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Growing Demand for Nootropics and “Wholesome” Energy

Sep 26, 2023

•  7 minutes to read

Recently, Mintel teamed up with a leading functional ingredient supplier, Applied Food Sciences (AFS), to gather insights on nootropics in what many are calling “the future of caffeine.” Their research highlighted the immense potential for beverages to capitalize on this emerging market. Furthermore, an innovative ingredient solution known as guayusa was emphasized, which specifically addresses the cognitive functionality needs of today’s consumers.

Opportunity for Nootropics in Beverages

Nootropics are ingredients or supplements that can improve cognitive functions such as focus, attention, memory, and stress. People look for these products to help them get through a busy workday, study for an exam, extend a workout, and address various other needs.

Most consumers prefer beverages as their delivery system, and these applications are a key driver for growth. Since 2020, the number of new product introductions referencing “nootropics” have quadrupled in North America, with drinks leading the way [1].

According to Mintel, it is clear that consumers are seeking nootropics. In a recent survey, 42% of US consumers say they want food and drinks that can help them stay focused [2]. In addition, 72% of respondents showed interest in cognitive-enhancing benefits, stating they either currently drink, have tried, or are willing to try beverages with this functionality [3].

“The beverage industry appears to be shifting its emphasis from digestive health and immunity, which were so popular a few years ago, to cognitive support,” says Brian Zapp, Director of Marketing & Insights for AFS. “Since 2018, the top label claims on new beverages have pivoted to ‘energy,’ ‘brain health,’ and other functionalities that fall in the scope of nootropics.”

Caffeine is the most popular nootropic ingredient, which is most likely to be called out on packaging. However, even within the energy category, 31% of US energy drink users said they would be even more motivated to buy products that promote brain health [4]. All of this opens a window to explore other botanical ingredients, such as yerba mate, guayusa, and yaupon holly, as alternative caffeine sources that can provide more than just energy.

Challenges for Beverage Manufacturers

While nootropics have a clear opportunity to emerge as a leader in functional beverages, the category would benefit from better consumer awareness and more efficacious products. As it stands now, 78% of US vitamin, mineral, and supplement users have yet to hear of nootropic cognitive supplements. In addition to consumers’ general lack of awareness, there is also a prevalent feeling of skepticism. Only 28% of US adults trust functional drinks to deliver on their promise [5].

“There is a big challenge in convincing those consumers that are either cynical or they just don’t know,” suggests Lynn Dornblaser, Director of Innovation and Intel for Mintel. “To help consumers understand what nootropics are, consider talking about the ingredients and the benefits that those ingredients might have. We might not see the word ‘nootropics’ showing up very often, but we do see products that talk about caffeine. Product introductions that make a caffeine statement for the US are about 300 per year. That is a pretty significant number of new product introductions in any given year.”

But as popular as caffeine is, even coffee drinkers worry about its effects on their health or emotional wellbeing. Because while caffeine has therapeutic benefits, it can also add feelings of stress, anxiousness, and nervousness – the jittery feelings that make it hard to sit still and focus [6]. Regardless of age, consumers first want healthy energy drinks not to leave them jittery; that’s more important than sugar reduction. They also would like to see products that use natural sources of caffeine.

These physiological effects of caffeine on the human body are due to a specific hormonal response to caffeine ingestion. “As our body metabolizes caffeine, it begins to stimulate the release of epinephrine (better known as adrenaline), which is our ‘fight or flight’ hormone,” clarifies Zapp. “This evolved survival mechanism will increase our heart rate, intensify our breathing, and create muscle tension, which is great if you’re running from a bear… but not as helpful when trying to focus with caffeine and study for a mid-term. Consumers are becoming more weary of having too much caffeine, which could likely make them too jittery to focus.” [7,8]

Despite these challenges, the demand for functional drinks continues to grow, and nootropic beverages could thrive with the right help. What if consumers could have a healthier, more effective, less jittery, better-for-you caffeine with tangible benefits?

The Future of Caffeine

Not all caffeine is equal. In fact, new studies are emerging on a lesser-known botanical called guayusa. Cousin plant to yerba maté, guayusa is a caffeinated holly species that grows only in the upper Amazon basin of Ecuador and Peru. Its leaves contain an intricate polyphenolic makeup of antioxidants and caffeine that provide a bright and cognitively uplifting energy experience that consumers will notice. AFS recently launched its organic guayusa extract called AmaTea® Max, which uses a patented extraction process to enhance the plant’s naturally occurring compounds. The company conducted a series of clinical studies to support this exciting nootropic ingredient for the functional beverage industry.

Evaluating Gaming Performance with AmaTea® Max

At the University of Memphis College of Health Sciences, Dr. Bloomer and his colleagues recently concluded a first-of-its-kind gaming study to determine the effect of AmaTea® Max on mood, cognitive measures, and gaming performance while being mentally fatigued throughout a combined six hours of gameplay and cognitive testing. One of the most substantial outcomes of the Dr. Bloomer study was that active gamers using AmaTea® Max revealed no increase in jitters. Comparatively, gamers using synthetic caffeine noted a statistically significant rise [9].

The likely cause of this change is AmaTea® Max’s unique ability to modulate the epinephrine adrenal response commonly induced by caffeine alone. In a separate double-blind crossover study by Dr. Krieger et al. (QPS MRA), subjects were given AmaTea® Max compared to synthetic caffeine. The study revealed that AmaTea® Max stimulates significantly lower amounts of the “fight or flight” hormone, called epinephrine (commonly known as adrenaline), compared to other forms of caffeine.

Gamers using AmaTea® Max also showed reduced mental fatigue and improved vigor after gaming for an extended period. Their game performance improved, as demonstrated by their reaction time, cognitive performance, and even kills per match.

Evaluating Cognitive Performance in Adults with AmaTea® Max

In its most recent randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study, AFS researched the nootropic effects of AmaTea® Max on physically active adults to measure neurocognitive domains, including complex attention, cognitive flexibility, and psychomotor speed. Complex attention and cognitive flexibility measure our brain’s processing speed and the ability to adapt quickly, switching from one thought to another. We often think of this as multitasking or problem-solving. Psychomotor speed measures how quickly we can process new information and physically react to it.

After taking AmaTea® Max and undergoing a battery of validated and reliable physical and cognitive tests, subjects had notably more energy, greater focus, and significantly less fatigue. 84% of participants improved their complex attention and cognitive flexibility. Meanwhile, 76% demonstrated significant improvement in psychomotor speed with AmaTea® Max.

Regarding overall wellbeing, the study compared subjects reporting negative feelings (i.e., tension, depression, anger, fatigue, confusion) and contrasted them with reported positive feelings of vigor, energy, effort, and enthusiasm. Subjects taking AmaTea® Max had significantly improved mood scores over the placebo throughout the entire crossover study.

“We like to say ‘guayusa hits different,’” states Zapp. “Above all the data points, AmaTea® Max simply has a tangible feel of a bright, focused energy that consumers will notice. Then you back that with clinical evidence on the mitigation of jitters, improved energy and focus, faster brain processing, impact on mood, and so on. It presents a strong argument that our organic guayusa extract is an excellent solution for manufacturers looking to make nootropic functional beverages.” To inquire about AmaTea® Max and request a sample for your next beverage project, visit Applied Food Sciences.


  1. Mintel GNPD© 2023 Mintel Group Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Confidential to Mintel.
  2. Kantar Profiles/Mintel. March 2023. Base: 1,000 internet users aged 18+ in US.
  3. Kantar Profiles/Mintel. 2023. Base: 2,000 internet users aged 18+.
  4. Lightspeed/Mintel; KuRunData/Mintel. Base: US: 535 internet users aged 18+ who have consumed any energy drink in the past three months
  5. Lightspeed/Mintel 2023. Base: 1,698 internet users aged 18+ who use vitamins, minerals or supplements.
  6. Mayo Clinic 2021. Caffeine: How much is too much?
  7. Krieger DR, Kalman DS, Feldman S, et al. The Safety, Pharmacokinetics, and Nervous System Effects of Two Natural Sources of Caffeine in Healthy Adult Males. Clin Transl Sci. 2016;9(5):246-251. doi:10.1111/cts.12403.
  8. Harvard Health, July 2020. Understanding the stress response.
  9. Bloomer, Richard, et al. 2021 University of Memphis College of Health Sciences. Impact of AMATEATM on Physiological Measures and Gaming Performance in Active Gamers: A Placebo Controlled, Double-blind, Randomized Study. JCTRES | Online first
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