Wellness ingredients gain momentum
July 3, 2012
by Keith Nunes
Wellness ingredients, those that add value to food and beverage items by enhancing a product’s nutrition profile, are streaming into the market and consumers appear to be paying attention. The International Food Infor-mation Council’s annual Food & Healthy survey showed some consumers are intent on reducing nutrients in their diet they perceive to be less than healthy, such as sugars, sodium, fats and oils, trans fatty acids and saturated fats, but they are expressing greater interest in food and beverage products that contain whole grains, fiber and protein. It is clear that as consumers learn about different wellness ingredients and applications they may seek more products that feature them.
Discussing the subject of fiber, Lorraine Niba, Ph.D., bus-iness development director for
Ingredion, formerly Corn Prod-ucts International, Westchester, Ill., said it has made the transition to a wellness ingredient.
“You see it across the value chain,” she said. “It is something that has gone from ingredient suppliers to food companies and into finished products like the Fiber One bars.”
The benefits of fiber products extend beyond basic nutrition to potential benefits for weight management, digestive health and cholesterol reduction, said Dr. Niba.
She added that the pace of wellness ingredients reaching the market may quicken.
“Consumers are very fluid and moving forward,” Dr. Niba said. “If you think about 10 years ago, their primary source of information was their doctor or a nutritionist — someone who was an authority figure they would go to for information. Today, there is the Internet and television, and the situation is evolving really quickly.
“There is a huge awareness among consumers about the relationship between nutrition and health. Consumers today are more aware, in part because they are reading labels.”
Within the fiber category, Dr. Niba said weight management is top of mind among consumers, because it reaches across all demographics. She added di-gestive health is also a “big issue,” because of the consumer marketing and education work that The Dannon Co. has done in its effort to market its Activia line of yogurt products.
Protein is also an area of growth, and the pace of protein research has quickened as food and beverage processors search for alternatives that may be more sustainable than animal-based proteins, according to research by the firm Innova Market Insights, Duiven, The Netherlands.
Traditional proteins like soy wheat, lupin and chickpeas are being examined as sustainable solutions. While soy continues to dominate in terms of vegetable proteins, a range of new products is starting to appear, based on other beans, as well as nuts, seeds, grains and vegetables. New techniques also are being developed to enhance the texture, juiciness and flavor of meat analogs and proteins.
New U.S. product launch examples include Bolthouse Farms’ addition of a blended coffee variant to its Protein Plus range of all-natural shakes. The product contains a proprietary blend of whey and soy proteins for improved performance. Odwalla, a business unit of the Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, has extended its Super Protein and Protein Monster soy and dairy protein drinks lines with strawberry and vanilla variants in the Protein Monster series and mango and pumpkin variants in Super Protein.
Other recent U.S. activity has included an extension of the Atkins Advantage low-carbohydrate meal replacement bar range with chocolate orange and chocolate brownie varieties. Balance Bar has introduced a cookie dough variant to its original sub-range. All featured soy protein as the key protein ingredient, although the products tend to be marketed on a more general health and everyday performance positioning.
Immunity gains traction
In Dr. Niba’s opinion, an area of opportunity is immunity, which she said “is where the consumer will be tomorrow.”
The Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting and food expo, which was held in Las Vegas this past week, featured speakers who were scheduled to address the topic of developing health claims for immunity.
“Finding the right combination of credible science to support claims and to meet the needs of stakeholders from regulatory agencies through product development and manufacturing to consumers is a significant challenge, especially given the complexity of the immune system and the rapidly evolving regulatory framework,” said Don Cox, Ph.D., senior vice-president of research and development for the health care group of Biothera, Eagan, Minn., the manufacturer of Wellmune WGP, an ingredient that targets the immunity category.
While the market for products featuring immune system boosting properties is still small, the pace with which food and beverage products featuring ingredients targeting the category is increasing as consumers learn more about the subject. Metro, Inc., for example, one of Canada’s largest food retailers, recently introduced a line of bread with Biothera’s Wellmune WGP. The store brand Life Smart Irresistibles is a line of approximately 20 products marketed to consumers with healthy lifestyles. The artisan bread with Wellmune WGP is part of Life Smart’s Immuno Smart category of baked goods. The loaves are sold in the chain’s Metro and Metro Plus supermarkets in Quebec and Ontario.
“Bread is an ideal food to ensure that everyone in the family can easily enjoy the daily immune health benefits of Wellmune WGP,” said Rich Mueller, president and chief executive officer of Biothera. “We are thrilled to be a part of Metro’s Life Smart Irresistibles product family and assist in Metro’s efforts to support the health and wellness of its customers through value-added functional food products.”
Gen Y and joint health Cargill, Minneapolis, announced an opportunity for product formulators to use glucosamine in products targeted to Generation Y, which the company defines as people born between 1977 and 2002. The company said the opportunity is based on studies of functional foods and glucosamine and on research being conducted at The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, Calif.
Generation Y consumers believe in the benefits of functional foods, according to the Natural Marketing Institute’s Health and Wellness study. Cargill said the study also indicated most consumers are using functional foods, with Generation Y reporting greater increased usage compared to the total.
“The N.M.I. study details that 59% of current Gen Y users of glucosamine use it to maintain general health,” said Chuck Ray, technical services manager for Cargill Corn Milling. “Emerging science supports an opportunity for glucosamine to appeal to younger consumers, especially when incorporated into great-tasting foods and beverages.”
Cargill is supporting research at The Scripps Research Institute to better understand the science behind glucosamine’s role in joint health. Preliminary findings indicate glucosamine may help to support healthy aging in the joints through the activation of “autophagy,” one of the main cellular “housekeeping” mechanisms. Autophagy is a mechanism in maintaining cellular health in joints and other tissues throughout the body, and while more research is needed, initial results show that glucosamine activates autophagy in cell culture and animal models.