Added benefits

by Allison Sebolt
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It is hard to miss marketing claims for functional foods: cookies with omega-3 fatty acids for heart health, cheeses with probiotics for gut health, and coffee with folic acid for boosted nutrition and women’s health are all displayed on store shelves. To top it off, products such as a drinkable skin care line have opened up the functional food market to include products with cosmetic benefits.

Given this wave of introductions, it’s no wonder that according to Euromonitor International the packaged food segment of the functional/fortified foods market reached $8,437,100,000 in retail sales value in North America in 2006, up 10% from 2005. Also leading the functional/fortified market were bakery products, at $3,450,000,000, and dairy products and snack bars at $1,847,700,000 and $1,859,300,000, respectively.

Such numbers combined with a growing public interest indicate the market will only keep growing. Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, director of health and nutrition for the International Food Information Council, Washington, said IFIC began tracking functional food trends in 1998. At that time, she said there were a lot of products marketed toward disease risk and reduction, and today that focus has shifted to health and wellness.

"The American public is receptive and eager to receive nutrition information about specific foods and their health benefits," Ms. Reinhardt Kapsak said. "They want to make wiser choices about what kinds of foods they eat based on a desire to improve their overall well-being and their physical health. Consumers may not be able to tell you exactly what nutritional components they’re seeking when they shop for fruits and vegetables or fish, but they can tell you why they are doing it. It’s because there’s a strong food and health benefit connection at work."

The "2007 IFIC Consumer Attitudes toward Functional Foods/Foods for Health Survey" found consumers believe food and nutrition play a greater role in maintaining and improving health than do exercise or family history. The survey also found more than half of consumers cited heart and circulatory problems as their top health concern followed by weight, cancer and diabetes. Additionally, nine out of 10 Americans were able to name a food or food component and its associated health benefit. Such foods and components included fruits and vegetables, fish, fish oil and seafood, milk, whole grains, fiber, oats and green tea.

Product options with health perks

With such consumer awareness of the market, many new products have emerged. To help promote digestive health, Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill., recently launched LiveActive products in the United States. The product line includes LiveActive Cottage Cheese with prebiotics from Breakstone’s/Knudsen and LiveActive Natural Cheese Snacks with probiotics.

In an effort to help consumers learn more about improving gut health, the company also launched LiveActiveFoods.com. It offers "The LiveActive Gut Check," which helps consumers learn how foods, exercising and sleeping may impact digestive health.

Voyava Republic Corp., Houston, a food technology company, announced it will begin adding 80 micrograms of folic acid per serving to its line of fortified gourmet coffee, SPAVA. The amount is equal to a third of the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance of folic acid. The company will begin fortifying the coffee in the first quarter of 2008.

"The debut of folic acid in our coffee represents a significant step for SPAVA as a product and for the fortification industry as a whole," said Michael Sweeney, founder and chief executive officer of Voyava Republic. "Not only are we offering a more targeted science for consumers’ daily health, we’re delivering on our founding mission to target and help eliminate nutritional deficiencies by providing coffee for healthy living to today’s consumers."

The Wright Group, Crowley, La., has developed many functional "potential application" products. Among them is a product concept line called 0-3 Complete that contain SuperCoat Omega-3. These potential applications include high fiber breakfast squares, bread sticks, salad dressing, oatmeal cookies, meal replacement bars, an orange flavored breakfast

drink, an anti-inflammatory orange chew, school lunch pizza, waffles, flour tortillas, strawberry smoothies and whole wheat bread.

In the beverage segment, The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, has the Minute Maid enhanced juices line featuring Minute Maid Multi-Vitamin with 16 vitamins and minerals; Minute Maid Active with 750 mg of Glucosamine HCI per 8 fluid ounces to help support joints; Minute Maid Heart Wise with plant sterols to help reduce cholesterol; and Minute Maid Pomegranate Blueberry with omega-3/DHA.

Plant sterols have been shown to help reduce cholesterol and also are increasing in popularity in the functional foods market. Unilever P.L.C., London, introduced Promise activ SuperShots, a mini-drink with fruit and yogurt containing natural plant sterols. This drink contains 2 grams of plant sterols per serving and comes in three flavors: strawberry, peach and raspberry.

More than just health benefits

In a twist to the functional foods market, various foods and beverages have been introduced that offer cosmetic benefits. According to Euromonitor, the market for nutriceuticals, or beauty foods and supplements, is especially popular in Japan and includes products such as a collagen-enriched soup, a skin whitening drink and a candy that releases a vanilla scent through the sweat glands.

Euromonitor said the market for nutriceuticals is catching on in western culture. In February, Paris-based Groupe Danone introduced Essensis beauty yogurt in France and Western Europe, and The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, is partnering with L’Oreal, Clichy, France, for a tea-based skin care drink Lumae in 2008.

Anheuser-Busch Companies, St. Louis, recently came to an agreement to distribute and market Borba Skin Balance Waters, which are a product of Borba Holdings L.L.C., Edison, N.J.

"Adding the Borba Skin Balance Waters and Aqua-Less Crystallines to our portfolio allows us to participate in the emerging nutriceutical beverage category," said Dave Peacock, vice-president of business operations at Anheuser-Busch. "The Borba line of beverages provides innovative and highly profitable products for our wholesalers and retail customers, while expanding our business into high-growth beverages beyond beer."

Euromonitor said the challenge in the nutriceuticals market will be for manufacturers to raise awareness of how these products work and to prove their efficacy as Western consumers are skeptical about such claims unless they are supported by scientific research.

But is it really making a difference?

Despite all of the public awareness of functional foods and the increase in market share, IFIC found in its 2007 Food & Health Survey that while 80% of Americans said foods and beverages may have added

benefits, only 50% of consumers stated they are actually consuming these foods. In addition, IFIC’s functional food research has found Americans are more focused on removing foods or food components such as fat, calories, sugar, carbohydrates and salt than adding healthful foods to their diet.

"It takes more than just informing consumers or making them aware that certain foods have added benefits, there needs to be some follow-up," Ms. Reinhardt Kapsak said.

She also said while it takes time to change consumer behavior, over time multiple sources of consumer information delivering the same message may make maximum impact on their consumer behavior.

"It takes a multi-faceted approach to improving consumer’s

diets," Ms. Reinhardt Kapsak said. "This includes industry, government, and health professionals working together to deliver a consistent message to consumers."

The market is sending a clear message: The introduction of functional foods shows no signs of slowing any time soon. According to Packaged Facts, the U.S. market for ‘phoods and bepherages" — what the market research firm defines as packaged food and beverage products providing a positive pharmaceutical benefit beyond basic nutrition that are marketed for health benefits — will grow to $38.8 billion by 2011.

Selling nature’s functional benefits

In addition to adding omega-3 fatty acids or probiotics to foods, many companies are marketing the benefits of natural products. Flowers Foods, Inc, Thomasville, Ga., for example, for decades has offered a line of fresh bread and buns called Nature’s Own that have no artificial preservatives, colors or flavors and have ingredients such as whole grain and organic whole wheat flour.

Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Popping Corn, a brand of ConAgra Foods, Inc, Omaha, has introduced natural varieties, including Buttery Garlic, Buttery Salt and Cracked Pepper, Simply Salted, and Simply Salted 50% Less Fat.

"In our ongoing quest to create the prefect popcorn, we noticed an opportunity to provide a new line completely on trend with our consumers’ pursuit to actively integrate more natural and flavorful products into their daily routine," said Stan Jacot, vice-president of marketing for the ConAgra Foods popcorn business.

Hormel Foods Corp., Austin, Minn., also has a line of Natural Choice sandwich meats and dinner hams produced using high-pressure pasteurization technology, which replaces the need to add pathogen growth inhibitors such as sodium lactates and sodium diacetates.

Tyson Foods, Inc., Springdale, Ark., is now marketing its line of marinated, uncooked poultry offerings as "100% All Natural." The company uses what it calls Enhanced Flavor Technology to offer minimally processed food service products with less sodium and artificial ingredients.

Seaboard Foods, Shawnee Mission, Kas., offers 100% Natural Seasoned PrairieFresh Premium Pork Tenderloins that are minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients and are hand-rubbed with all-natural seasonings. These products also meet requirements for extra lean as well.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, October 30, 2007, starting on Page 37. Click here to search that archive.

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