Brain health supplements for the younger customer: How to sell cognitive supplements to Gen Z and millennials

Nutritional Outlook, Volume 25, Issue 3

Energy, naturalness, personalized attention, price, and delivery form are key selling points.

Brain health dietary supplements are courting a new kind of customer: the distracted, multitasking, mentally strained lot of us. From college students to overworked employees and working parents, so many are seeking—and failing—to juggle fast-paced schedules, technology overwhelm, and personal health. We could all use a little help.

“‘I tried responding sooner but kept getting distracted by emails, texts, LinkedIn, Slack, Instagram, Zoom, sports, prestige TV.’” This is a refrain of many adults today, says Robert Johnson, CEO of supplement manufacturer Custom Capsule Consultants (Los Angeles) and founder of the CBD Is Better brand which offers, among other supplements, a product to improve focus.

“Between technology and the pandemic, everyone is struggling to focus,” Johnson says. “We think of memory problems or ‘brain fog’ as something that affects the elderly, but younger Americans are struggling with these issues, too.”

“Yes, we are seeing a rise in demand for cognitive-enhancing products from younger consumers,” says Scott Frohman, founder and CEO of Odyssey Wellness LLC. Last summer, his company introduced premium functional mushroom elixirs with benefits for focus, clarity, energy, and mood. “Younger consumers are living in a fast-paced world where they are constantly on the go, hustling and working hard—which is why they want to do and feel their best. They want products that can efficiently deliver brain-boosting effects to help them thrive in all that they do.” Activities like schoolwork, 60-hour work weeks, gaming, and sports require “extreme clarity, focus, and energy,” he points out.

Put simply: “The younger generation created ‘hustle culture’ and need products to sustainably support them.”

The good news is that young adults accustomed to the world of supplements are open to using products to aid their cognition.1 And with mental health a necessary and prominent discussion in healthcare today, “Mental health is no longer taboo, and younger customers are openly seeking ways to support and maintain a healthy mental state, with a particular focus on natural remedies,” Frohman notes.

What Customers Want

Natural is the operative word here. As we know, Gen Z and millennials like shopping for natural products.2 This includes supplements. Johnson points out that younger shoppers “are increasingly skeptical of prescription medication and wary of burnout. They want natural supplements that will actually bolster their cognitive resources rather than just masking fatigue and overwhelm.”

Frohman adds that “These younger consumers are also more open to alternative forms of medicine, nutrition, and healing, and are embracing health and wellness in unprecedented ways.”

Even for Gen X, chugging boatloads of coffee to power through the day isn’t the answer anymore, Johnson says. “Just drinking more coffee or taking sleeping pills is not going to cut it…[T]hey want natural supplements that will keep their cognitive energy and focus up for the long haul.” As for millennials, he says, “This cohort is over the hustle culture. They’re interested in creating optimal mental function that is natural and sustainable.”

Consumers are also savvier about health and nutrition, Frohman points out. “Younger generations have access to more information than ever before. They now know the health implications of high sugar, caffeine, and processed ingredients—things that were once revolutionary and well received.”

Caffeine alone can’t give you lasting mental energy. “Let’s face it,” he continues. “If your brain is foggy in the morning and you’re not functioning on all pistons, I don’t care how much physical energy you have or how jacked up you are on caffeine; you’re not performing at an optimal level. I call it sleepwalking. Having your brain fine-tuned is not about how much caffeine and physical energy you have; it’s about mental sharpness, memory recall, being able to multitask and keep your focus. Those are critical for success in today’s world.”

Consumers are moving away from crutches like caffeine and alcohol, he says, because “The crash that comes with caffeine is widely known and unsustainable.” Instead, they are reaching for nootropics and adaptogens—like those in Odyssey’s Functional Mushroom elixirs—that “help to optimize brain activity and neurotransmission as well as adapt our bodies to stress,” he says. “By directly supporting these bodily functions, you will feel more naturally energized throughout the day.”

White Space

At this point, it’s worth noting that there’s certainly still a large swath of the market focused on cognitive health products for aging adults. But you can also see that there’s lots of room to serve the other end of the market.

“There are an endless number of generalized brain health products on the market,” observes naturopath Nick Bitz, ND, a strategist at Neurohacker Collective. “The great majority of these products are aimed squarely at an older population. And I would say that very few of these products directly address the needs of younger adults—in areas related to learning, productivity, emotional wellness, computer screen time, and caffeine-free energy.”

If you are looking to reach younger customers, here are some tips.

Personalized Approach

Young shoppers like niches, says Bitz. “Segmentation is one way to bring younger customers into the cognition category,” he says. “If nothing else, it helps to make cognitive health products more approachable and more desirable from a benefit standpoint. For example, if a product is engineered to improve aspects of mental functioning such as focus, reaction time, visual acuity, and decision making, that product could easily appeal to gamers or esports enthusiasts. Segmentation allows us to customize our formulation approach and to meet customers where their passions lie—playing video games, learning at school, being productive at work, or optimizing athletic performance.”

Neurohacker’s Qualia nootropics include Qualia Mind, Qualia Life, and Qualia Night, boasting such clinically lauded branded ingredients as Sensoril ashwagandha (from Natreon; New Brunswick, NJ), BioVin grape extract (from Bioriginal; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada), ElevATP (from FutureCeuticals; Momence, IL), Cognizin citicoline (from Kyowa Hakko USA Inc.; New York City), as well as omega-3 fatty acid DHA, phosphatidylserine, Bacopa monnieri, and alpha-GPC.

In addition to gamers, Frohman says, Odyssey Wellness sees potential in “athletes and wannabees.” “Anyone really looking for the benefits of functional mushrooms that can increase mental alertness, clarity, focus, and deliver adaptogenics and botanicals that help with stress relief and mood enhancement is a target consumer for us,” he adds. “We adjust our messaging to inspire everyone to try the drink, because tasting our drink is believing. You really have to experience it to really understand what it can do for you.”

Personalized nutrition is perfect for this demographic who wants to know, “What’s right for me?” One company keen on this is Nourished, the personalized-supplement brand launched in 2019 with visually striking 3D-printed gummy vitamins customized with ingredients based on a person’s specific daily nutrition needs. The company refers to its supplements as “Stacks.” Following a personal assessment, customers are provided with a “Stack” to meet their needs, which can include cognitive support. “We have a few tailor-made ‘Life Stacks’ that support focus and cognitive function, such as our High Flyer Stack and Inner Peace Stack,” says CEO and founder Melissa Snover. The company also offers a Gamer Stack to enhance memory, focus, and reaction while boosting energy and endurance and protecting eyes from screen time.

“Whether it be sharpening your memory, focusing while working from home, or relieving brain fog, each struggle can be supported by supplementing the right active ingredients,” Snover continues. “We have a variety of nourishments that can be added to personalized stacks that have been shown to benefit cognitive functions and support mental wellbeing.”

Price Considerate

Young customers have limited budgets, so price is most certainly a factor when approaching this market.

“Price is a major consideration since younger demographics tend to have less disposable income,” says Neurohacker’s Bitz. “Yet, it’s challenging because this group also values taste, convenience, natural and clean-label ingredients, and product badges such as non-GMO verification—all of which can drive up the costs of product development. So, it’s important to strike a balance between price and value.”

Neurohacker kept this in mind when, last summer, it launched a new product called Qualia Focus, which boasts ingredients like caffeine and L-theanine. As Bitz explains, “It has a lot of similarities to Qualia Mind, our premium flagship product, but it’s aimed toward a broader audience. Our intent was to create an entry-level nootropic that uses fewer ingredients, in less capsules per day, at a lower price point overall. And I think we were successful at designing an experiential product that can be ‘felt’ by the end user.”

We Want Energy

While younger consumers are growing more conscious about aging healthily down the road, they still tend toward immediate gratification via products whose benefits they can “feel” right away. Products that imbue them with more energy, mental and physical, are appealing for this reason.

“Energy is a primary need state for younger customers,” says Bitz. He adds: “This demographic grew up on energy drinks and shots but is now transitioning into healthier, more ‘adult’ options. They still want to feel energized, but I would say that it’s the outcome of high energy that appeals most to this group—things like confidence, cheerfulness, creativity, motivation, and productivity. So cognitive health products should ideally target energy and the mental outcomes that are associated with high energy.”

Some of the biggest names in healthcare are getting in the game. Last year, Reckitt Benckiser’s Neuriva brand launched its newest product, Neuriva Brain + Energy Ready-to-Drink Shots, which contain ingredients like NeuroFactor whole coffee fruit extract from FutureCeuticals to increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), as well as vitamin B12 and caffeine. Richard Qian, senior brand manager for Neuriva, calls it “a two-in-one product that helps support focus and concentration.”

“While brain supplements support consumers of all ages who would like to take a more proactive approach to supporting brain health and wellness, we do see younger adults have slightly different wants compared to older adults,” he says. “While older adults are most often concerned about memory, we find younger adults care more about focus and concentration as they juggle multiple demands of life, stress, anxiety, and sometimes a lack of sleep.”

Snover at Nourished adds that addressing nutrient gaps by way of personalized nutrition also helps. “Selecting the proper nutrients for your individual cognitive health requirements will help support overall energy. For example, those with an iron deficiency may experience fatigue and loss of cognitive function, but once the body has the proper intake of iron, the nutrient works to improve energy levels while improving cognitive function.”

Convenience and Delivery

Clean labels, convenience, and innovative delivery forms are musts when shopping products to younger customers. Many of the companies interviewed here are advancing the market with alternatives to pills and capsules.

“Convenience and label cleanliness are huge,” says Brad Lepczyk, president of Memore. Last May, Memore debuted its powders rich in brain-boosting, whole-food ingredients like blueberries, beets, omega-3s, and antioxidants, as well as plant proteins, fiber, and an entire serving of leafy greens. The powder can be mixed or blended into beverages, sprinkled onto food, or even used for baking.

Combining health benefits in one product also ups the convenience level. For instance, with Memore’s product, he says, “The way we have been able to appeal to a younger demographic is by emphasizing our label cleanliness and stressing our product’s auxiliary benefits like daily greens and pre- and probiotics for gut health.”

Where delivery systems are concerned, Odyssey Wellness’s Frohman says, “We believe that consumers are tired of pills and old-fashioned delivery systems. They want innovation and more bang for their buck.” Take his company’s elixirs. “With Odyssey, they can combine the functionality and health benefits of ’shrooms with a refreshing, great-tasting beverage. It’s a win-win.”

What’s on the outside speaks to young shoppers, too. “It’s not just about what’s in the can anymore, either,” Frohman explains. “It’s about the packaging and brand messaging that attracts a younger consumer. They want the ‘wholistic’ experience.” Vibrant branding is key. For instance, he says, Odyssey Wellness’s “avant-garde” Megatron logo on its packaging “is part of that experience because it is a symbol of truth and a powerful energy that flows through creation and connects us all to the power of the divine. That resonates with younger consumers.”

In addition, he advises “calling out functionality, loud and clear,” on packaging and highlighting halos like plant-based formulas, clean alternatives to caffeine and sugar, sustainability, and keto-friendliness. Also, be authentic, relatable, and transparent.

Finally, he says, be quick about it: “Effective modes of communication around health benefits [can be] engaging, short-form, high-level, relevant, playful, and inviting. Short attention spans require quick, digestible forms of communication that convey benefits in a way that is relatable.”

The Long View

Younger shoppers may be attracted to the immediacy of an energy booster, but will they also have the foresight to invest in products that promise long-term cognitive health?

“That’s a tough question, because while I believe younger audiences are prioritizing brain health more and more, they still tend to gravitate towards more of the quick-fix solutions like nootropics or stimulants,” says Memore’s Lepczyk. “The good-for-you movement has yet to really gain traction in the brain health market.”

“I think the vast majority of younger consumers still view cognitive health in terms of energy and focus,” Lepczyk continues. “The focus is still symptom relief, not making your brain healthier. It’s very similar to how consumers viewed gut health a few years ago. You solved digestive issues with over-the-counter solutions that eased discomfort; today, consumers seek out solutions that get to the root of the problem.”

Will younger consumers eventually get to the point of embracing the preventative element of it all? Perhaps. For now, though, solving problems like a lack of energy or focus can initiate them to the category.

Companies like Neuriva are also trying to educate consumers about how supplements can support brain health overall. “Brain health is still a very nascent topic, and we recognize that people of different ages and life stages have different needs and concerns,” says Qian. “While we tend to only think about it in babies, when we are trying to promote optimal brain development for learning, and in old age, when we are concerned about supporting our brain health, there are things we can do to support brain health at any age.”

“At Neuriva,” he continues, “we categorize brain health into many factors, including focus, memory, learning, accuracy, concentration, and reasoning, and we are working to bring more awareness to the general public about the different ways you can support your brain health, including Brain Awareness Week in March.” Last year, the company brought on actress and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik to be a brand ambassador. It’s one more way to reach a new segment of consumers and teach them about the lifelong gains to be had.

References

  1. Griffin M. “Millennials Move Health and Wellness Market in New Ways.” Progressive Grocer. Published online November 16, 2021.
  2. Packaged Facts press release. “Gen Z and Millennial Consumers Naturally Favor Organic Foods and Beverages, Reports Packaged Facts.” Posted January 7, 2020.