Health and wellness fragmentation

by Keith Nunes
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Health and wellness plays a prominent role in Datamonitor’s Productscan Online Ten Trends to Watch in Packaged Goods in 2008 report. From the No. 1 item, probiotics, which includes prebiotics, to a range of other topics, including organic foods for children and the mass production of products containing superfruits, the trend appears to be moving away from overall health management to the benefits specific ingredients may provide consumers.

"I think what this year’s list shows is a greater penetration of health and wellness into the trends," said Tom Vierhile, director of Productscan Online, Naples, N.Y. "Before, health and wellness was a trend by itself. Now we are seeing it branch out into individual trends, like probiotics and superfruits. We are even seeing it expand beyond food to health care and beauty. There is a cough medicine with acai on the market, and companies like Borba are selling drinks that have benefits for skin that are being marketed as ‘beauty in a bottle.’ We are even seeing companies like L’Oreal develop non-food items with health benefits."

Mr. Vierhile said 2008 will mark the broad expansion of probiotics in food as it moves beyond yogurt. Citing the introduction of LiveActive Cheese by Kraft Foods Inc., and a probiotic chocolate by Barry Callebaut in late 2007, Mr. Vierhile said many new products featuring probiotics will hit the market in the coming year.

Kraft Foods, for example, announced this month it is introducing several extensions of the LiveActive brand starting in January. The new effort will include ready-to-eat cereals and drink mixes containing the prebiotic fiber inulin. The cereals will be offered under Kraft’s Post brand while the "On the Go Nutrient Enhanced Drink Mix" will be featured under the company’s Crystal Light banner.

But despite the emergence of more probiotic products on the market, Mr. Vierhile sees a red flag.

"I don’t think consumers have a clue about what probiotics are," he said. "I see a lot of room for consumer education.

"Consumers understand yogurts are cultured products that are good for them; that notion goes back to the ‘70s. But I think consumers have a vague understanding of what probiotics are or what they can do. I would say the knowledge about probiotics is pretty limited right now."

Significant gaps in consumer knowledge about an ingredient is not limited to probiotics, Mr. Vierhile said. While it is not a part of this year’s top 10 trends list, he said omega-3 fatty acids face a similar issue.

"We have been tracking the omega-3 trend for a while and it has flattened," he said. "What we are seeing is companies started by promoting that their products contained omega-3. Now they are being more specific and promoting a specific type of omega-3.

"I think the specific claims are Greek to consumers. The scientists behind the scenes may understand the differences, but if you asked people on the street about the differences, I doubt few would know."

The Productscan Online report identified organic foods and beverages for children as another trend that will grow in 2008. Citing the controversy over marketing practices to children, Mr. Vierhile said the debate provides an opening for organic producers to sell their products to children. He cited Amy’s Kitchen and Honest Tea as two companies aggressively targeting this segment.

"There is another element to this," added Mr. Vierhile. "As the organic market has grown, we have seen more private label organic products introduced. As more private label products are introduced, it makes it harder for companies selling branded products to grow within the niche. Kids have been pretty much ignored and provide an opportunity for branded manufacturers."

In past years, the so-called "superfruits," such as acai, goji, pomegranate, etc. have been identified as an emerging trend in food and beverage. Mr. Vierhile said 2008 will be the year superfruits go mainstream.

"Anheuser-Busch introduced an energy drink featuring goji, and Tropicana has come out with a pomegranate flavor fruit juice," he said. "We are seeing some very large companies get into superfruits, and it will continue in 2008, because it has the extra benefit of not only being healthful, but also plays on the desire of some consumers for exotic products."

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