Nootropics – Beyond The Hype
The buzz around Nootropics or ‘smart substances’ shows no sign of stopping and in simple terms it’s easy to see why. Nootropics are essentially a new category of supplements aimed at improving creativity, memory, and cognitive ability. It’s a disruptive category and it has a really simple appeal: the idea is that there is a sharper, better and smarter version of you that is just bursting to get ‘out’ – Nootropics can get the ‘old’ you out of the way and usher in the new, improved version.
We are starting to see the outlines of the shape and structure of the Nootropics category emerge and you can see why many players are watching with interest. By most estimates the market size was around $1.6bn in 2018 and is expected to exceed more than US$ 3.9bn by 2023. Its rattling along at a CAGR of around 20%- there are very few parts of Grocery achieving those levels of growth. The category definitions haven’t settled down yet – it’s either segmented by product typee.g. Caffeine related, Creatine related, L-theanine related etc or by need statesuch as Attention/Focus, Longevity, Anti-Aging or Dream Enhancement. Looking forward, I think the need state type segmentations are likely to win out since this is the primary purchase motivation.
It’s not just exotic ingredients which comprise Nootropics as for instance Matcha (a high end version of green tea we are very partial to in the office ) includes caffeine (a stimulant) and L-theanine (which promotes relaxation) and is classed as a Nootropic. So many shoppers are already participating in the category, albeit unconsciously.
There is a dark side to Nootropics – for instance the large market for ‘study drugs’, which promises improved concentration and mental focus. In the UK market the Psychoactive Substances Act of 2016 regulated typical ‘study drugs’ like Ritalin, Concerta etc – so now they can only be obtained on prescription. However there has been a huge growth in online pharmacies selling these cognitive enhancers in bulk. And it’s this grey area that is generating significant sales but under the radar.
In the sports world given the financial rewards on offer, there has always been the temptation to try and be one step ahead of the doping authorities. But in reality there is a wide spectrum of legal ‘performance enhancements’ available including creatine, caffeine, bicarbonate soda etc which by some definitions make the grade as Nootropics.
Inevitably, this ferment in Nootropics is feeding into Grocery with brands like Wow Drinks bagging an Asda listing by offering an alternative to the ‘high sugar, high caffeine’ energy drinks that still dominate the category. The proposition strays into Nootropics territory with its claims of ‘up to three hours of enhanced mental performance’. Cereals, flavoured milk, alcoholic beverages and powder mixes are all areas where product development is ongoing in Nootropics and each trade show I got to sees more and more of these emergent propositions breaking cover.
Yet we still need to be sceptical as this is an area which is like the wild west in terms of health claims and the accompanying science. It is still early days in our understanding of how these substances combine and affect the human body, both positively and negatively. There are many genuinely exciting grocery nootropic propositions waiting to be launched, but amidst the rush for sales and market share, we need to strike a note of caution. Avoiding overclaim and harm need to be the watchwords if the promise of the grocery nootropics category is to be fully realised.