Coffee: The New Wellness Ingredient?

sector - food & drink
sector - health & wellness
type - opinion
FutureBrand’s strategy director, Ashleigh Steinhobel, explores evolving health-focused directions in caffeine culture, from humble bean to bio-hack.

We live in a strongly caffeinated culture. From livelihood to luxury, culinary craft to social glue, few things have established such long-standing significance in lives and societies across the globe as the humble coffee bean.

But as our lifestyles evolve, so do the rituals that underpin them. 2022 saw coffee consumption peak at a two-decade high following Covid-19 lockdowns and a shift to home working, yet the role that coffee plays in our lives is diversifying faster than you can say ‘pumpkin spiced latté’.

A partner to some of the world’s most iconic coffee brands including Nespresso, Nescafé Dolce Gusto and the Starbucks/Nestlé partnership, we at FutureBrand are interested in coffee’s wellness wave: how our daily fix is evolving from a morning pick-me-up to a vector for ‘stealth health’.

From brews supercharged with adaptogens to CBD and psilocybin infusions, coffee is making a credible play for the wellness space, and younger consumers can’t get enough of it. In this piece, we highlight the big themes, disruptive players and evolving role of brand and design in defining the new culture of coffee.

Flavour meets function

Coffee is incorporating functional ingredients that support an array of wellbeing trends. From cognitive performance to glowing skin, coffee brands are borrowing ingredients from food, benefits from beauty and functional codes from fitness to establish affinity with health-focused consumers.

Rebbl Coffee – a plant-based, super-herb coconut milk elixir – combines flavour and function in cold coffee form, claiming to help people feel their best from the inside out. Pairing punchy flavours with physical benefits like immunity, energy and digestion, the brand’s fitness-inspired aesthetic actively elevates it above the traditional connotations of coffee.

Published by:

23 January 2023

Author: Ashleigh Steinhobel

Image: Photography by Ba Tik


Wunderground Coffee, US

Calming caffeine

At the other end of the spectrum, coffee is finding its quieter side, repositioning from energy-spiking stimulant to ritual of restoration and calm. Be it through a reduction in caffeine content, the infusion of ingredients like CBD or calming theanine create the joy of coffee without the jitters. It is in this space that innovative brands are flipping expectations to define new relevance for caffeine.

Positioned as an antidote to the new normal of anxiety and stress, Seattle-based start-up Wunderground Coffee infuses its beans with adaptogenic mushrooms to deliver ‘focus-boosting, gut-soothing, nerve-calming coffee’. Each product contains a tailored combination of mushrooms to bring calm amid the chaos, delivering brain power and immune defence in a pastel-coloured package of joy. Taking a naive, illustrative approach, the brand positions coffee in a world of imagination and play.

Meditative rituals

A ‘love it or hate it’ of sorts, instant coffee can certainly put some of the most passionate caffeine lovers off the mere idea of consuming their favourite drink. The controversial reputation seems to derive from a variety of reasons, spanning simply bad taste through to highly processed beans. But in today’s society, the maxim ‘time equals money’ has never been truer. And, as a result, portable products are increasingly popular with on-the-go-consumers who value, above all, convenience.

Convenience however doesn't need to come at the sacrifice of experience or taste. Blue Bottle, whose majority is owned by Nestlé, has recently debuted an instant espresso range that promises the experience of premium drinks anywhere, without the need for pricey machines or brewing expertise. Rather than having to venture out to a coffee shop for a daily taste of flat whites, Blue Bottle’s consumers can indulge in heavenly iced or hot coffee by following the company's guides; a series of advanced brewing techniques that encourage mindfulness.

A fresh approach

The concept of ‘wellness’ has expanded beyond its roots in physical exercise to encompass a more holistic definition of health. The opportunity for coffee is similarly expansive: by tapping into moments, emotions and experiences that define a more conscious way of living well, coffee can reinvent itself again and again. Could a coffee brand become the face of fitness? Could a shot of coffee stave off a winter cold? Could coffee become the thing that helps you to sleep?

The brands that succeed in this dynamic space will be sharply innovative, consumer-centric and creatively brave. The opportunity for disruptive design lies wide open as the persona of coffee expands, but more importantly, understanding how people’s lifestyles are changing – and how innovation can anticipate that change – is worth percolating.

Ashleigh Steinhobel is strategy director at FutureBrand.

‘From livelihood to luxury, culinary craft to social glue, few things have established such long-standing significance in societies as the humble coffee bean.’
​Ashleigh Steinhobel, Strategy Director, FutureBrand

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