Perhaps the food and beverage industry has yet to fully examine all potential markets for functional ingredients and functional foods.
For example, an emerging market may exist in students wanting to improve their memory, said Kantha Shelke, principal for Corvus Blue, L.L.C., Chicago. She sees other opportunities, too, such as promoting satiety to Hispanic consumers.
Dr. Shelke, a spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists, grew up in both India and Sri Lanka. She said she recalls students eating okra, believing it would help their memory in preparation for tests.
A study appearing in the October 2011 issue of Neurochemy International examined how okra (Abelmoschus esculentus Linn.) extract and its derivatives quercetin and rutin improved learning and memory deficits in mice. The findings suggested okra and its derivatives reversed cognitive deficits.
Choline is another ingredient associated with cognition, including memory. Balchem Corp., New Hampton, N.Y., markets Memor-C choline salts, which have negligible sensory effects in various food and beverage applications, according to the company. Choline is found in such foods as egg yolks and liver as phosphatidylcholine, according to Balchem.
The ability of citicoline, an ingredient in 5-hour Energy, to help people stay alert has increased sales for that product, said Dr. Shelke, who has served as a consultant for 5-hour Energy. Upon taking the product, consumers quickly feel its physiological effects, she said.
“When a functional ingredient has a palpable effect, consumers become believers,” Dr. Shelke said. “Seeing is believing; they can feel it.”
The power of palpability
She pointed to such palpable effects as a reason why omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics are functional ingredients that continue to increase in sales.
Approximately 70% of Americans are aware that omega-3 fatty acids may promote heart health, according to the 2013 Food & Health Survey from the International Food Information Council Foundation. Yet other marketing opportunities still exist as far fewer Americans know omega-3 fatty acids also may promote cognition, immune system health and eye health.
Dr. Shelke said the U.S. military has investigated how docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, may have positive effects on post-traumatic stress disorder (P.T.S.D.). A study published in 2011 in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found suicide risk among U.S. military personnel who were on active duty between 2002 and 2008 was greatest among individuals with the lowest levels of DHA, the major omega-3 fatty acid concentrated in the brain.
Probiotics are best known for digestive benefits, as two-thirds of Americans draw a link between them and a healthy digestive system, according to the IFIC study. The IFIC study also found 85% of Americans are aware of the relationship between fiber and a healthy digestive system.
Dr. Shelke said opportunity exists to promote fiber’s satiety and blood sugar management benefits to the Hispanic market because of the high percentage of Hispanics with diabetes. According to 2011 statistics from the American Diabetes Association, 11.8% of Hispanics in the country had diabetes, which compared with 7.1% of non-Hispanic whites, 8.4% of Asian Americans, and 12.6% of non-Hispanic blacks.
Don’t forget baby boomers
The baby boomer market, too, may relate to functional ingredients.
The food and beverage industry may wish to stay updated on the Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2, a multi-center, double-masked randomized trial of 4,203 participants, ages 50 to 85, at risk for developing late age-related macular degeneration (A.M.D.). The National Eye Institute in 2006 launched AREDS2, a study designed to test whether the original AREDS formulation may be improved by adding omega-3 fatty acids; adding lutein and zeaxanthin; removing beta-carotene; or reducing zinc. The study was completed in May of this year.
According to a study that appeared on-line May 5 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, plant-derived antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin did not improve a combination of nutritional supplements commonly recommended for treating A.M.D., but they were safer than the related antioxidant beta-carotene, which has been linked to a heightened risk of lung cancer in smokers.
The number of Americans age 65 and over should rise to 47,695,000 in 2015, 55,969,000 in 2020 and 65,052,000 in 2025, according to a December 2012 projection from the U.S. Census Bureau.
“As people age, they have a strong motivation to keep their independence, and they see this as being achieved through maintaining strong bones and muscle strength,” said Loren Ward, director of R.&D. for Glanbia Nutritionals and based in Twin Falls, Idaho. “Dairy protein is particularly suited to protein fortification in user-friendly formats.”
Dairy proteins have been shown to have a beneficial effect on sarcopenia, or age-related loss of muscle mass, he said.
“At 40 to 50 years old, individuals start losing 1% to 2% muscle mass ever year,” Dr. Ward said. “Research shows that many individuals can decrease the rate of muscle mass by exercising and consuming proteins that are quickly absorbed, have a high level of amino acid leucine and also contain significant levels of branch chain amino acids.”
Dr. Shelke advised caution to formulators wanting to use functional ingredients. She said some ingredients may have upper limits, or levels of use where the ingredient may turn to having a negative effect instead of a positive effect.
“Just because some of it is good for us does not mean that more is better,” she said.