Today’s consumers aren’t interested in an energy rollercoaster ride marked by jittery highs and foggy lows. Natural solutions that keep the mind alert during the day and prepared for a restful sleep at night will find the most favor.
It’s somewhat of a paradox. Americans largely report having trouble staying alert during the day, but they also can’t seem to settle down enough to fall asleep at night. “Both energy and relaxation are top health concerns for consumers today, which makes sense as these health topics are interrelated,” says Michael A. Smith, MD, director of education at Life Extension (Fort Lauderdale, FL). “Fatigue and burnout caused by stress may contribute to lack of sleep and, in turn, leads to consumers searching for products to support their energy needs during the day.”
That said, consumers are reassessing their approaches to this conundrum as the COVID-19 pandemic puts a spotlight on healthy habits. According to Sandra Carter, PhD, cofounder of Om Mushroom Superfood (Carlsbad, CA), consumers are stepping away from addictive pharmaceuticals and drowsiness-inducing relaxation solutions, just as they’re backing away from highly caffeinated products that can cause jitteriness or anxiety. “Consumers do not want to be concerned about being ‘jacked up’ on over-energizing products, or dulled and blunted by over-relaxing products,” she says.
Instead, they’re looking for products that work with the body to naturally increase energy levels or decrease stress in a controlled way. “Consumers are increasingly looking to support overall energy levels to be able to conquer their day, as well as looking to wind down at the end of a rigorous day dealing with the lack of a fixed work schedule, dealing with family stress, and having difficulty shutting down from their always-on lifestyle,” agrees Dr. Irfan Qureshi, ND, vice president of product development and quality assurance at Healthy Directions (Bethesda, MD).
It’s important to remember that energy products tend to appeal to two separate groups of consumers: athletes who need a quick boost to support a workout (these products are generally based on caffeine or other stimulants), and consumers who need a little lift to get through their busy work and home lives. This second group, says Qureshi, is looking for “sustained energy throughout the day, as well as a boost in cognitive function and mental performance, or ‘mental energy.’” And though caffeine can play a role here—if it’s offered in sustained-release formats or alongside an ingredient like L-theanine, which can blunt a caffeine crash—Qureshi says these consumers are increasingly looking for stimulant-free solutions like adaptogenic herbs and experiential nootropics.
“The energy supplement market has transitioned over the past five years to migrate away from heavily loaded caffeine and sugar products, including shots and beverages, to items that provide a more balanced amount of naturally energizing botanicals, vitamins, and mushrooms,” says Carter. “Consumers are linking the jitters and anxiety to highly caffeinated products and, as a result, there is a wider variety of products that provide high levels of nutrition along with natural energy.” Om Energy, for example, includes cordyceps mushroom, vitamins B12 and C, yerba mate, and turmeric, and interest in ingredients like green tea is growing.
Brands are also making it easier than ever for consumers to start and commit to an energy supplement routine. First, says Ted Volz II, founder of Clean Energy (Ann Arbor, MI), “Supplement brands are providing their products in every format possible to ensure that they fit into the lives of any and every consumer,” including gels, bars, powders, pills, liquid shots, ready-to-drink beverages, and more. If you ask Carter, there is room in the market for brands to offer a coffee alternative—in other words, a warm drink that can take coffee’s place in a morning ritual but provide balanced, non-jittery energy support.
Brands are also making it easy for consumers to support energy by increasing bioavailability where they can. In the case of ginseng, for example, Life Extension offers a fermented extract with enhanced absorption, since the ingredient is already metabolized before entering the gut (where certain environments can hinder ginseng’s bioavailability).
If you ask Qureshi, the relaxation category has gained importance as we move through the pandemic and consumers understand the importance of work-life balance. As such, this category is attracting many supplement newbies. The key will be “keeping the formulas simple, the messaging clear, and the dosing manageable (i.e., less pills),” says Qureshi, as well as providing products that holistically address the body’s stress response and bring it back to balance.
Adaptogenic herbs are top of mind since they work subtly and provide this much-needed sense of balance. Carter says adaptogens like reishi mushroom, ashwagandha, and astragalus are being offered alongside L-theanine, GABA, and magnesium to produce natural relaxation and stress-relief properties, without the drowsiness. “I believe we will see substantial growth in these categories as young consumers, in particular, are developing their own set of daily rituals,” she says, “and pushing away from prior generations’ daily routines of hyping up on coffee and winding down with alcohol.”