom and Yerba Mate for energy, while Nightcap features Ashwagandha and naturally soothing lemon balm. But what I appreciate most is their thoughtful approach to distribution approach based on the intended occasion for each product: In addition to wine and spirits outlets, Livener was placed in music venues/nightclubs and, along with Nightcap was offered on Virgin airlines flights.

I say, bravo, that’s the (three) spirit!

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2. Missed the Mark: Mosh Snack Bars 

Positioned as a protein bar to fuel our brains, the Mosh brand hits on many positives. The mission is admirable–founder Maria Shriver and son Patrick Schwarzenegger (double star power) developed it with brain health experts and nutritionists and have committed to donating a % of sales to support “gender-based brain health research through the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement.” The flavors sound indulgent and yummy—from Cookie Dough to Peanut Butter to Blueberry Almond, and the labels prominently feature Ashwagandha, Lion’s Mane, and Omega 3s.

Sounds good, right? But some things just don’t sit quite right for me. While its awesome that it goes beyond a typical protein bar, from the playful name and tone on the website don’t  fit with this serious important functional benefit and cause, and the messaging on pack and online do not explain the benefits of the ingredients. I am also unclear on who they are targeting. The website features people of all ages, including men, so it’s not well aligned to the Women’s Alzheimer’s campaign. The site references an athlete on their advisory board, but the product is not positioned for athletic performance.  While protein certainly makes sense coming from a Schwarzenegger, I would imagine the initial association with that name is more BODY than BRAIN building …I guess that’s where Maria kicks in!

Overall, a good attempt, but I see room for refinement, starting with education on how the ingredients directly aid brain health.

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3. What The…. Mindright SuperFood Chips

This brand of popped chips began with a mission to “fuel your mindset with the power of nootropic infused superfood” and to promote customers’ “peace of mind from feeding their brains with healthy, delicious ingredients scientifically known to support mood, energy and focus,” according to co-founder Chris “Bernie” Bernard. Quite a lofty goal for a salty snack!

Backed by investment and support from the likes of the Jonas Brothers and TV personality Rob Drydek, the product line, which also includes protein bars and coffee boosts, feature a signature blend of ginseng, lion’s mane and L-Theanine, plus vitamins B6, B12 and antioxidants to boost energy, mood and focus. In addition to these positives, they’re also low in or free from sugar, preservatives and gluten and artificial colors/flavors and available in appealing flavors: Chili Lime, Cinnamon Churro and Tumeric Ranch.

Where I scratch my head is the fit (or lack thereof) between the product form and the benefit. When I am seeking a sense of focus and concentration, a baked salty chip with bold flavor is not what I would grab first. And I can’t say the celebrity investor team is getting the brand much credibility.

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Overall, I’m energized to see so much innovation in this botanically derived brain-building, space—I anticipate a bright future for this trend! I hope these well-intentioned brands will leverage education and sharp product assortments to deliver their benefits, not just celebrity power.

Sources: TrendHunter 2023 Dashboard, AMASS Botanic, Allied Research, Grandview Research, Brand websites

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