When Radiohead released their seminal album Ok Computer 25 years ago, they could have written about life two decades from now with the lyrics “Fitter, happier, more productive, comfortable, don’t drink too much, exercise regularly at the gym (three days a week)”.
At the time, the band captured a sentiment that crystallized into a way of life for many, especially younger generations. Many have wanted to maximize their potential, from using anti-aging creams to stay young, to consuming protein shakes to build muscle. More recently, however, the focus on self-improvement has become cerebral: an increasing number of people are looking for ways to improve their mental function.
Enter nootropics: ingredients or substances that improve cognitive activity. The term “nootropic” was coined by Romanian neuroscientist Corneliu Giurges in 1972 when the drug piracetam was noted in clinical trials to boost memory.
According to an analysis of the nootropics niche by US consulting firm Grand View Research, the global market size is expected to grow from US$10.67 billion in 2021 to US$29.24 billion in 2028, representing a compound annual growth rate of 15%.
Currently, the most popular form of taking nootropics are tablets and capsules, which accounted for 45% of the market by revenue, according to Grand View Research. While this type of product will continue to account for the largest share of the market, the expected area beverages will experience the highest growth between 2021 and 2028, as nootropics can be digested faster in liquid form than in food.
The beverage segment is expected to register the fastest CAGR (16%) from 2021 to 2028. Nootropics are incorporated into drinks and RTD shots, with brand owners claiming the ingredients can help improve functions such as focus and memory.
Nootropics are already widely used – mostly unwittingly – by people around the world in the form of caffeine. However, caffeine has other side effects, such as anxiety and sleep deprivation, ultimately negating the positive energizing and focusing effects of coffee, tea, and energy drinks.
A number of new nootropic drinks – if they use caffeine – combine other ingredients to help boost the brain while hopefully warding off jitters. Take Brite, a drink created “for better focus,” which blends L-theanine with caffeine to improve cognitive function, and Ashwaghanda root to reduce anxiety and stress.
No, down… are you feeling okay?
Nootropics go hand in hand with the low and no-alcohol market. After all, what good is drinking something to improve brain function if it also gives you a hangover?
One of the first beverage brands to hit the market using nootropics with an alcohol-free marketing approach was Three Spirit, which launched in 2018. “Created by plant scientists and bartenders” reads the tagline, and the three “elixirs” marketed under the brand describe how drinks should make a person feel, from the energizing Livener to the soothing Nightcap.
Caught up in the alcohol-free trend, the message around its products’ mood-enhancing properties may have been lost for a while, but, according to co-founder Tatiana Mercer, it’s now getting through.
“Our drinks are rooted in occasions – our Livener is sold out at a Brooklyn music venue and we’re in talks with Fabric [nightclub in London]. The Nightcap is on flights with Virgin, as is the Livener to pick up people,” she explains. “Flavor first is a big part of the commerce approach to soft drinks, but function is what makes you a loyal customer. Our bestseller is Nightcap, because sleep is such a big deal.
Consumer interest in nootropics
Consumer uptake and understanding varies widely across markets, she says: “The UK consumer is less knowledgeable about nootropics and adaptogens, whereas in the US there is now many brands. We were the first [in the US]with Kin Euphorics.
In addition to positioning products to help consumers mentally approach certain situations, another aspect to consider when creating and marketing nootropic drinks to consumers is the changing wants and needs of people of different age groups.
Older generations are more likely to worry about helping boost and maintain their cognitive function at a time in life when it often declines. For Millennials and Generation Z, where work-related stress and busy social lives are key factors, these cohorts will often be keen to find something that teases them for social occasions or helps them calm down in situations. stressful situations.
However, many of these issues still transcend age groups. Mercer shares the testimony of an older man who was recently widowed and struggled to go to bed without having had a few glasses of wine each night. After discovering the Three Spirit range, he will drink a glass of each of the brand’s products at different times of the night depending on what he is doing, starting with a Livener and ending with the Nightcap.
So what could be holding back the growth of nootropics? First, a lack of research, and therefore evidence, on the supposed effects of many of these ingredients. Medical trials and studies are expensive and time-consuming to plan and execute. New startup brands, unless created by multinational corporations, often do not have the funds to support these kinds of trials. As a result, many of the claims about a drink’s function are just that, which is undoubtedly off-putting to some consumers and probably some buyers as well.
Second is a lack of information about how these ingredients interact with other substances and drugs. Could a supposedly innocent drink reverse the effects of someone’s blood thinners, for example?
The last issue brings us back to the question of caffeine – there are some brands that advertise themselves as nootropic drinks, but are basically caffeinated rocket fuel. Neu, for example, contains 350 mg of caffeine and 250 mg of L-theanine in its shots. Since the average espresso shot contains 63mg of caffeine, a person can easily consume the recommended daily amount of caffeine (which the FDA in the US sets at 400mg) without much thought.
In short, nootropics may be a new promised land for the beverage industry and a land that more and more consumers are showing interest in. Caution should be exercised, however, when assessing how far the niche could develop into a more substantial market.